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Heavy Equipment Operation

The heavy equipment operator on a forest jobsite is often part of a 2 to 10-person team engaged in logging, forestry maintenance, or road building. The “operator” runs a machine (heavy equipment), which is purpose-built to accomplish a specialized forest production task—such as tree falling, log processing, debris piling, or road grading. Each machine demands specific skills in operation and safe performance. The operator spends much of their day inside an enclosed climate-controlled machine cab, at the automated controls that direct the machine’s movements. The operator is typically responsible for their own machine basic service, refueling, diagnostics and minor repairs.
 
All operators in these highly-sought jobs receive ample job-tailored safety and task training, due to the demanding production and many hazards from machinery movements, falling trees, moving logs, rough terrain, earth movement, mechanization, and mountain driving. Becoming a proficient heavy equipment operator takes a tremendous amount of skill and experience, often learned by working your way up-the-ladder in related jobs and operating less complicated machinery. Inexperienced new employees must start in entry-level jobs to learn the trade. Then, once more experience is acquired, seasoned workers can learn equipment operation from an experienced operator.
 
Today’s forest management tasks involve modern mechanized processes, many which utilize heavy equipment tailored to safe & efficient production. There are machines designed to fall standing trees, other machines to cut (buck) and delimb them into desired log lengths, or other machines to move trees from the stump to the roadside landing—often on steep hills and over long distances. At the road, the many log types are processed, sorted and loaded on trucks for transport to different mills. An there are many more machines designed to maintain trees and roads, as well a construct the forest roads needed to manage the forest.
 
BACKHOE OPERATOR
Operates a “backhoe” machine, which is a tractor-sized, wheeled vehicle that works to dig dirt & rock for building or repairing forest road ditches and culverts—it’s equipped with a rear-mounted small bucket attached to a digging-boom arm, used for small excavating and trenching jobs.
 
CHIPPER OPERATOR
Operates an “in-woods chipper” or a “tub grinder” machine, which parks at a roadside landing to grind piles of forest waste-wood and tree debris—producing wood chips and biomass fuel* useable in a number of commercial products. The chipper machine grinds the woody material, and then dumps the ground-up wood into a waiting truck. The chipper operator runs a purpose-built, large portable machine, which is equipped to grind whole trees, limbs, chunks and woody logging debris (“slash”), thereby turning the wood into chips or hogg fuel*, to then be loaded onto semi-trucks or chip vans. The chipper machine can process smaller whole trees and logging slash in a single motion, while parked at a roadside “landing” area. Chippers can be equipped with additional features/attachments, such as a loading boom & grapple, debarker, chip screens, or chip conveyor. The operator safely controls the machine from within a cab using buttons, pedals and levers, on forest roads and log landing areas, to skillfully grind waste wood into usable wood chip products. Operator drives a company pickup to the forest job sites; and often works independently, following detailed work plans and specifications. Communicates safe machine and log movement activities using a radio. Operator may be responsible for machine basic service, refueling, diagnostics and minor repairs. Requires special safety gear, climbing off & onto the chipper, and some walking on sloping forest terrain.
 
Prior Experience: Work as log loader operator, or operator of other forestry equipment; preferred previous experience operating farm machinery or heavy equipment; learn from work with experienced chipper operator; demonstrated safe chipper & service performance; written chipper operator handbooks and machine service training guides; on-the-job-training. [* “Chips” are ground-up wood pieces, about 1”x2” in size, which meet quality specifications; “Hogg fuel” or “biomass fuel” is ground-up waste wood, comprised of primarily tree tops, limb-wood, defective wood, small trees, tree bark, and needles/leaves. “Slash” is woody logging debris comprised of tree tops, limb-wood, defective wood, small trees, tree bark, and needles/leaves]
 
COMPACTOR OPERATOR
Operates an “compactor” or a “grid roller” machine, which is a vehicle that works to compress newly-placed dirt & rock during forest road constructing and repairing—it’s equipped with large steel cylinder-like wheels with teeth, and it looks like a “steam roller.”
 
