Volvo excavators are at the front of an efficient and safe logging operation in Arkansas
ANTOINE, Ark. - School-age children and folk singers have long marveled at the legend of the mighty Paul Bunyan. As the story goes, Bunyan used a huge ax and a big blue ox to quickly and efficiently clear the woods of the upper Midwest.
Rusty and Randy Ledbetter may not be legendary, nor is anyone writing songs about their work. Still, the Ledbetter brothers and their crew at Charles Ledbetter Logging are using two specially equipped Volvo excavators to cut and process logs at a pace that would make even the lumberjack of tall tale fame gasp in disbelief.
To maintain their impressive levels of speed, safety and yield, the Ledbetter crews working in southwestern Arkansas rely on two Volvo excavators as track carriers, each equipped with special log harvesting heads.
"With our Volvo machines, we can process a tree and stack it more quickly and safely than you can believe if you haven't seen it," Rusty Ledbetter said. "We can handle up to three trees a minute when we're really moving, and we don't have to reposition the excavator too often."
Ledbetter crews are running two Volvo excavators, an EC290B LC and an EC210B LC, each equipped with special logging attachments that allow operators to handle trees from 24 to 35 inches in diameter.
According to Rusty Ledbetter, the Volvo excavators work in a world of stumps and rocks, serving as mobile track carriers to position the heads near trees to be cut, and providing both reach to the tree and plenty of hydraulic muscle to operate the heads and manhandle the timber.
Crews walk the Volvo excavators up to the tree, where they hook up the harvesting head, delimb the tree, and cut it to preset lengths, before finally stacking the logs.
"We have better yield because we move faster and also because of the measurement and control systems on the harvesting heads," Rusty said. "We have a system that measures the length and girth of the tree, and in addition calculates the way to get the maximum yield from each tree. As a result, we produce about 25-percent more usable lumber than with conventional methods."
Ledbetter harvests a variety of hardwoods and softwoods, including southern pine, loblolly pine, red and white oak, hickory, gum and sycamore, under contract to various customers, which will turn them into lumber and plywood, railroad ties and wood chips for making paper. Ledbetter also provides raw materials for saw and chip mills owned by its parent company, Antoine Hardwoods, Inc., headquartered in Antoine, Ark.
Today, Antoine Hardwoods is an integrated forest products company. In addition to the logging company, Antoine Hardwoods also operates sawmills, a chip mill and is part owner of a timber management company. "But, that wasn't the goal when it all started in the 1980s," Rusty said. Like a lot of things in life, it just worked out that way.
Charles Ledbetter was an established small-town Chevy dealer. He sold to loggers and knew a little about the business, but he had no first-hand experience with logging.
At that time it was common practice in the region for car dealers to guarantee a borrower's note to a bank. When some trucks he had sold were repossessed, Charles Ledbetter used them to start a contract log hauling business, which evolved over the next few years into a full-fledged logging company.