Tethered Logging Demo

Patrick Donnelly, West Virginia University Extension Service

Setting up the Twinch system

How do you get three competing equipment manufacturers to work on the same slope, cut the same timber, and share equipment? Well that is certainly what Jerry Sisler owner of SC&L, and I had to figure out as we worked to get the steep slope logging demo to come to fruition. The driving force behind this event started in January 2024 after a Mountain Loggers group meeting. As Jerry and I talked after the meeting, we both realized we had to do something about putting this type of logging out there in our area for folks in the forest products industry to see.

With that, we decided a steep slope demo was the way to go. Little did we know all the setting up this event would entail. Working with Dr. Jamie Schuler from the WVU Forestry school and Heidi Harmala, Forest Manager of the WVU Research Forest, we found the steepest ground with access that was available in the WVU forest. The timber itself was mostly red oak and some of the trees had considerable size. Right off the bat, the ground was deemed “not steep enough” and it encouraged several companies to decline our invitation to participate in the demo. But three companies, TimberMAX, Appalachian Winching Systems/T-Winch, and Falcon Forestry Equipment were all in!

The idea of steep slope/tethered/winch-assist logging has been around for several years in West Virginia on several steep slope sites in southern West Virginia. Specifically, Weyerhaeuser Corporation runs two crews on their company lands, while Mountaineer Mechanized does the same on their ground, with Mountaineer also incorporating a yarder system in their operations.

Some of the demo organizers in a quiet moment

Mike Moran with Weyerhaeuser has worked for several years to bring this type of logging into the state. He has been very helpful with “schooling” us about this specialized equipment and how it is utilized on their company ground. Being at the opposite end of the state Jerry and I figured the best bet for the demo would be to keep it close to home for ease of travel for the set up and the closeness of the University.

Fast forward a few months—equipment started to arrive several days before the event. Several companies brought in equipment for display and for visitors to see up close. Ricer Equipment set up a new Tigercat TCi 920 dozer, Anderson Equipment brought in a TimberPro TL745D feller-buncher equipped with a Quadco hotsaw, and Leslie Equipment brought in several pieces for both display and work, including a new Pitts log trailer, a John Deere (JD) skid-steer and a Rotobek grapple sawhead, a new JD 768L2 bogey skidder, a JD J437E knuckleboom loader with a Cutting Systems, Inc. CSI—bucksaw, and a Brush Bandit 2590 whole-tree chipper on tracks. Newlons International Sales brought in two machines for static display and several more for the live Demo; the Hyundai 955 wheeled loader and the Hyundai HX130 excavator with a grapple saw for display, while they live demo’ed a Barko 495 knuckleboom loader and a CSI slasher saw with a grapple saw equipped excavator used for feeding the chipper as part of the live demo.

The live demo of the tethered operations started out with Falcon Forestry Equipment (FFE) using a highly modified Komatsu excavator as their winch machine paired with a Komatsu feller-buncher with a Quadco head. The second system demo’ed was comprised of a TimberMAX winch attached to a John Deere 350 excavator, and the third system was a single machine operation using the T-Winch, which is a stand-alone machine. The folks from TimberMAX and T-Winch shared time with a Komatsu feller-buncher equipped with a Quadco head supplied by LaRoche Tree Service. SC&L brought in a Tigercat 635G bogey skidder to use as a tethered skidder for the T-Winch and TimberMAX operations. Mr. Sisler also donated his time and Cat D5 dozer to open up and improve road conditions for the log trucks. The WVU Research Forest Manager, Heidi Harmala, flagged the roads, as well as the landing.

The week started off a little rough with 2″ of rain on Saturday and snow and wind all day on Sunday. Missing church on Sunday was a rough one for Jerry and I both but we worked until well after dark on Sunday to be ready for Monday morning. As we met up the next morning, we were ready to go well before the sun even had a hint of light in the eastern sky. It got busy very quickly!

The day started out with both feller-bunchers failing to start. That situation was quickly rectified, and Falcon started the show. When Sisler’s skidder arrived it was fitted with the necessary rigging for tethering to the TimberMax and the T-Winch. Two feller bunchers began cutting along the sidehill and the logs were skidded uphill to the landing.

On a side note, as the skidder pulled up a turn of big red oak logs, it hit a high stump. Usually, the sudden impact of the skidder on a sidehill that steep would result in a roll over. In this case, however, even though the machine powered down to idle and stopped dead, the TimberMAX winch not only pulled the skidder back to level, but also got it to the top of the hill. At that point, there were several observers who bought into the idea of winch assist logging systems. The crowd was able to see firsthand the high level of safety and solid productivity that winch assist logging brings to the table.

The logs were bunched at the top of the hill, where the JD768L2—bogey skidder was moving them up to the loaders on the landing. The logs were taken to the nearby Northwest Hardwood sawmill. The demo got a little better each day in terms of flow and all the people in hi-viz vests and hardhats attending the live demo suggested that a lot of people were truly interested in seeing these operations live and in real time. All told, over 600 people attended the Live Demo over the three-day event!

Each day started off with plenty of coffee and breakfast snacks and a safety meeting and a catered lunch was brought in from Sodexo as well each day. There were presentations by each company as well as several logging safety presentations during the first two days at the WVU Natural Resources Building, located at the Research Forest Headquarters—the demo site and the main building were about 10 minutes apart which was very convenient.

These presentations brought insight into where the research is heading in the future for this type of logging. Dr. Ben Spong, Forest Operations Specialist with the WVU Appalachian Hardwood Center, discussed USFS funded research conducted in WV on tethered logging systems and presentations on safety research conducted by The Northeast Center for Occupational Health and Safety in Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing by the Center’s Deputy Director, Dr. Erika Scott, throughout New York, New England, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.
Finally, to the many people and equipment company representatives who contributed their time and resources to make this event happen, we thank you. This Demo Program could not have been the success it was without your contributions and efforts!

Two tracked feller-bunchers at the demo