New Zealand Logger - - Breaking Out -

WHY ON EARTH A SUC­CESS­FUL Amer­i­can log­ger ended up own­ing and har­vest­ing a for­est in the ru­ral back-blocks of New Zealand at a time when he should be re­tired and en­joy­ing the fruits of his labours back home, beats me.

But Steve Hen­der­son is no or­di­nary log­ger.

The man from the north-western US state of Idaho has in­vested a small for­tune buy­ing up land near Wan­ganui, plant­ing trees and then ship­ping out some ex­otic ma­chin­ery to har­vest them.

On top of that, he’s even op­er­at­ing ma­chines at the coalface, sorry, bush face. All at the age of 69.

Welcome to H& J Forestry Ltd, the sec­ond of the two crews work­ing for Feild­ing-based for­est man­ager, FOMS, which NZ Log­ger vis­ited re­cently to see the fruits of some in­ven­tive think­ing be­ing ap­plied to fa­cil­i­tate wood­lot har­vest­ing as the Wall of Wood gets ever-closer.

In many respects, H & J Forestry is the an­tithe­sis of the More­pork For­est Har­vest­ing crew that graced the pages of last month’s mag­a­zine.

Whereas More­pork needed FOMS to pro­vide a yarder for it to lease and is pretty typ­i­cal of small wood­lot crews tack­ling steep sites around the coun­try, H&J Log­ging is a larger, well-re­sourced unit that re­minds me of slick con­tract­ing crews work­ing in

cor­po­rate forests on the cen­tral plateau.

It’s hard to com­pare the two and, in fact, I won’t. They are two com­pletely dif­fer­ent beasts and it would be un­fair on ei­ther to draw any com­par­isons be­tween them.

What I can say, is that FOMS is in­cred­i­bly lucky that Steve Hen­der­son landed on its doorstep a cou­ple of decades ago and de­cided he wanted a slice of the boom­ing New Zealand forestry scene of the 1990s.

He pur­chased a 1,000-acre site to plant in Radiata pines then splashed out on some more blocks to add to his forestry hold­ings, re­al­is­ing his dream of be­ing a for­est owner not just a har­vest­ing con­trac­tor.

Bit of back­ground. Steve is the son of a farmer-cum-forester who went to Ore­gon State Univer­sity in or­der to get a well­paid job on grad­u­a­tion. Whilst study­ing he earned his keep as a part-time mem­ber of a forestry crew dur­ing hol­i­days.

“I grad­u­ated, got one of those good jobs and made less than the sum­mer be­fore, fall­ing trees, so I went back to the woods the next year,” says Steve.

“I de­cided work­ing in forestry could make a lot of money, so I talked my dad into buy­ing an old D7 Cat and that was the start of it.

“I’ve been log­ging for over 40 years in Idaho. It may not seem a tra­di­tional forestry state to some peo­ple, but there is a lot of forestry in the in­te­rior. Parts of it get about

as much rain as Ore­gon.”

Steve was for­tu­nate to get a con­tract with a cor­po­ra­tion that owned one mil­lion acres of for­est, which got his busi­ness, Steve Hen­der­son Log­ging, off to a sound start and he be­came its largest con­trac­tor.

“I had 70 peo­ple on the ground and 50 log­ging trucks work­ing for me – we used to do about 150 truck loads a day,” he says.

Clearly, it wasn’t enough be­cause Steve be­gan to look fur­ther afield, adding: “I came down here in 1994 and saw how fast Radiata grew. I’d heard about it for a long time and I said I al­ways wanted to re­tire on my own tree farm, but I never dreamed it would be half-way around the world.”

There was ex­ist­ing forestry on some of the blocks pur­chased by Steve, but the ma­jor­ity was farm­land. Plant­ing started 19 years ago, so they won’t be ready to be har­vested for a while. That hasn’t stopped Steve think­ing about cut­ting the trees down, and in­deed, ac­tively pre­par­ing for it.