DELIMBER OPERATOR
Operates a “delimber” machine, which parks at a roadside landing to take piles of whole trees, and grabs each tree to cut & delimb it into desired log lengths. The delimber operator runs a purpose-built, tracked machine with a long boom arm and log bucking device, which is a self-propelled vehicle that grabs whole trees, delimbs the tree, cuts (“bucks”) the tree into log lengths, and then sorts logs into piles (“decks”), to await for later loading onto trucks by a log loader. The delimber machine can process a whole tree in a single motion, while parked at a roadside “landing” area. The operator safely maneuvers the machine from within an enclosed cab, on forest roads and log landing areas, to skillfully delimb, buck and, pile logs at the roadside. Controls machine operation seated inside the machine’s cab, using a combination of joysticks, buttons, pedals and levers. Operator drives a company pickup to the forest job sites; and often works independently, following detailed work plans and specifications. Communicates safe machine and log movement activities using a radio. Operator may be responsible for machine basic service, refueling, diagnostics and minor repairs. Requires special safety gear, climbing off & onto the delimber, and some walking on sloping forest terrain.
 
Prior Experience: Work as log loader operator, or operator of other forestry equipment; preferred previous experience operating farm machinery or heavy equipment; learn from work with experienced delimber operator; demonstrated safe delimber & service performance; written delimber operator handbooks and machine service training guides; on-the-job-training.
 
EXCAVATOR / TRUCK HOE OPERATOR
Operates an “excavator” or a “track hoe” machine, which is a larger tracked vehicle that works to dig dirt & rock for constructing and repairing forest roads, landings and ditches—it’s equipped with a bucket attached to a long digging-boom arm, used for scooping & excavating. These machines are very versatile at moving soil, culverts, and other construction materials, by digging, scooping, spreading, trenching, lifting, and putting material into dump trucks.
 
FELLER-BUNCHER OPERATOR
Operates a “feller-buncher” machine, which moves through the forest to select and fall trees in the desired direction and pile them in “bunches.” The operator maneuvers the track-mounted, or wheeled, machine from within an enclosed cab, selecting trees to cut using pre-specified harvest and environmental guidelines. The feller-buncher operator runs a purpose-built machine with a long heel-boom arm and tree-cutting head, which is a self-propelled, off-road vehicle that moves through the forest to cut, fall and place whole trees into piles (bunches). The “buncher” machine and its long boom grabs onto a tree, cuts it off at the stump, picks it up, and then swings and drops the whole tree into a desired location/pile—all in a single motion. The buncher machine looks like a tracked log loader, except it is designed to work off-road for falling trees. The operator safely maneuvers on moderate to steep forest slopes & rough terrain to skillfully fall designated trees. Controls machine operation seated inside the machine’s cab, using a combination of joysticks, buttons, pedals and levers. Operator drives a company pickup to the forest job sites; and often works independently, following detailed work plans and specifications. Communicates safe machine and tree movement activities using a radio. Operator may be responsible for machine basic service, refueling, diagnostics and minor repairs. Requires special safety gear, climbing off & onto the buncher, and some walking on sloping forest terrain.
 
Prior Experience: Work as timber faller and log loader or shovel operator; preferred previous experience in heavy equipment mechanical repairs, operating other forestry equipment, farm machinery or heavy equipment; learn from work with experienced feller-buncher operator; demonstrated safe feller-buncher & service performance; written buncher operator handbooks and machine service training guides; on-the-job-training.
 
FRONT-END LOADER
Operates a “front-end loader” machine, which works on a roadside log landing area to quickly remove and pile the logs that are delivered & dropped by an incoming helicopter. This machine works in a specialized assignment to clear & pile logs that are dropped every minute or two by a helicopter. The front-end loader operator runs a purpose-built, wheeled machine with a large log-grabbing jaw, which is a self-propelled vehicle that rapidly scoops-up logs unhooked/dropped from a helicopter. The front-end loader works on a roadside log “landing” area, to lift & carry logs to nearby piles (“decks”), where the logs are sorted for later hauling to mills by trucks. The operator safely maneuvers the machine from within an enclosed cab, on the log landing area, using a combination of joysticks, buttons, pedals and levers. Operator drives a company pickup to the forest job sites; and often works independently, following detailed work plans and specifications. Communicates safe machine and log movement activities using radios. Operator may be responsible for machine basic service, refueling, diagnostics and minor repairs. Requires special safety gear, climbing off & onto the loader, and some walking on sloping forest terrain.
 
