By Bill Tice
|Blue Valley Enterprises’ new Tigercat 880 loads up a logging truck on a block near Fort St. James, B.C.|
This B.C. Interior logger puts the latest Tigercat loader to the test.
George Funk has seen a lot of changes in the 43 years he has been working in the logging business around the Vanderhoof area of north central B.C. He has seen mills come and go and change owners, he has seen vast patches of vibrant green pine trees turn red and die from the Mountain Pine Beetle infestation, and he has seen new developments in logging equipment that have helped to improve production volumes, reliability and the comfort of the loggers that
By Bill Tice
Today, Funk is the owner of Blue Valley Enterprises (BVE) Ltd. which is a full scale stump-to-dump logging operation that harvests between 250,000 and 300,000 cubic metres of timber annually, mainly for the high-speed, high-production Canadian Forest Products’ (Canfor) Plateau dimension lumber mill, which is located just west of Vanderhoof.
“I have been around this business for a long time,” says Funk, who adds he was born and raised in the area. “My dad was a farmer here and we had a couple of four-legged skidders that he did some winter horse logging with to supplement the family’s farming income. When I was 19, I started working on the log trucks and then I did some custom loading before going back to trucking and running B-trains and double off-highway loads to the Plateau mill.”
Funk says he floated between trucking and loading for around 10 to 15 years, but when he was laid off from another local contractor that he was running a loader for, he decided it was time for a change. “I decided at that point that one option for me was to be this guy’s competition, so I went into contracting,” he says, adding that he is confident he made the right move. That was in the mid-1990s and he hasn’t looked back since. And today, his two sons, daughter, daughter in-law, son-in-law and wife Donna all have roles in the company.
|With the success of the new Tigercat 880, Blue Valley owner George Funk decided to invest in the Tigercat 870 feller buncher with a Tigercat head, pictured above.|
“I started out with a Caterpillar 325 with a power clam that I was using for roadbuilding and then I picked up a John Deere 848 skidder,” explains Funk when talking about his first days as a contractor. “From there, I just grew beyond my plans and expectations.”
Building the Business
Over the years, Funk collected various pieces of iron, mainly from John Deere, Caterpillar, Hitachi and Madill, but last year, he picked up a new Tigercat 880 loader. It was the first 880 built by the Ontario equipment manufacturer and for Funk and his sons, 29-year-old Rodney and 25-year old Mitch, it was a great experience to work with the engineers and the sales staff at Tigercat and their dealer in the area, Parker Pacific out of Prince George.
“We were really lucky that we got to have some input into the loader,” Funk explains. “We had heard they were working on it and we needed to find a loader to replace one of our Madills, so this was a logical choice. We knew one of the guys that worked on the design team at Madill and when they shut down, he went to Tigercat. We had confidence in him so the Tigercat really piqued our interest. When we first talked to them, they already had in mind what the 880 would look like and what the capabilities would be, but we were able to meet with their engineers several times to share our ideas and thoughts.”
|Blue Valley Enterprises owner George Funk on a logging block near Fort St. James, B.C.,
with his new Tigercat 880 in the background.
In addition to offering input, Rodney, who is BVE’s woods supervisor and can run all of the gear in its fleet, visited the Tigercat factory last spring when the loader was being put together. “He found that really interesting and it was very worthwhile to have him see the assembly process,” says George.
“Horsepower was one of the big draws for us with the Tigercat,” adds George. “We had been getting more and more power with each machine we bought over the years, and we certainly didn’t want to go backwards and go down in power, so we liked what Tigercat had to offer when it came to horsepower.”
The Tigercat 880 Logger, which is a heavy-duty, purpose-built forestry machine that can be configured for multiple uses, including loading, shovel logging and processing, is powered by a Cummins QSL9 Tier III engine that can produce 300 hp (224 kW) at 1800 rpm (for more on the 880 specifications, see sidebar below).
There are numerous other benefits George and his sons like with the 880, including fuel efficiency, serviceability, ergonomics and operator visibility, and the durability and robustness of the components, especially the boom.