Vis­it­ing New Zealand ev­ery year around Fe­bru­ary and March, Steve has made a num­ber of con­tacts within the lo­cal forestry com­mu­nity to learn more about what it takes to har­vest in this coun­try.

“We been plan­ning on this for a long time,” he says.

“My first trip over I got ac­quainted with Hugh Grey of Bright­wa­ter and he put me onto the guys in Nel­son, Ross and Derek Wood, and I’ve been friends with them for some time.

“They put me onto (the late) Mike Bartells when FOMS first got started and, well, here we are to­day.”

Where we are to­day – pri­vately-owned Ran­gatatau For­est, about 40 min­utes north of Wan­ganui – is not ac­tu­ally owned by Steve. It’s owned by an­other Amer­i­can who Steve is friendly with and is man­aged by FOMS. It is be­ing har­vested by the crew Steve has formed in New Zealand to even­tu­ally carry out the har­vest­ing of his own trees. As he said ear­lier, he does like to plan ahead.

The crew is a part­ner­ship be­tween him­self and Wan­ganui-based log­ger, Sam John­stone, who was sug­gested to Steve by FOMS direc­tor, Mar­cus Mus­son.

Sam has been in the in­dus­try al­most a dozen years and he brought the team to­gether last Novem­ber to form H & J Forestry (which stands for Hen­der­son and John­stone).

Talk about fall­ing on your feet. Not only did Sam get to part­ner with a very ex­pe­ri­enced log­ging con­trac­tor with plenty of con­tacts, he also got the pick of the forestry ma­chines that Steve had in his US op­er­a­tions.

Steve, has been ship­ping equip­ment to New Zealand that he deemed would be suit­able for har­vest­ing his own forests over the past cou­ple of years, start­ing with an old Tiger­cat 635 grap­ple skid­der.

Then came a Cat D7 dozer, a Madill 3800 with a Waratah 625C for pro­cess­ing, a John Deere 2454D for load­ing, a Tiger­cat 855 lev­eller fit­ted with a Woods­man 1350 felling head for har­vest­ing du­ties (Steve’s son also runs this same set-up in the US) and a Tim­berPro TF840B 8-wheel-drive for­warder that can haul 30 tonnes of logs.

But the ma­chine he spends most of his time with is some­thing we’ve never seen in New Zealand – a top-of the-range John Deere 3754G. It’s big­ger than any John Deere tracked forestry ma­chine sold into this mar­ket to date, tip­ping the scales at al­most 44 tonnes and run­ning a 202kW (271hp) ver­sion of John Deere’s 9-litre straight six.

“CablePrice hasn’t even got one yet,” says Steve. “Their me­chan­ics were crawl­ing all over it when they came out to do some work on that other loader.”

This ma­chine was bought for one of the US op­er­a­tions and had al­ready clocked up 700 hours on road build­ing du­ties in Idaho be­fore it was shipped here.

It’s be­ing used for the same work on this par­tic­u­lar job, where it is fit­ted with an un­usual-look­ing thumb and a bucket. Steve is pi­o­neer­ing the route, rip­ping out trees and do­ing ini­tial ground work for the D7 to fol­low.

This is very fa­mil­iar work for Steve, who says: “We did road lin­ing and har­vest­ing at the same time in Idaho, we did ev­ery­thing but he­li­copter wood out. This is just a small ver­sion of what I once was.

“Ev­ery­body thinks I’m crazy but I’m on

va­ca­tion now, this is noth­ing com­pared to what I used to do. It’s kinda fun. I’m 69, my dad, he worked till he was 88 – logged and farmed all his life. I reckon I’ve still got a good few years ahead of me.”

The H& J Forestry crew has been work­ing in this for­est for the best part of six months and Steve has ex­tended his usual trip to help build the roads and plat­forms.

“In this for­est, we’ve got 9kms to start with on this side, we’re hop­ing to get it all done real soon with­out too many weather in­ter­rup­tions,” he says. “We’ll be close to half fin­ished once I’m done with this.”

