The Shovel Logging technique was developed on the Olympic pennisula, Washington, in the early 1980's. It was a natural outgrowth of the utilization of hydraulic excavators in road construction. As excavators proved thier effectiveness in road construction, loggers adapted dead thumbs in order to assist in the movement of right of way timber. When the clumsiness of the dead thumb was replaced by the live thumb, it soon became apparant that handling of the right of way timber was no longer a problem. As stories go, a logger who was tracking cost closely, soon realized that this right of way timber was the lowest cost timber he was producing. So he thought "Hey what if I put my shovel outside the ROW and set timber into the ROW?". From there the rest is history, except as the story goes the logger was able to maintain a competitve advantage for 2 years by hiring security (Wackernut) and swearing the crew to secrecy. As things go however, an equipment salesman eventually found out and blew the lid on the story. Currently all major equipment manufacturers make shovel logging lines, and thier sales is a testimony to the cost effectiveness of the technique.
On the right ground and in the right conditions, shovel logging is undoubtedly the lowest cost, least impacting logging system period. Like any specialized logging system, planning is required in order to determine the particulars of the system application.
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Shovel logging is a technique which I became interested in applying as soon as I heard about it out West some five years or so ago. It was not until early in 1992 that I got the opportunity to see the technique applied to Virginia's Mountains. This opportunity spun out of efforts to attract efficient skyline operations that would use the latest in rigging skills. Just so happens that progressive loggers use progressive techniques, and along with the cable yarding skills came a shovel logger. The man's name was Ross Hojem, president of H&H Logging from Chehalis, Washington. After several trips from the West to see our timber conditions and markets, H&H Logging was the high bidder on the Parker's Gap cable salvage timber sale, close to Natural Bridge, Virginia
The Parker's Gap cable salvage sale, being the result of blow down from Hurricane Hugo, resulted in one cable-logging unit that needed to be pulled downhill. Normally, skyline logging in Virginia is limited to uphill logging to keep things as simple, and inexpensive. However, due to the hurricane and its layout job, this was not possible. Since I had wanted to try shovel logging and perceived the environmental effects of the technique to be similar or less impacting than skyline operations, we signed an agreement to permit the shovel logging technique in lieu of the required downhill skyline operations. The idea behind this change was to allow us to get a feel for the costs and impacts of shovel logging in the mountains of Virginia. Successful results on the "test" could have resulted in logging unit design which would be specifically laid out to accommodate the shovel logging technique.
The shovel logging unit consisted of an 18-acre unit to be clearcut. Clearcutting required the removal of all trees 6 inches dbh and larger containing a 10-foot stick of wood. The timber had been sample tree-cruised and showed a volume of 243 mbf International and 222 ccf of small roundwood. The species consisted of 70 percent Yellow Poplar, 20 percent Red Oak, and the remaining 10 percent mixed oak and other hardwoods. The ground conditions were very bouldery, and slopes ranged from 20 up to 70 percent with cliff lines. I field reviewed the unit and was concerned with these conditions and if shovel logging would work under such extreme terrain. Ross assured me that what could not be logged with his shovel he would bring in a yarder and finish up what was left This unit would indeed provide a challenging testing ground for the shovel logging technique.
Logging of the unit began in January of 1991. The shovel logger was a 1989 Link Belt 4300 series equipped with a Young shovel logging kit. Time was tracked by the operator's daily diary. Of interest was the time actually spent moving timber from stump to roadside.
The shovel logging technique consists of simply picking up a tree and setting it down closer to roadside. This is called a bale. The farther the tree has to be moved, the more bales that it takes. Shovel logging remains productive out to a distance of 5 - 6 bales. This shovel had an effective reach of 45 feet (big boy), meaning that timber with this shovel logging machine could effectively be shovel-logged 400-500 feet. Of course, as with any logging system, the specifics of each unit are what determine the actual economics of logging. One technique Ross used to extend the reach of the shovel was to go "fishing". Fishing meant that the shovel would pick up a nice stout poplar tree, with its butt end on the live heel, and the tree extending out through the grapple to be its fishing pole. Then the shovel would poke at timber above the shovel with the pole and get it to slide down the pole to within reach of the grapple. These fishing poles were 70-80 feet, extending the reach of the shovel by 50 - 60 feet. This technique proved particularly handy on ground on which the shovel was not mobile. The boulders in the unit were handily placed aside by simply picking them up and tossing them out of the way (25 ton lift capacity). Traction of the shovel on steep slopes was assisted by using the live heel as a foot to shove the machine into niches of more gentle ground. The steepest ground on which the shovel operated was 55 percent, with 45 - 50 percent common. I was truly amazed with the versatility this machine provided in the woods.
