What does an Alaskan logging company do when the timber market does a belly flop?
Well, if its name is Whitestone Logging, it just keeps moving forward.
Company President Cliff Walker wouldn’t have it any other way, and said running Hitachi Foresters is a key ingredient to his recession-resistant strategy. That, and working with a Hitachi dealer that acts more like a partner than a supplier.
Beating the Odds
Walker’s Hitachi dealer, Construction Machinery Industrial (CMI), knows acquiring equipment is a dicey proposition for people working in the volatile Alaskan logging industry. That’s why CMI provides Whitestone the machines it needs on a long-term rental basis.
Forester Equals Efficiency
Whitestone has run almost every brand of forestry equipment at one time or another, but with an eye on production and efficiency, the last six pieces, including a Zaxis 250 Forester, have been Hitachi units.
“I still like features on some of our older pieces of equipment,” said Walker. “That’s just human nature. However, the newer Hitachi units, specifically the purpose-built forestry machines, are hands-down the best I’ve ever used. They are lighter and faster than any of my other machines and, because they are built specifically for this application, they don’t have the undercarriage problems older units do.
“Likewise, some of the new features — like the ability to automatically power-down — make the newer units far more economical to operate. That can make a big difference for us over the course of a year.”
Zaxis Advantages Clearly Visible
Other features Walker cited are the Zaxis 250’s durability, an oversized fuel tank, and especially the cab visibility.
“This is one of the only machines I know of where an operator can easily see the inside track of the machine,” said Walker. “In shovel logging, it is critical to see your tracks and your corners before you move logs, place the tracks, and so on. The visibility on the Hitachi Forester is outstanding. I also appreciate the multiple-function operation that lets you travel and operate the boom simultaneously. Again, it all plays a part in keeping efficiency up.”
Time and distance are defined differently in the Land of the Midnight Sun.
The primitive infrastructure adds to the logistical challenges faced by the logger and the equipment dealer.
“We have two sites in operation,” said Walker. “Afognak is challenging by its remote location — an island just north of Kodiak Island and 300 miles south of Anchorage.
“Hoonah is on an island about 50 miles southwest of Juneau. While somewhat remote, it faces legal and environmental challenges. Together, they account for about 60 million board/feet of timber annually. Obviously, product reliability and prompt product support are crucial.”
In the past, Walker has made significant equipment purchases from several manufacturers who provided only minimal after-the-sale support. That’s not uncommon, according to Chris Gerondale, CMI’s Southeast Region manager.
“At CMI, we’re not happy until our customer is happy, no matter what it takes,” he said. “While some companies quote as much as a two-week delivery on replacement parts, if we get a call by 4 p.m., we can have it into Kodiak Island by the next morning. We’re glad we can provide the equipment and support Whitestone needs to continue as a solid contributor to the regional economy. In the long run, we all benefit from that.”
It’s a Family Affair
For all its familiarity with the latest logging equipment and techniques, Whitestone has the distinction of being one of the last private logging companies in Alaska to operate a fully operational family logging camp.
“On Afognak Island, we rent six generators and are fully self-powered,” said Walker. “We provide trailers for family housing and, if there are enough children to warrant it, we run a school. With expenses like that, it’s easy to see why we lose money if we are not moving logs. That’s why equipment performance plays such a huge role for us; we need to be up and running. CMI provides the support to keep it that way.”
(This article originally appeared in Hitachi’s “Breakout” magazine.)