Mar­cus Mus­son, from FOMS says this par­tic­u­lar block of 25 hectares within the 200 hectares be­ing har­vested will pro­vide the win­ter set­ting for the crew be­cause it won’t get as boggy as other parts of the for­est.

He’s full of praise for what H& J Forestry has achieved since it moved in here, adding: “You only need to see what these guys have done in the short amount of time they’ve been in this for­est.

“There’s no one else that I have seen that can do what these guys have done in that amount of time.”

Steve di­rects all the praise to the rest of the team, adding that he’s “just the part­timer who gets in the way some­times”. But you can tell that he’s hav­ing the time of his life in that cab.

The land­scape is not too dis­sim­i­lar from what his crews have logged in the US, maybe a tad hilly.

“It’s pretty steep com­ing around there, I had to com­pletely build it,” he ges­tures at the track he’s cre­at­ing on the crest of the ridge.

“I try to leave ev­ery­thing I can for the dozer – I take the trees out of the way. I don’t know if many peo­ple just push the trees over, but we do it for safety. If you just saw (off) the trees at the stumps you have to pack them some­where.

“I en­joy be­ing at the con­trols and we’re pressed for time. I had peo­ple do this for me at home be­cause I couldn’t af­ford to be on the ma­chine, but I’ve got time now.

“I’ve worked on a lot more ma­chines, but not the likes of the Waratahs and those things. I like good ma­chin­ery that’s ca­pa­ble of do­ing the job.

“That Tim­berPro, sure it’s ex­pen­sive for an op­er­a­tion like this, but I thought it was the key to han­dling these short logs and all the sorts that you do. We don’t al­ways pull 30 tonnes ev­ery load, but close to it, and I wish it was faster. I’ve al­ways been a speed de­mon.”

Then Steve hints at some­thing even more ex­pen­sive and ex­otic that is on its way from the US to help cope with the steeper ter­rain.

“We’re build­ing a hauler that I’ve been want­ing to do for a long time,” he says, with a broad­en­ing smile. “

“We’re tak­ing a 470 John Deere (a 50-tonne ex­ca­va­tor) and part of my idea came from Ross Wood. He’s a real in­no­va­tor and he put a set of winches on a 325 that he’s teth­ered with and I thought why wouldn’t that work on a yarder.”

Some of you might be think­ing it’ll be

a ‘yoader’ – a com­bined yarder/loader, sim­i­lar to the Har­vest­lines built by EMS in Ro­torua. Ex­cept that it won’t do any load­ing work at all.

“It’s a lot like Chris Hancock’s Har­vest­line, only it’s a reg­u­lar yarder with a 475hp en­gine, 6-speed trans­mis­sion and ev­ery­thing in­ter­locked, with a 50ft mast – Chris is a real in­no­va­tor, too, we’re get­ting one of his new Hawk­eye grap­ple car­riages,” says Steve.

“We hope this new ma­chine does ev­ery­thing we think it will. It’s de­signed to go on ridge tops where you can’t guy a reg­u­lar yarder the way you should. I’ve seen more yarders down here with bent track frames be­cause they’ve been guy­ing too low.”

The 470 yarder is due to be com­pleted in a work­shop in Idaho and shipped out here in a few months af­ter test­ing in the US. A great rea­son for NZ Log­ger to pay a re­turn visit to see the yarder in ac­tion and put it through an Iron Test.

It’s all part of the grand plan. And so was get­ting some­one like Sam John­stone on board to run the crew.

“I en­joy help­ing peo­ple like Sam into the busi­ness,” says Steve. “We put the cap­i­tal into the ma­chin­ery and he brings ev­ery­thing else.

“My big­gest as­set all these years has been my peo­ple and that was the hard­est thing for me to do when I wanted to get out of it and fig­ure out how to go with­out hurt­ing them.

“I had peo­ple right there with me night and day, some for more than 20 years, mak­ing it work. You just can’t walk off and leave guys that have given you that much of their life and laid it on the line – most peo­ple would love to have my worst help.