The common shovel yarding cycle consisted of beginning at roadside, moving into the unit, bunching trees and clearing boulders along a shovel logging path as it went. Particular attention was paid to unmerchantable trees, tossing them out of the way, and to making well - aligned bunches. The path into the unit was not straight, but rather a result of the operator's decision based on ground conditions and timber volumes. The paths were essentially perpendicular to the road. After the back boundary of the unit was reached, the shovel began to bale the timber roadside. Baling continued until all merchantable trees were decked at roadside. Key to the operation was the felling and the limbing and bucking. The timber had to be completely worked up to merchantable boles because there was only one man and one machine with no one on the ground. The safety advantages from this system are quite obvious. The biggest problem with the application of the system was the lack in knowledge of hardwood market conditions by the operator. When the wood arrived roadside in its nice, neat, continuous pile, no merchandising had taken place. All products were mixed together and required extensive sorting and merchandising roadside. There was no doubt that landing/loading costs for the operations were quite high. The shovel logger was also the loader and was oversized for this job. Ross Hojem felt that a smaller shovel (one step downsized, 3800 Link Belt) would better suit the Appalachian hardwood timber resource. I do believe that, with a better knowledge of the merchantability of the timber, bunches could be formed and baled in a manner which allowed for merchandising to have occur by the time roadside was reached.
After logging the unit, I contacted our soil scientist to review the machine's environmental performance. My initial conclusion proved to be in agreement with his assessment of the soil resource impacts - very little mineral soil exposure, quite comparable with skyline logging operations and far less impact than conventional cable skidders. The shovel was able to operate on terrain that a skidder could not, without blading skid roads.
So what did all this cost in terms of stump to landing costs? Ross reported an actual cost to H&H Logging of $26. 15/mbf sawtimber with the small roundwood riding free for the yarding and loading. This cost is significantly below conventional cable skidder costs. The time recorded by the operator actually spent throwing logs was 32 productive hours. The volume actually shovel-logged was less than the total unit volume by about 40 - 50 mbf-eq. The 70 percent slopes and cliff lines stopped the shovel and required a downhill skyline system. Using a conversion factor of 0.77 ccf/mbf-eq., the total converted volume in the unit was 414 mbf-eq. on the 18-acre unit, for a yield of 23 mbfeq./acre. Subtracting out the 45 mbf-eq. that was not shovel-logged leaves 370 mbf-eq. that was shovel-logged. The production rate is 370 mbf-eq./32 hours for a productive rate of 11.6 mbf-eq./hour. The maximum yarding distance in the unit was about 400 feet. The following machine rate was computed for the shovel logger:
|Salvage @ 30% after 10,000 hrs||$78,000.00|
|Interest, Insurance, & Taxes|
|13% of Average Annual Investment|
|1600 hr/yr for 10,000 hr = 6.25 yr life|
|I,I,&T= $150,800 * .13 / 1600 hr||$12.15 / hr|
|Fuel @ 7 gal/hr @ $1.25/gal||$8.75|
|Lube/ filters (14h ed Cat handbook)||$0.77|
|Undercarriage, severe service||$7.44|
|Repairs, severe service||$6.00|
|Company Cost operator wages||$20.00|
|Total operating cost||$42.96/ hr|
|Total Hourly Cost||$73.41 / hr|
Checking rental rates (Construction Equipment Rental Rates and Specifications, Associated Equipment Distributors, 1990) for this size shovel on the weekly rate indicates a cost of $2,029.00 / 40 = $50.72/hr. Substituting this cost for the ownership, repairs, and lube/filter costs in the machine rate yields a modified rate of $79.47/hr, or an increase of 8 percent. This would indicate that the machine rate is reasonable, allowing a small profit to be made on rental.
Using the machine rate, the cost per MBF equivalent is ($73.41/hr) / (11.6 mbf-eq/hr) = $6.33/mbf-eq. If the costs are based solely on the sawtimber volume, this becomes ($73.41/hr) / (6.8 mbf/hr) = $10.80/mbf. These rates are extremely low, and it should be pointed out that the operator was very good, the timber volume quite high, and the yarded distance fairly short and downhill. A rough comparison of this figure with Ross Hojem's cost figures reveals that more was spent in the loading and merchandising than the actual yarding. In addition, the felling, limbing, and topping expense was much higher than normal. Due to these variances, it is inappropriate to use these numbers as an average, or in a direct comparison to other logging systems.
In conclusion, the testing of shovel logging in the mountains of Virginia has revealed a logging system which has several characteristics which are desirable. It is clear that the system can operate at a low cost. The system reduces the manpower requirements and improves upon logging safety by eliminating a person on the ground during yarding. The system can operate on steep ground, up to 50 percent, with minimal impacts on the soil resource. It is applicable in clearcutting operations only.