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Quality Work for Landowner Is Job Number 1

South Carolina Logger Is Elated with New TigerCat 822 Feller-buncher, Which He Helped to Develop

By Diane Calabrese
Date Posted: 2/22/2002


ALCOLU, South Carolina — J. C. ‘Jimmy’ Witherspoon, Jr. logs in eastern South Carolina. That’s the short of it. Jimmy owns and runs a large and diverse logging business and two other enterprises as well.

The logging company, J.C. Witherspoon Jr. Inc. (JCW), employs 62 people and works multiple jobs, including thinning and chipping plantation pines, harvesting hardwood timber, and cut-to-length harvesting of mixed hardwood and softwood stands. The company also performs site preparation services for reforesting tracts.

In addition to JCW, Jimmy owns Jimmy’s Trucking, Inc., which provides contract hauling services to his logging company and other loggers. He also owns Witherspoon Forest Products Inc., which focuses on buying timber to be harvested by the logging units. Witherspoon Forest Products ordinarily buys timber, not land.

A busy man, Jimmy sometimes works 100 or more hours per week. The 46-year-old businessman knows a lot about logging, having started going to logging sites with his father when he was just five. His love for the land and the industry stuck, as he has been logging full-time for 27 years.

Recently, Tigercat Industries tapped some of Jimmy’s substantial expertise in logging and with Tigercat forestry equipment. Ben Twiddy, a district manager for Tigercat in South Carolina, said that Jimmy’s "experience with zero-tail swing" has made him a good person to consult about the design of the new Tigercat model 822 feller-buncher. "Jimmy is one of the most mechanically inclined loggers I know," said Ben, "and I feel confident if the 822 meets his approval, it will serve the industry well."

Jimmy was invited to a Tigercat engineering facility to meet with Grant Somerville and John Kurelek, the engineers responsible for designing and refining the 822 feller-buncher. The results of the informal collaboration speak for themselves. Jimmy now has a prototype Tigercat 822 feller-buncher in service on a thinning job. He bought the machine from Tidewater Equipment Co. in Conway, S.C., the same distributor that sold him some of his other Tigercat equipment. Jimmy’s Tigercat 822 feller-buncher is the first one put in operation and only the second one made by the manufacturer.

The new Tigercat 822 has met Jimmy’s highest expectations. "With new products there’s always a little bit of a learning curve," said Jimmy. "Straight out of the gate, it’s been ready to go. We are tickled to death with it."

Jimmy put the Tigercat 822 to work with a crew that conducts thinning and chipping operations. The machine works in tandem with a Tigercat 720 feller-buncher; the 720 is equipped with tires and is a drive-to-tree machine. The thinning crew uses it for removing trees to make rows. When the paths are cleared, the 822 is put to work. The Tigercat 822, mounted on tracks, operates in the rows to make select thins. The operator "can pick and choose trees he wants," said Jimmy. The Tigercat 822 is effective in select thins and cuts because it has good reach, and with no tail swing it minimizes damage to residual trees. Zero tail swing is an important feature in a machine "whenever space is real tight," noted Jimmy. Coupled with its strong, efficient performance, the new Tigercat 822 is equipped with a host of amenities and features. Jimmy particularly noted the machine’s cab. "It is very spacious, very comfortable, and visibility is real good," he said.

"I’ve been rather proud of the machine," said Jimmy. He’s not the only one solid on the Tigercat 822. "The operator made the comment that if I got rid of
the machine, he’d have to go with it,"
said Jimmy.

The Tigercat 822 is ‘operator friendly,’ according to Jimmy, and workers can get acclimated to it quickly and learn how to use it efficiently. The machine’s boom system is the big reason. "Both booms work off one lever," explained Jimmy, "as if one piece." The operator can extend and retract the boom on a horizontal plane by moving one joystick; joystick controls are ergonomically positioned in order to minimize operator fatigue. The boom also reduces energy consumption because an Energy Recovery (ER) system transfers power between the main and stick boom functions. (Tigercat did not change the way main boom and tilt functions operate to adjust height and angle of the attachment.)