Prior Experience: Work as log loader operator, or operator of other forestry equipment; preferred previous experience operating farm machinery or heavy equipment; learn from work with experienced front-end loader operator; demonstrated safe helicopter log loading & service performance; written loader operator handbooks and machine service training guides; on-the-job-training.
 
FORWARDER OPERATOR
Operates a “forwarder” machine, which moves through the forest to lift & load logs onto the machine’s bunk, and then carries the logs to a roadside—where those logs are unloaded and piled at the road’s edge. The forwarder operator runs a purpose-built, wheeled or tracked, machine with a heel-boom arm and hydraulic grapple, which is a self-propelled, off-road vehicle that moves logs from the stump to the road. The “forwarder” machine and its boom arm grabs a log, picks it up, loads it onto the machine’s bunk, and then carries a load of logs the roadside. The forwarder machine looks like a large-wheeled pickup truck, except it is designed to work off-road for moving logs to the roadside. The operator safely maneuvers the machine from within an enclosed cab, on moderate forest slopes & rough terrain to skillfully load and carry logs to the roadside. Controls machine operation seated inside the machine’s cab, using a combination of joysticks, buttons, pedals and levers. Operator drives a company pickup to the forest job sites; and often works independently, following detailed work plans and specifications. Communicates safe machine and log movement activities using a radio. Operator may be responsible for machine basic service, refueling, diagnostics and minor repairs. Requires special safety gear, climbing off & onto the forwarder, and some walking on sloping forest terrain.
 
Prior Experience: Work as choker setter, and operator of a skidder or log loader; preferred previous experience operating other forestry equipment, farm machinery or heavy equipment; learn from work with experienced forwarder operator; demonstrated safe forwarder & service performance; written forwarder operator handbooks and machine service training guides; on-the-job-training.
 
GRADER OPERATOR
Operates a “grader” machine, which is a long multi-wheeled vehicle that travels on forest roads to shape and smooth road surfaces and ditches—using a wide articulated blade that can be positioned in any needed direction.
 
HELICOPTER PILOT
Operates a helicopter, to aerially-lift logs or other forestry payloads, over long distances (.5 to 2 miles). As one of the most unique jobs in the forest, the helicopter pilot flies specially-designed, heavy-lift helicopters to carry workloads on forestry jobs, such as logging, firefighting, road construction, reforestation, tree care, habitat improvement, and prescribed burning. The pilot flies a purpose-built, heavy-lift helicopter—capable of lifting workloads from 4,000 to 25,000 lbs, suspended beneath the ship from a cable or attachment. These workloads might involve: logs or whole trees from the stump to the road; placing trees into streams for fish habitat; delivering young fish fingerlings to stock remote lakes; collecting cones from tall tree tops; ferrying fire crews or forestry crews into remote areas; lifting road/trail/bridge construction materials; seeding & mulching for erosion control; spreading fertilizer; spraying to help tree seedlings by controlling unwanted brush; spraying to control invasive insects/pests; carrying water buckets over wildfires; searching for wildfires; flying a torch to ignite prescribe burns; to name a few of the tasks. To accomplish each of these tasks, the helicopter must be rigged with specialized attachments, and its pilot skilled in the particular assignment to achieve exacting safety and environmental specifications. Pilot constantly communicates safe helicopter and payload movement activities using electronic instruments, radio-controlled devices, and radios. Pilot may be responsible to assist with heavy-lift project planning, basic helicopter service, refueling, diagnostics and minor repairs. Requires special safety training, specific skills in forest payloads, and flying over remote & mountainous forested terrain.
 
Prior Experience: Helicopter pilots license; work as helicopter pilot on less-complicated flying assignments; preferred previous experience in heavy-lift helicopter operations; learn from work with experienced forest helicopter pilot; demonstrated safe forest helicopter pilot performance; written helicopter handbooks and machine service training guides; on-the-job-training.
 
