Mpumalanga-based contractor mechanises with Bell and John Deere

November 30, 2014

Left to right: Charles Inggs (Bell sales rep), Francine and Cassie Greyling (owners, Can Do Timbers) and David Strydom (operations manager, Graskop).

A Mpumalanga based timber harvesting contractor, with a healthy appreciation for the numbers involved, has gone full circle from manual system to mechanized system.

Cassie Greyling studied towards a BCom degree in accountancy and although he is lost to that profession, it is due to his understanding of the numbers that he is able to clearly see the bigger picture in terms of the long-term benefits of mechanising his harvesting operation.

“I was first exposed to forestry and timber harvesting on the farm of a friend of mine,” he says from his office near Graskop. “I then started a timber harvesting operation as a contractor under my own name in 1990 and ran that until 2004, when we established Can Do Timbers.”

In those early days, Greyling worked with 20 labourers and a small pick-up truck, harvesting 500 tons of timber a month. In 2004, his client Sappi suggested he expand his business and so Can Do Timbers was born with a contract to harvest 60 000 tons a year. This soon grew to a contract for 140 000 tons of Eucalyptus annually.

“Our manual harvesting teams would traditionally consist of one chainsaw operator who would fell and crosscut a tree before a team of six others would debark it and stack the timber in two-ton stacks in-field,” he says. “This timber would stay in-field for up to six weeks to dry and then be bundle-loaded out with a John Deere 540G cable-skidder to the roadside for short-haul to a nearby depot.”

Bell loggers
Greyling bought his first Bell 125 Logger in 1994 and has since graduated to running a fleet of nine Bell 225 crankboom loggers. “Since those early days, our Bell loggers have been the mechanical backbone of our operation,” he smiles. “They are such never-say-die machines and really reward the care we lavish on them, while working them hard as well. After 500 hours of using a new machine, we switch to a R-4 type oil, which is somewhere between conventional and synthetic oil, which we believe adds to their longevity.”

“They are also not expensive machines and are simple to maintain and repair with component replacement like hydraulic pumps easily done,” he adds.

Cable skidder
Can Do Timbers bought their first John Deere 540G cable skidder in 2004 to extract timber from in-field to roadside.

“Our John Deere cable skidders have proved themselves over and over again to be real workhorses and our oldest machine has given us 24 000 hours of service,” Greyling says. “And yes, on that particular machine we have rebuilt its engine and transmission, but given the high mechanical availability we’ve consistently enjoyed from it and the other similar skidders in our fleet of four, we are well pleased with such a great return on our initial investment.”

In 2013 Can Do Timbers took another major leap forward in their quest to mechanise their harvesting and extraction operations. Greyling and his team took delivery of a John Deere 759JH harvester fitted with a Waratah HTH616 debarking harvesting head, after seeing a demonstration of the system in the KwaZulu-Natal midlands

“We realised that this is a very specialised machine, but what convinced us that this was the way to go to more comprehensive mechanisation was the fact that the machine is sold, serviced and backed by Bell Equipment with its large national footprint, which gave us the confidence that there would always be spare parts and advice available,” he says. “Another factor was that the John Deere 759JH harvester is tracked and with its levelling cab, would be ideally suited for the steep terrain where so many of our Eucalyptus compartments are situated.”


The John Deere 759JH harvester works in tandem with the JD 1710D forwarder.

Integrated system
The John Deere 759JH harvester has rapidly become an integral part of the harvesting system at the 6 000 hectare plantations that fall in the Can Do Timbers’ mandate, in the Graskop area. The machine is used in three eight-hour shifts, and worked its way out of a 2 000 hour warranty in just three months. Within its first year of full operation it has clocked up more than 6 500 hours of service.

“We do daily checks at each shift handover and really take care of this machine and it shows in the 11 tons per hour production it gives us at a fuel-burn rate of 20 litres an hour,” Greyling says. “Servicing is strictly done every 500 hours and this in turn translates into mechanical availabilities in the high 90%.”

To further speed up the timber extraction part of the cycle, Greyling recently purchased a John Deere 1710D 8-wheeled forwarder to work in tandem with the John Deere 759JH harvester.

“Our harvesting has now changed with this equipment as the harvester fells, debarks and cross-cuts the timber into 4,8 metre lengths and lays it down in the compartment,” Greyling explains. “The forwarder, which is fitted with metal bogey tracks for superior traction and reduced impact on the soil, then follows the same line and loads the timber using its Waratah 885 crane for the extraction to roadside where Bell loggers are used to load the timber onto short-haul trucks.”

Improved production
The John Deere forwarder has in this case replaced the use of the skidder and improved production rates with its heavier payload and quick cycles. Average fuel burn of around 16 litres to the hour is also not breaking the bank.

“With less manual labour available, mechanisation is the way forward for us,” Greyling says. “But with any such exercise, having the correct purpose-made tools is imperative and this we have definitely found with our John Deere and Bell forestry equipment.”


The John Deere 1710D eight-wheel forwarder extracting harvested timber that has been stripped and cut to length.


John Deere 1710D eight-wheel forwarder side view.

Published in August 2014

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