“My son took over a por­tion of the busi­ness and three of the em­ploy­ees took over other sides. One of them failed but all the rest of them made it. At least I could leave with a clear con­science and say I did what I could.”

From the work al­ready achieved by Sam John­stone and the team in H & J Forestry to date, he won’t have to worry about the fu­ture for­tunes of the New Zealand busi­ness that he’s started up.

You get the im­pres­sion that Steve looks upon Sam as a sur­ro­gate son and the feel­ing seems to be pretty mu­tual when we catch up with Sam on the next ridge, where the rest of the crew is do­ing the clear-cut har­vest­ing.

“He’s ex­tremely hands on and he’s a

good man to learn from – he’s built up a lot of knowl­edge in 40 years of forestry,” says Sam.

Be­com­ing his own boss has been a steep learn­ing curve for Sam, but the as­sis­tance and ad­vice from his Amer­i­can busi­ness part­ner has eased the process.

“I’m just a Wan­ganui boy,” he says. “Been in forestry about 11 years and I’ve known Mar­cus a long time and he men­tioned that Steve was look­ing to bring some gear over and was look­ing for a keen young guy to take on the chal­lenge.

“I spent the last three years at an Ernslaw for­est at Kaitoki, just out of Wan­ganui, it was a mech­a­nised crew and that’s where I learned a lot about mech­a­nised har­vest­ing. I wasn’t fore­men there, but I do know how to run a crew and have been a fore­man in the past. Even still, this was a big learn­ing curve for me.”

The core of this crew were hand-picked by Sam from peo­ple he’s got to know in the re­gion dur­ing his time with other op­er­a­tions.

“There’s a cou­ple of them I didn’t know, but ask­ing around I liked what they did and it’s worked out re­ally well hav­ing them here,” he says. “We’ve got a good group of guys and that’s what it comes down to at the end of the day.”

All up, there are seven peo­ple in the crew, in­clud­ing Sam and Steve, which will ex­pand to eight when the yarder ar­rives. Con­sid­er­ing they do their own road­lin­ing as well as har­vest­ing, it’s a pretty tight and ef­fi­cient or­gan­i­sa­tion.

It helps that they’ve got the right gear and Sam ac­knowl­edges the good for­tune in hav­ing some­one like Steve bankroll such a great col­lec­tion of equip­ment.

He can’t re­ally be­lieve his luck in hav­ing a ma­chine like the Tim­berPro at his dis­posal from the get-go. It’s ac­tu­ally been sit­ting around for a cou­ple of years in the US, waiting to be used, be­fore be­ing shipped here.

Are they able to make full use of its po­ten­tial in such a hilly for­est, I ask?

“It is pay­ing,” says Sam, “I don’t think I’d go back re­ally, they are such a use­ful tool.

“We are get­ting close to 30 tonnes of logs on the back on most runs. It’s re­ally work­ing well for us.

“It’s good wood. We did 216 loads last month, so around 10 or 11 trucks per day. It’s a good start – we’re get­ting there. It’s not where we want to be, but we’re mak­ing progress.

“We are do­ing a lot of our pro­cess­ing out in the cu­tover, so it gives us a chance to spread the crew out a bit and for­ward the wood so we are not in such a con­fined area.”

The com­bi­na­tion of road­lin­ing and pro­duc­tion har­vest­ing also requires care­ful bal­ance of the crew’s re­sources to avoid de­lays and down­time.

Sam, who op­er­ates the Tiger­cat lev­el­ling har­vester, says: “So how we work is what­ever I can do on this ma­chine to get ahead of Steve I’ll do that, oth­er­wise he’s been hav­ing to push a lot of trees over as he makes tracks and put them to the side to get through.

“But we’re clear-felling at the same time, so I have to come back and get trees on the groun d and leave him to get on. It is a strug­gle to keep the roads ahead with the vol­ume com­ing out but it is work­ing.

“It’s prob­a­bly not enough to feed this an­gry ma­chine (Tim­berPro), be­cause we’re road­lin­ing at the same time and not just con­cen­trat­ing on clear felling.”