LOG LOADER OPERATOR
Operates a “log loader” machine, which works along the roadside, to lift & sort logs, and then load those logs onto trucks. The log loader operator runs a purpose-built, tracked machine with a long heel-boom arm and hydraulic grapple, which is a self-propelled vehicle that lifts & sorts logs into piles (“decks”), and then loads them onto log trucks the roadside “landing.” The loader machine, sometimes called a “shovel,” and its long boom grabs a log, picks it up, and then can move each log in a single motion. The log loader machine, if it is properly equipped, may also work off-road for moving logs to the roadside (see Shovel Logger). The operator safely maneuvers the machine from within an enclosed cab, on forest roads and log landing areas, to skillfully move, pile and load logs onto trucks. Controls machine operation seated inside the machine’s cab, using a combination of joysticks, buttons, pedals and levers. Operator may also work to gather and pile logging debris (“slash”) in designated locations. Operator drives a company pickup to the forest job sites; and often works independently, following detailed work plans and specifications. Communicates safe machine and log movement activities using a radio. Operator may be responsible for machine basic service, refueling, diagnostics and minor repairs. Requires special safety gear, climbing off & onto the loader, and some walking on sloping forest terrain.
 
Prior Experience: Work as choker setter and skidder operator, or operator of other forestry equipment; preferred previous experience operating farm machinery or heavy equipment; learn from work with experienced loader operator; demonstrated safe loader & service performance; written loader operator handbooks and machine service training guides; on-the-job-training.
 
PROCESSOR OPERATOR
Operates a “harvester-processor” machine, which moves through the forest to select-cut-fall trees in the desired direction, delimb and cut the whole tree into logs, and pile those logs in bunches. This whole-tree processing is referred to as the “cut-to-length” logging system. Cutting decisions are optimized by electronic sensors, monitor screens, and an on-board computer system. The processor machine may also be parked at the roadside landing area, where whole trees delivered to the road can be processed into logs. The operator maneuvers this fascinating track-mounted, or wheeled, machine from within an enclosed cab, selecting trees to cut using pre-specified harvest and environmental guidelines. The processor operator runs a purpose-built machine with a long, telescoping boom arm and a dangle-head cutting attachment. The machine is a self-propelled, off-road vehicle that moves through the forest to cut & fall whole trees, delimb them, cut log lengths, and place all logs into piles (bunches). The “processor” machine and its telescoping boom grabs onto a tree, cuts it off at the stump, picks it up, delimbs it, cuts the tree into desired log lengths, and then swings and drops the whole tree into a desired location/pile—all in a single motion. The processor machine looks like a log loader, except it is equipped with a specialized cutting head that performs falling, delimbing, bucking, and piling. The operator safely maneuvers on moderate to steep forest slopes & rough terrain to skillfully process designated trees. Controls machine operation seated inside the machine’s cab, using a combination of joysticks, toggles, monitors, gauges, pedals, and levers. Operator drives a company pickup to the forest job sites; and often works independently, following detailed work plans and specifications. Communicates safe machine and tree movement activities using a radio. Operator may be responsible for machine basic service, refueling, diagnostics and minor repairs. Requires special safety gear, climbing off & onto the processor, and some walking on sloping forest terrain.
 
Prior Experience: Work as operator of feller-buncher, log loader, shovel or forwarder; preferred previous experience as a timber faller, in heavy equipment mechanical repairs, operating other forestry equipment, farm machinery or heavy equipment; learn from work with experienced processor operator; demonstrated safe processor & service performance; written processor operator handbooks and machine service training guides; on-the-job-training.
 