Tigercat has a patent pending on the ER boom system. In January, Tigercat announced that the ER boom soon will be standard equipment on all its track feller-bunchers and harvesters.

Jimmy has an ER boom on his Tigercat model 860 feller-buncher that the hardwood crew uses. Running the Tigercat 860, which is mounted on tracks, Jimmy got to know the ability of the hydraulically powered ER boom well before he bought the 822. His thinning crew ran the predecessor of the 822, the 830, for a time, so he knew the undercarriage and other components of the 822 well too.

Jimmy’s crews have plenty of experience in logging and with their equipment, and that experience helps them match the right machine for the particular kind of job. Besides the Tigercat 860, the hardwood crew uses Tigercat model 720 and 720C feller bunchers and a Timbco 445 feller-buncher. The crew that tackles the mixed hardwood and softwood jobs typically uses a Tigercat 720C to fell trees. "If we need higher flotation, we use the Timbco," explained Jimmy.

The company performs cut-to-length logging on stands that are undergoing a second thinning. For cut-to-length operations, the crew uses a Timbco 445 for
felling. A Tigercat 845 machine equipped with a Woodking processing head
processes the stems. Tigercat owns Woodking and mounted the processing head on the machine.

Tigercat provided training on the computerized system that is matched
with the Woodking head. Even with a
sophisticated computer system, Jimmy
has found the equipment to be "very operator friendly."

Two Timbco forwarders, an 820D and an 820E, are used to get the wood out on the cut-to-length jobs. They are the only forwarders that Jimmy owns. On other sites, an array of skidders are used, included a Tigercat 630 and 635 models and John Deere 748 and 748-G3 models.

The hardwood stands are "high graded," said Jimmy. Oak and gum are the dominant species on the hardwood tracts. Logs from the hardwood stands and mixed stands are sold to one of several sawmills in the region. Bark and residue goes to grinders. Similarly, everything the thinning crew takes out also becomes a product, whether it leaves as clean pine chips that go to pulp and paper mills or as ground waste for boiler fuel. No matter which sort of logging Jimmy’s crews are doing, nothing is wasted.

The company is equipped with several machines for grinding and chipping. It has two Peterson Pacific 5000 series chippers, a Morbark 2755 chipper, and two Peterson Pacific 2400 horizontal grinders. The Peterson Pacific DDC 5000-G will delimb, debark and chip, producing chips with bark content less than 1%. The Morbark 2755 Flail Chiparvestor handles whole trees ranging from 2 to 27 inches diameter. Of course, the company’s crews occasionally require a chain saw, and when they do, they use Husqvarna equipment.

Jimmy contracts to perform logging operations for other companies and also buys timber and harvests it with his own crews. For example, he contracts for International Paper and other companies. Witherspoon Forest Products also buys standing timber from private landowners, and JCW harvests it. About 60-70% of the timber it cuts has been purchased.

The logging company produces about 400 to 450 combined truck-loads per week of tree-length wood, cut-to-length wood, boiler fuel and chips; cut-to-length wood accounts for about 15% of the company’s production.

Jimmy’s Trucking is equipped with 16 Kenworth trucks for hauling much of the output from J.C. Witherspoon. Jimmy also contracts for some hauling, relying on as many as 12 contract trucks each week. "We like the Kenworth W900L," said Jimmy. He has two trucks that are unique to the Southeast. "They have self-loaders and pull pulp trailers," he said. The cut-to-length crew uses them.

Jimmy, who owns about 500 acres of timberland and belongs to several forestry trade organizations, including the South Carolina Forestry Association and the Palmetto Timber Producers Association, generally limits his company’s operations to an 80-mile radius of Alcolu. It is a small community located long Interstate 95 in east-central South Carolina, just north of Manning. Alcolu got its start as the home to a sawmill and lumber company in 1895. The community’s economy was so dependent on trees that lumber tokens — or ‘babbits’ — circulated; the tokens were as good as U.S. currency within Alcolu.

