By Jennifer Alger, Far West Forest Products
Sometimes major events in our lives begin in the most unassuming ways. In February of 2011, we were demonstrating a Wood-Mizer LT50 sawmill at the World Ag Expo in Tulare, California, when a guy came up and said something along the lines of, “I’ve got trees on my property that will blow the logs you’re using out of the water”. We have been doing Wood-Mizer demonstrations for about ten years now and it never fails that, at every show, someone comes up and tells us their own “big log” story. Usually the “big logs” are almost never as large as they were described to be. But this guy was insistent, and then he showed us the pictures.
Wow! He had three, old-growth giant sequoia redwood trees on his property that had fallen in a storm and needed them removed. These amazing trees were estimated to be between 2,000 and 3,000 years old before they finally succumbed to the forces of nature. The opportunity of having the honor to salvage these pieces of history that were alive at, or before, the time Christ walked the earth, was very exciting to us.
It is every logger’s dream to get a “one log load,” meaning only one log would fit on a log truck at a time. Looking at these windfall trees, we knew that every load was going to be a one log load. In July, my parents Jim and Diane Evans made the trip to to determine if this was a project we were going to tackle. They noted the road conditions, and that there was a tunnel that had a maximum clearance of 14'4", so that would be a factor hauling the logs out and the equipment in. When my dad and brothers, Cody and Jason Evans started the job, the only equipment they had on day one were the chainsaws. The chainsaws being used were: a 090 Stihl gear drive with a six foot bar, a Stihl 880 with a five and six foot bar, a 394 Husqvarna with a 48 inch bar for limbing, and a 46 Stihl. We found a 090 direct drive with a 6 foot bar later on Craigslist and added it to the line-up. We tried desperately to find a nine foot bar, but they were three months out on special order, so we borrowed a nine foot bar from a friend.
The first log was 16'6" diameter inside the bark, and the bark was 18" thick on the north side. There was no way we could have hauled a log that big off the property so we had to break it down first. This first log was bucked to 24 feet and was ripped into five pieces. The bar wasn’t long enough and didn’t open the log all the way, so wedges and gluts were driven in to spread the opening wide enough to get choker cables around the log sections. Scaffolding had to be built to rip the logs as they had to be ripped from the top and from the sides both, and it was 20' from the top of the log to the ground on the downhill side. Logging on steep ground is always a challenge, so limb wood and debris were piled on the lower side to keep logs from rolling downhill when bucked. The saws had to be filed perfectly. If they weren’t, they would have easily drifted in the cut. Since we were coming in from both sides on logs this big, matching them up horizontally and vertically was no easy feat.
If your saw is not sharp and your hands are not steady, the cuts could be off several feet when they meet in the middle, and the wood was far too valuable to allow that to happen. While they were working up the first log, I was back at the shop scheduling the first piece of equipment to ship to the jobsite, our 1450 Case Crawler. It was way too small for the job, but it’s all we had. When the driver got to the bottom of the hill with it, he panicked, as the road was more extreme than he expected, and waited there for half a day until he could locate two pilot cars for the rest of the trip up.
The roadwas laden with switchbacks and climbed from800 feet to 7,000 feet over approximately 30miles, and every trip required a pilot car.This first log was skid with just a 1450 Case. Even though this 24' log had been split into five pieces, the 644D still wouldn’t lift them, so the sections had to be loaded onto the trailer one end at a time with a ramp made out of round logs to block it. The first piece to leave the landing went out on our 30' Gooseneck FeatherLite trailer being pulled by Cody’s F450, as it was the smallest section of log, and he took it back to our facility in Sheridan. The next piece to leave the landing was a ¼ section of that first log, and we were only able to put the one section on the short logger. We then decided to start using low beds and sent the logs down the hill where we had a cold deck. We started hiring 25 and 35 ton low beds to haul the logs out for us, and later added a low bed of our own.
We finally located a 350 JD excavator, but it didn’t arrive on the jobsite until log eight of the first tree, so we were loading with the 644D loader using ramps we made out of logs. We would put logs up alongside the low bed that were about 2" lower than the bed and decreased in diameter as they went down, and then roll the logs up onto the deck. Every log was logged uphill. One guy would be in the excavator pulling the log and tracking backward up the hill, while the dozer would be pushing it from the bottom at the same time. It was a slow process - pull and track backwards, pull, and track backwards. If you went too quickly or if the dozer broke traction, you would snap a one inch choker in a split second. I shot some great video footage while riding on the dozer with my dad driving.
We were below the log pushing and going straight up a hill while my brother Cody was pulling with the excavator, and I was praying that we would not break traction during the more than ¼ mile skid up to the landing. When you’re in the woods on steep ground, you really want to work with someone that you know and trust. You know what their skills are and can anticipate their next move instinctively. When we got to the third tree, the butt log was buried in about five feet of dirt. When this massive tree fell, it pulled dirt up with the root wad and covered the log with it. We had to go up about 25' from the root wad to make the first cut and then buck two 16' logs out of it. When we pulled the center log out, the log on the uphill side slid down into the butt log that still had the root wad attached and it shook the ground like an earthquake. The impact knocked a “splinter” out of the log. It measured 3' x 12" X 12' long!
We sold several logs whole in order to pay for the job, and then started sending them back to our facility for processing. Due to the size of these logs, we still had to quarter them before putting them onto the WM1000 Headrig with the 67" throat capacity. We are now able to cant these out using the WM1000 and then take them over to our LT40 Super Portable Sawmill for further processing. We are also using the WM1000 to cut 67" redwood slabs that people are buying for tables and bar tops. We’ve salvaged close to 100,000 board feet of redwood on the Scribner scale from those three trees, and aren’t even finished yet. It wasn’t all good wood, as there was fall crack, cull centers, wind shake, ring shake, and cat face. But there has been a lot of amazing clear wood in it, and it has been a lot of fun! We feel truly blessed to be a part of giving these trees a second life and allowing them to “live on” and be enjoyed by others for many years to come.
About the Author: Jennifer Alger operates the Wood-Mizer California Authorized Sales Center with her father Jim Evans. She has years of experience matching people with the best sawmill to fit their needs, and has helped support their success by providing dedicated service and support. She also runs lumber sales and promotion for Far West Forest Products, actively promoting west coast hardwoods, and the utilization of urban logs for lumber. She has a passion for helping other sawmill operators achieve success, and has organized training workshops for skill development including marketing and operating a small sawmill business.
Categories: All, Success Stories, Custom Sawing
Tags: WM1000, Industrial Sawmill
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