The trees that are cut down as part of the road­lin­ing op­er­a­tion are dragged back to the skid site by the 635 skid­der, which en­sures the for­warder is em­ployed on the more lu­cra­tive clear-fell work.

Help­ing out with the road­lin­ing on the Cat dozer is John O’Leary who is a veteran of New Zealand forestry, with a history dat­ing back to na­tive log­ging days.

“We’re pretty lucky to have an op­er­a­tor like him with that sort of ex­pe­ri­ence on board,” says Sam. “We have a huge amount to learn off him and we’re al­ways pick­ing his brains.”

The Tim­berPro is op­er­ated by Craig O’Leary, who has yarder ex­pe­ri­ence so is likely to be pressed into ac­tion on the new ma­chine when it ar­rives.

Al­though it has its own load­ing boom with grap­ple, the Tim­berPro is usu­ally un­loaded on the skid site by Daniel Pur­cell in the John Deere 2454, be­cause it’s so much faster.

The crew’s new­est re­cruit, Dui Taione, is em­ployed as a skiddy/QC and was un­der­go­ing train­ing the day we vis­ited.

Out at the cu­tover, Mike White­head uses the Madill 3800C and Waratah 625C to process the stems brought down by Sam’s Tiger­cat and turn them into logs.

One thing I’ve no­ticed about all the tracked ma­chines in this crew is that ev­ery one of them has a live heel, in­clud­ing the Tiger­cat har­vester and Madill pro­ces­sor. It seems to be a pe­cu­liarly US thing, giv­ing the op­er­a­tor the op­por­tu­nity to con­trol stems and longer logs with more ac­cu­racy when plac­ing them on the ground or shov­el­ling them up or down hill. In this ter­rain, there’s a fair amount of shov­el­ling re­quired so the heels come in handy.

We’ve walked out to the cu­tover to see how H & J Forestry man­ages to har­vest and re­cover wood on these hills with­out teth­er­ing the fall­ing ma­chine or hav­ing the ben­e­fit of a yarder.

Sam ac­knowl­edges the con­straints and says: “Be­ing a ground base crew it is a chal­lenge to get wood off these slopes, so we’ve put some longer toe­nails on the ma­chine I use to hold it.

“When­ever you come across a group of Pon­gas in there you know there is a bit of mois­ture in the ground, so I take ex­tra care. We also have a con­tract faller who comes in to do the places I can’t reach.

“We don’t use the winch on the back of the skid­der to pull any­thing. We’re man­ag­ing to grab all of it this way. What I can’t reach, the con­tract faller comes in and drops them down to where we can get them. It’s just plan­ning where the cut-off point is go­ing to be with­out push­ing it too far. We know there is go­ing to be a yarder com­ing in so we can leave ar­eas that it will be able to work.”

Sam is look­ing for­ward to the ar­rival of the yarder and the crew is al­ready set­ting up ar­eas of the for­est in readi­ness for its ar­rival.

It will be the miss­ing link in what is al­ready an im­pres­sive US/Kiwi op­er­a­tion and I can’t wait to come back and see it in ac­tion.

The yarder will ful­fil the dreams of Steve Hen­der­son to be able to ef­fec­tively har­vest the trees from his own for­est when the time comes. And the crew he helped to es­tab­lish will con­tinue his legacy when he fi­nally de­cides to hang up his hard hat NZL

Story & pho­tos: John El­le­gard

They started life in the US state of Idaho and now these ma­chines are get­ting their sec­ond wind in forests around Wan­ganui.

This Tim­berPro TF840B has been sit­ting it out in the US for the past two years, waiting for its chance to go to work.

Above: The H & J Forestry crew (mi­nus part-owner Steve Hen­der­son), from left, Craig O’Leary, Daniel Pur­cell, John O’Leary, Sam John­stone (the other part-owner), Mike White­head and Dui Taione.

Fac­ing page: QC/skiddy, Dui Taione (left), is shown how to sharpen a chain­saw blade by trainer, John Reid.

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