The town’s unusual name has an interesting story behind it, which Jimmy explained. Alcolu is named for the three daughters of a founder of one of its early lumber companies. The word was formed from the first two letters of the girls’
first names: Alma, Colleen and Lucille. Besides being known for forest products, the region is also an important area for
agriculture, particularly tobacco, corn and cucumbers.

JCW also is equipped with a number of tractors and other machines for
site preparation work. Jimmy has four dozers, D6 and D7 models, in service. Most of the site preparation equipment is from
Caterpillar.

Site preparation varies quite a bit, Jimmy noted, depending on the terrain, conditions, and other factors. The company’s equipment can provide shearing, chopping, disking, and form the soil into beds — essentially whatever type of prep work the landowner requires. "Sometimes we do a complete turn-key job," said Jimmy. The company will harvest the timber and follow up with site preparation so that the entire tract is ready to be planted with seedlings by the time they leave.

Jimmy’s business has a 9,000-square-foot office and shop in Alcolu. The fully staffed shop is the central point for machine maintenance and repair. "The company’s technicians do a large majority of repairs, according to Jimmy, "from rebuilding a chipper to repairing chain saws." A maintenance chief oversees the shop. Two mechanics and another technician are equipped with trucks and equipment to provide routine maintenance and lubrication service in the field, which helps to reduce downtime for routine maintenance and repairs.

It’s not any easier finding good employees in the Palmetto State than anywhere else in the country, but Jimmy believes the work environment he provides helps with recruitment and retention of employees. "We have good, good people" as employees, he said, and they are an important factor in the success of his logging and other businesses. He offers "a good benefits package," including hospitalization, and is looking into adding a retirement plan.

The foundation of Jimmy’s business is simple. With a rock solid faith in Jesus Christ, a conviction to follow the rule book of life, the Bible, and with the
highest principles applied to performing quality work for landowners, Jimmy maintains his sold foundation in his business and his life.

Jimmy also attributes his success in part to his strategy for deploying workers. "We pretty much leave men and machines together on the same job," he said. The approach works well because the men get accustomed to the machines, and their familiarity and expertise with the equipment helps to keep the machines running at optimum production levels. This also helps ensure that the company performs at the highest level of quality for each landowner, which is, according to Jimmy, "job number one."

Jimmy spends 80-85% of his time in his businesses "pulling wrenches" or making certain that every facet of his operations runs smoothly. It is difficult to take time away from his businesses, but when he does, he eagerly spends it with his family. He and his wife, Brenda, and their children, Ashlee and Kellee Morgan, enjoy riding their own horses and spending time at nearby Lake Marion, a resort area just south of Alcolu.

Logging is more and more competitive, but Jimmy still enjoys the things about the business that he has liked from the beginning. "I like being outside. I enjoy the challenges. I like the development of new technologies."

Among the new technologies he has enjoyed watching develop is the evolution of the ER boom. He also believes Tigercat made a good move in putting a Sisu engine in the 822 feller-buncher. "The fuel economy has been good," he said. (According to Ben, Tigercat will soon offer buyers a choice of Sisu or Cummins engines on the 822.)

The retractable engine house enclosure on the Tigercat 822 gets especially high marks from Jimmy. It is very important that the cooling system is "remote mounted" and has a "reverse fan," he said, because the arrangement maximizes the "purging capabilities" of the engine. Debris tends to flow out and away from the heat exchangers. The engine of the Tigercat 822 is very easily accessible for service thanks to a hydraulically operated enclosure.

Jimmy has found in his experience that the track-mounted Tigercat 822 reduces impact on the forest floor, preventing compacting and rutting. The debate between tires versus tracks will probably continue, though. Most loggers, like Jimmy, make a choice based on the type
of substrate they regularly encounter
and the performance they observe from tires or tracks.

Along with the foundation he has built his business upon, he readily adds that his relationships with others are also keys to his success. One thing that has made Jimmy’s work a bit easier over the years is his relationship with one of his major equipment suppliers. "Tigercat has been very, very supportive," he said.




 






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