“The fuel economy on this machine is really good, especially for its size,” notes George. “We are consuming less fuel with the 880 than we did with similar sized machines in the past and it is actually using about the same amount of fuel as some of our smaller machines.”
As for serviceability, it’s another area George says he really likes on the 880. “I’m really impressed with how accessible the 880 is,” he notes. “You can get at everything easily and comfortably from basic oil changes to full overhauls. The hood opens up and the doors fold away so you can access both sides of the engine easily and your hydraulic filters are all in a row. You can even stand on the platform when you have to change them. It’s pretty nice.”
Parts availability and dealer support were also big draws for BVE with George noting that many of the components are the same as the Tigercat 870 bunchers. “There’s lots of parts around if we need them, but so far, we have mainly only needed hoses and filters,” he says. “We are pleased with the dealer support from Parker Pacific and the manufacturer support from Tigercat. We have had people from Tigercat and Parker Pacific out a number of times to make sure everything is working the way we want it to and they have brought other potential customers out to take a look at the 880. It is getting a lot of interest.”
When it comes to visibility, George says the boom on the 880 helps in that department. “The boom is thinner so it improves visibility, but it is heavier than some other booms, which adds to its strength. We saw some computer-generated stress tests on the boom and we were really impressed.”
|Blue Valley Enterprises harvests between 250,000 and 300,000 cubic metres of timber annually. Here, a John Deere skidder brings logs to roadside.|
The cab forward design is also a feature George likes on the 880 as he says it offers excellent visibility and a comfortable ride for the operator. Mark Dawley, who is an operator for Blue Valley Enterprises agrees. Dawley, who has been operating various types of logging equipment for the past five years, was running the 880 on the day Canadian Forest Industries visited a block BVE was logging northwest of Vanderhoof and near the town of Fort St. James. “It’s just an awesome machine,” says Dawley. “The visibility is great, the reach is awesome, it has lots of lift power and plenty of track power. It’s nice and heavy and stable. The cab is really good. It’s comfortable with a good sound system. It’s just
a really good machine as far as I’m concerned.”
A Second Tigercat
As the old saying goes, “the proof is in the pudding,” and George showed Tigercat how pleased he was with the 880 when he and Rodney took delivery of a brand new Tigercat 870 feller buncher with a Tigercat head just a couple of months after receiving the 880. The bunchers are owned by Hidden Mountain Contracting, which is a separate company that is 50% owned by Blue Valley and 50% owned by Rodney. The two Tigercats are the newest pieces of iron Blue Valley and Hidden Mountain own, and in addition to the 870 buncher, they run two Madill 2250 feller buchers, both equipped with Madill 365 24-inch felling heads and a John Deere 903J buncher. For loaders, BVE has the new Tigercat, along with a Madill 2850 and a John Deere 2054. They also run four Hitachi processors, all equipped with Waratah heads, and they have three skidders – two John Deere 748 models and one Cat 535.
For trucking, BVE runs six Kenworth T800s, including a brand new 2012 model. George says depending on the time of year and the volume and haul distances, he will have another five contractor trucks working for him. He has been equipping his own trucks with lightweight FreFlyt trailers from P&H Supplies in Vanderhoof and in November of last year, he took delivery of the first production model of FreFlyt’s latest B-Train trailer.
BVE also handles some of its own roadbuilding and runs a Cat D6T dozer, a John Deere 2154 road builder and a Champion grader. George estimates that they build about 30 kilometres of block roads annually.
George has brought BVE a long way from where he started in the mid-1990s. Today, the company employs about 30, including George, the production crew, truck drivers and a full-time mechanic. George’s son Mitch is also a mechanic and will finish his apprenticeship during 2012. The company has a four-bay shop in Vanderhoof and one mobile mechanic’s truck for repairs and maintenance done in the field. In terms of his workload, George credits Canfor for keeping him and his crew busy. “Canfor and its predecessors at the Plateau mill have been really good to work with over the years,” he says. “That gave us the stability we needed to grow and the confidence we need to invest in the business for the future. We have a great relationship with Canfor, but I also have a great crew and it’s that combination of crew and customer that makes this business work for us.”