June 22, 2018
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Mechanical problems are all in a day’s work in the Maine woods

Brian Swartz | BDN
Brian Swartz | BDN
Bob Bethune of Howland steers a 2006 Western Star towing a Stairs Log Trailer as he approaches a Treeline Inc. harvesting operation in Orneville. Bethune is the operations manager for Treeline.
By Brian Swartz, Special Sections Editor

The day’s not going entirely well for Bob Bethune, operations manager for Treeline Inc. At a 100-acre harvest site near Boyd Lake in Orneville, the boom busted on a John Deere 2054 delimber; replacing the boom will take time and will cost lost production.

But it’s all in a day’s work in the Maine woods.

A Howland resident, Bethune is driving a 2006 Western Star on this fine late September morning rather than the company pickup that he often uses. Hauling a Stairs Log Trailer, Bethune has already taken a load of logs to Treeline’s headquarters in Chester; after “crane” operator Adam Peters reloads the trailer, Bethune will take out another load.

He describes the Orneville harvest site as “just a woods harvesting operation” where “typically there’s three guys here, the way we do this job” by practicing selective harvesting. The crane operator (“crane” is another term for “log loader”) also runs either grapple skidder (a Caterpillar 525 and a John Deere 748), another employee runs a John Deere 753G delimber, and the third employee runs either a Caterpillar 320 delimber or the Deere delimber.

But that last machine has broken down, and its operator and a mechanic are carefully installing a new boom.

The wood harvested in Orneville goes to different places, Bethune says as he watches Adam Peters run the crane. The high-grade hardwood will be sorted in Chester, and firewood logs will go there, too. Stacked high to one side of the yard, the biomass will go to the Covanta Energy Corp. biomass plant in West Enfield or to Lincoln Paper & Tissue in Lincoln.

Like other Maine loggers, Bethune puts in long days. “Six a.m., that’s when I’m active,” he says, and his workday usually ends about 12 hours later. He sometimes works “part of a day” on Saturday.

He has worked 25½ years for Treeline, which harvests trees in central, eastern, and northern Maine. Until recently Bethune managed a harvesting operation on state-owned land in Eastbrook, a considerable commute when compared to driving from Howland to Orneville.

Finding and retaining experienced, hard-working employees can be difficult in logging, Bethune says. “There’s not a lot of young people” interested in woods work, which entails long hours spent working outdoors in Maine’s less-than-ideal climate, he points out.

“A crew that is self-sufficient is the best thing you could ever have,” Bethune says. “They have a problem, they take care of it,” including mechanical breakdowns.

Before long Peters finishes loading the trailer. Bethune moves his truck and trailer into the main haul road so that Peters can load another trailer. Carefully securing straps over the top of his load, Bethune climbs into the cab and drives carefully out to the Boyd Lake Road. There he turns right to head for Route 155 and ultimately Lagrange, Howland, and Chester.

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