ROAD DOZER OPERATOR
Operates a “cat” or “dozer” machine, which is a tracked vehicle that works to push dirt & rock for constructing and repairing forest roads, landings and ditches—it’s equipped with a large steel blade used for excavating. The cat operator runs a purpose-built, tracked, crawler machine, which is a self-propelled, off-road vehicle with a large front-mounted blade. The cat and its blade are used to push dirt, rock, stumps and woody debris during forest road construction or maintenance—or during other vegetation clearing projects. The cat machine is also known as a dozer or crawler, and it looks like a tracked farm tractor. The operator safely maneuvers on moderate forest slopes & rough terrain to skillfully push dirt & rock during road building, following designed specifications. Cat operator may also work to move logging debris, rock, stumps or soil during other forest maintenance or construction projects. Communicates safe machine and earth movements using a radio and hand signals. Operator may be responsible for machine basic service, refueling, diagnostics and minor repairs. Requires special safety clothing, climbing off & onto the cat, and some walking on sloping forest terrain.
 
Prior Experience: Work as farm machinery or other heavy equipment operator; preferred previous experience operating other forestry equipment; learn from work with experienced cat operator; demonstrated safe cat & service performance; written cat operator handbooks and machine service training guides; on-the-job-training.
 
ROCK CRUSHER OPERATOR
Operates a “rock crusher” machine, which is a large stationary implement that is moved into a rock quarry to grind & crush solid rock boulders into gravel products. The crushed rock is then stock-piled at the quarry or put into dump trucks for hauling to a forest road construction or repair projects.
 
ROCK DRILL / COMPRESSOR OPERATOR
Operates a “rock drill” machine, which is a mobile tracked-mounted implement that works to drill deep holes into solid rock during forest construction projects—it’s equipped with drill rigging powered by a compressor and engine. The drilled holes are later charged with explosives that are set-off to break-apart the rock removed for road construction, or needed for gravel crushing.
 
SCRAPER OPERATOR
Operates a “scraper” machine, which is a large 4-wheeled vehicle that works to scrape-up and haul large amounts of dirt & rock for constructing forest roads—it’s equipped with a huge open box between front & rear wheels that holds and spreads soil from its bottom. This machine is only used where large soil volumes are moved.
 
SLASH MACHINE OPERATOR
Operates a “slash” machine, which moves through the forest to pile, relocate, or grind the logging debris (“slash”). The machine’s purpose is redistributing the unusable debris left-over after a harvest operation to meet resource needs. The slash machine operator runs a purpose-built, tracked or wheeled machine with a long boom arm and hydraulic grapple, which is a self-propelled, off-road vehicle that maneuvers through the forest to accomplish its work. There are several types of slasher machines that move about the forest, including machines that pile, and other machines that grind-up slash. One slash machine and its long boom gathers and grabs the slash, picks it up, and then in a single motion places the debris into a desired location/pile. The slash machine looks like a tracked shovel logger, except it is designed to handle slash and work off-road. The operator safely maneuvers the machine from within an enclosed cab, on moderate to steep forest slopes & rough terrain to skillfully lift & swing logs toward the roadside. Controls machine operation seated inside the machine’s cab, using a combination of joysticks, buttons, pedals and levers. Operator drives a company pickup to the forest job sites; and often works independently, following detailed work plans and specifications. Communicates safe machine and log movement activities using a radio. Operator may be responsible for machine basic service, refueling, diagnostics and minor repairs. Requires special safety gear, climbing off & onto the shovel, and some walking on sloping forest terrain.
 
Prior Experience: Work as choker setter and log loader operator; preferred previous experience operating other forestry equipment, farm machinery or heavy equipment; learn from work with experienced shovel operator; demonstrated safe shovel & service performance; written shovel operator handbooks and machine service training guides; on-the-job-training. [“Slash” is woody logging debris comprised of tree tops, limb-wood, defective wood, small trees, tree bark, and needles/leaves]
 
SHOVEL LOGGER OPERATOR
Operates a “shovel logger” machine, which moves through the forest to lift & swing logs, or whole trees, toward the roadside—eventually piling those logs at the roads edge. The shovel logger operator runs a purpose-built, tracked machine with a long heel-boom arm and hydraulic grapple, which is a self-propelled, off-road vehicle that moves logs, or whole trees, from the stump to the road. The “shovel” machine and its long boom grabs a log, picks it up, and then swings each log over 60 feet toward the roadside in a single motion. Operator may also work to gather and pile logging debris (“slash”) in designated locations. The shovel machine looks like a tracked log loader, except it is designed to work off-road for moving logs to the roadside. The operator safely maneuvers the machine from within an enclosed cab, on moderate forest slopes & rough terrain to skillfully lift & swing logs toward the roadside. Controls machine operation seated inside the machine’s cab, using a combination of joysticks, buttons, pedals and levers. Operator drives a company pickup to the forest job sites; and often works independently, following detailed work plans and specifications. Communicates safe machine and log movement activities using a radio. Operator may be responsible for machine basic service, refueling, diagnostics and minor repairs. Requires special safety gear, climbing off & onto the shovel, and some walking on sloping forest terrain.
 
