Small timber specialist
By Robin Brunet
Dec. 17, 2013 - When Frank Etchart took over the family logging business in Kamloops in 1989, he knew that harvesting small-diameter wood in less-than-favourable conditions required optimum efficiencies in order to generate decent profits. Thus began a quest to secure the best teams and equipment for the job.
Etchart has many good things to say about his fleet of Hitachi, John Deere and other brand equipment. The latest addition is a harvesting head designed specifically for small-diameter timber – the Quadstar QS500 processor, a 22-inch four-roller multi-stemming head from Southstar.
Earlier this year, he purchased three units and mounted each on Hitachi 210 carriers. The increase in efficiency has been significant, the logger explains.
“It’s a rare case of everything on the heads making sense, from the welding of the frames to the routing of the hoses and the placement of the valve,” he says. “Prior to making my purchase, I saw a larger Southstar head in action in Vernon and was impressed by the work it did. In the six months I’ve been using the Southstars, it has been nothing but a steady series of surprises – all of them good.”
Etchart’s enthusiasm for the heads is especially gratifying to Marcel Payeur, a longtime equipment and service provider who, along with four other Canadian partners, purchased New Zealand-based Southstar in October 2011. “Southstar had earned a reputation for reliability amongst loggers in New Zealand, Australia and Indonesia, and we bought the company with the intention of expanding that reputation across North America,” he says. “Owners such as Frank are going a long way in establishing our presence in Canada.”
Etchart, 65, is hardly the classic B.C. logger. He was born in Spain and raised in France, and shortly after emigrating to the province in 1969, enrolled at the British Columbia Institute of Technology to study mining engineering. This eventually led him to work for an oil company that, ironically, obliged him to spend a year overseas, in 1985.
When Etchart returned to B.C. in 1986, the oil and gas sector was in decline, so he decided to work for his three uncles who had launched Nadina Logging Ltd. near Burns Lake in the 1950s. “Over the decades, my uncles had migrated to Merritt, where there was plenty of work – and near enough my home in Kamloops to commute daily,” he recalls.
By 1989, one uncle had retired and another was approaching retirement age, so Etchart decided to purchase the company. “I did it partly because I loved the outdoors, for the sake of family continuance, and because Nadina was a well-respected small player in the region,” he says. “Then as now, we worked with a local mill, Aspen Planers Ltd., and even though I didn’t have much dirt under my fingernails, my initial function was mainly to sign the cheques, so I got by OK. I learned the language of logging over time as well as how to operate the different machines – starting with the smallest chainsaw – since back then I couldn’t handle anything larger.”
In 1989, Nadina consisted of a six-man crew, several skidders, a buncher, one truck, and the capacity to harvest about 40,000 cubic metres annually. Today, the company retains about 25 people and cuts 250,000 cubic metres yearly, in the forests surrounding Merritt. Inventory consists of two Tigercat bunchers (with a third contracted), three skidders (Tigercat and John Deere), two Deere loaders (one for loading and the other for decking) and six processors – the latter an even split between Hitachi and John Deere.
While Etchart was honing his skills and growing Nadina, Marcel Payeur was presiding over a Hyundai dealership in the Okanagan, having already worked as a field mechanic and manager for Timberjack and developed another company as a parts and service provider. “Subsequent to Hyundai I took on a Volvo dealership, and by the close of 2010 I was looking for other opportunities,” he says. “Southstar, which was formed by Waratah inventor Dave Cochrane in 2008, proved to be it.”
With Waratah, Cochrane had revolutionized bucking and delimbing. As the mastermind behind Southstar, he had developed and was selling six different types of heads to clients in New Zealand, Australia and Indonesia, with some of the first units having logged over 20,000 hours and still working today.
When Payeur (who had sold one of the first Waratah 620s in North America), four other Canadian partners and a New Zealand partner purchased Southstar, they immediately set about modifying five of the processors to suit the North American market. “We introduced our first head at the Interior Logging Association’s show in Vernon in May of 2012, and Vernon logger Randy Spence purchased two 23-inch heads soon after,” says Payeur.
Meanwhile, Etchart and his crew were looking for a durable solution for their processing fleet. “We heard through the grapevine that Southstar heads were being unveiled in B.C. and we certainly knew Marcel’s reputation for taking good care of his clients, so I met with him and then I checked out the 23-inch head in action in Vernon,” he says.
Etchart initially ordered one head from Payeur, but several days after it was delivered in March of this year, he was so impressed with the machine that he ordered another. “A few days after that I ordered a third,” he says. “The machines are beautifully designed. To give just one example, in other processors the hoses running from the boom to the head usually get broken, but the hoses on the Southstars are routed right through the centre.”
Etchart is also impressed by the four QS500 rollers. “We deal with three- to five-inch log diameters, and in order to make this kind of operation viable you have to feed as much as possible through the processor – five stems at a time. With our previous three-roller processors, the stems would routinely get stuck. The addition of a fourth roller on the QS500 creates less of a gap, and the rollers encircle the stems nicely.”
The QS500 has a 20 to 22 feet/second feed speed at 280 litres/minute flow. These S series heads have a four-roller design and side shift feature that enables operators to pick up two, three or four logs at a time and accurately process them.
Other features include a wide frame; high-pressure
cylinders; oversized pins and bushings; and large fabricated delimb arms. Including the rotator, the entire unit weighs 2,450
Etchart notes, “Previously we would take two or three trees out of a deck but could only process them one at a time and had to separate by species, meaning we could easily have a dozen sorts in the same area. This put enormous pressure on our operators.” With the Southstar computer system, the operator can process different species of trees without switching, and with a priority bucking feature the computer makes
all the decisions on lengths by reading the diameter
Equally important from Etchart’s point of view is ease of maintenance: on one QS500 that has logged over 900 hours, his crews have yet to change the harvester bar. All they do is grease the tip daily, and then weekly turn the bar from top to bottom and sharpen it. “The head, combined with the Hitachi carrier, is so rigid that the bar makes the cut and never gets stuck,” he says, adding that the Hitachi 210 is his unit of choice because it consumes only 21 litres of fuel per hour compared to other brands that burn over 30 litres hourly. “Again, for a smaller operator like Nadina, these benefits amount to something substantial.”