Prior Experience: Work as choker setter and log loader operator; preferred previous experience operating other forestry equipment, farm machinery or heavy equipment; learn from work with experienced shovel operator; demonstrated safe shovel & service performance; written shovel operator handbooks and machine service training guides; on-the-job-training.
 
SKIDDER OPERATOR
Operates a “skidder” machine, which moves through the forest to pull & drag logs, or whole trees, to the roadside—where those logs are piled at the road’s edge. The skidder operator runs a purpose-built “skidder” machine, which is a self-propelled, off-road vehicle used to transport logs or whole trees from the stump to the road—generally by dragging them along the ground, with the leading end lifted by an arch and a grapple or cable chokers*. The skidder may be either a rubber-tired or a tracked machine that looks like a farm tractor or dozer. The operator safely maneuvers the skidder through the forest on moderate slopes & rough terrain, following pre-determined trails; hooks & unhooks logs; and pulls logs to the road with minimal damage to soils and standing trees. Skidder has many other uses, and may be equipped with a front-mounted blade. Operator may be required to do additional machine tasks, such as water-barring, blading roads, digging, pushing rock, pulling trucks, slash piling, or positioning the skidder for use as a cable anchor. When equipped with a brush blade, the skidder may also work to gather and pile logging debris (“slash”) in designated locations. Communicates safe machine and log movement instructions using a radio and hand signals. Operator may be responsible for machine basic service, refueling, diagnostics and minor repairs. Requires special safety clothing, climbing off & onto the skidder, and some walking on sloping forest terrain.
 
Prior Experience: Work as choker setter; preferred previous experience operating farm machinery or heavy equipment; learn from work with experienced skidder operator; demonstrated safe skidding & service performance; written skidding handbooks and machine service training guides; on-the-job-training. *A choker is a noose of strong cable (wire rope), which is secured around a log by hooking one-end of the cable noose to a bell that slides & cinches around the log end.
 
YARDER OPERATOR
Operates a “cable yarder” machine, which is parked on a roadside landing, to lift logs and whole trees from the stump to the road, over long distances (up to 1 mile), using cable rigging systems. The yarder operator runs a purpose-built machine, called a “skyline yarder”—it which is a portable steel tower (40-110 feet tall) that uses diesel-powered winches and a suspended cable system to lift & move trees/logs over steep slopes, from the stump to a roadside landing area. Once positioned, the stationary yarder remains at a centralized roadside log landing area, where logs/trees are collected from the forest. The yarder machine, and its tall tower is rigged with numerous cables, which can suspend logs/whole trees, and then carry logs long distances, up to a half mile or more. The operator sits in a climate-controlled cab, and operates hand & foot controls to safely direct the winches that maneuver the cables and other rigging that carry the logs/trees. The cable rigging system may use radio-controlled, motorized “carriage.” The carriage is a smaller machine that’s suspended by the cables—having the function of lifting & pulling cut logs/trees as they are hauled to the landing, minimizing damage to the soil. Operator constantly communicates safe cable rigging and log movement activities using audio-electronic signals, radio-controlled devices, and radios. Operator may be responsible for machine basic service, refueling, diagnostics and minor repairs. Requires special safety gear, climbing off & onto the yarder, and some walking on sloping forest terrain.
 
Prior Experience: Work as choker setter, chaser, skidder operator or operator of other forestry equipment; preferred previous experience in heavy equipment mechanical repairs, operating farm machinery or heavy equipment; learn from work with experienced yarder operator; demonstrated safe loader & service performance; written yarder operator handbooks and machine service training guides; on-the-job-training.