Remote Control Tower Logging: The Koller K602 Remote Control Yarder

Miller Timber Services
Philomath, Oregon

The first mention of remote control yarders came in the mid-90s from some forest engineering professors who’d been traveling in Europe. Both the University of Washington’s Dr. Peter Scheiss, and later from Oregon State University’s Dr. John Garland, spoke of them as a possible solution for smaller logging operations because such a yarder would reduce the manpower needed to log, which reduced operating costs and improved the logger’s bottom line. But at that time until just a few years ago, no such yarder existed in North America

Three years ago Lee Miller (Miller Timber Services, Philomath, Oregon), and also the Koller USA dealer for the yarder, said he was having one built by Koller and would have it in about a year.

Two years ago the K602 yarder machine arrived just in time for the Oregon Logging Conference, and finally in September of this year we were able to have the crew, the machine and ourselves all in the same place at the same time to see it in operation.

We arrived on the landing just in time to see them log about an hour, complete the corridor they were thinning on before changing roads.
The Koller K602 at first appears similar to any thinning yarder, although it is mounted on a dual-wheel platform, which Miller has hitched to an International Harvester TD-15 Series C crawler used to move it. The four guyline machine has a 45-ft tower (which includes the extension to the tower) which is raised into place by a hydraulic cylinder. There are two hydraulic jacks to the front and back used to level and stabilize the platform.

During setup the four guylines tensions are set and controlled by another remote control box, which operates each of the motors that run those spools, very handy.

When delivered Miller purchased roughly 6,000 ft. Amsteel Blue 3/8ths (or so) for haywire, the pulling strength is the same as steel cable but 1/10th the weight, thus it’s “ super light and maneuverable,” explained Brian Burnside. “It’s so much lighter and easier to pull around in the brush, so much faster to work with. The yarder can feed it off using two different settings: a free spool setting and an automatic feed setting where when you put tension on the line it will feed it out as hard and as fast as the tension on it, so you can grab it and run out in the brush.” He also noted it can ball up on the ground, and you cannot coil it on the ground as you would steel, both solvable with forethought. However in the two years they’ve used it he added, “I think it has far better benefit in this application than steel: you get more on the drum, it wears better in the brush, and it works!”

Once on the landing, immediately there were noticeable differences, not the least of which there was no Talkie Tooter whistle but instead a fairly quiet beep as the Koller MSK-3 carriage moved both on the landing and in the brush, all up to OR-OSHA standards (of course).
Next was the four-man crew including: the hook tender setting up the next road change, the shovel operator/chaser on the landing, a single rigging slinger in the brush, and an extra man who was hauling Loggers World to the logging site and remotely operating the yarder. They could have managed fine with three men.

Typically there is no yarder engineer or chaser per se: both tasks are covered by the loader operator who typically uses one of the two remote “bugs” that control the yarder and carriage. This particular day with an extra man on the landing, he was running the yarder.
Everyman on the Miller landings has a two-way radio to maintain contact with each of the crew, good for safety and very good for clear communication between crew members throughout the day.

Koller MultiMatik

The obvious celebrity on the logging side are the two Koller’s MultiMatik radio control remote “bugs” used to operate the yarder. It’s packaged in a water-proof square box that weighs roughly three pounds and is carried on a waist belt that can easily be shifted to the middle when in operation on to the side, if it’s in the brush and the rigging slinger is pulling line to the chokers setting the next turn of logs.

The carriage can be programmed to automatically return to a given point of the skyline and stop. The brush man can take control of that carriage at any point to bring it further up or down the skyline depending on circumstances with his brush “bug.”
While there are two “bugs” they are set up so only one is in control at a time. The choker setter in the brush controls the carriage and winches when it’s heading outbound from the yarder, and can pick up control at any time. The landing “bug” has control when the carriage and winches are returning the turn to the yarder.

Andrew Bird was side rod for the operation and working in the brush as choker setter. Explaining the control of the MultiMatik “bug” he said, “you can creep it, inch it or bring it up full speed.” He noted there is a slight lag of perhaps 1/2 second, “... but you get used to that lag and you can be pretty precise,” bringing the turn or the carriage into the position you want.

“I like it, I do. Honestly it’s fun. I like having control down in the brush, and it’s safer.”

They have four batteries for the two bugs, just to be sure there’s a plan “B” available if they have a battery die or get broken. The most recently charged goes to the brush bug. After a day’s use the brush battery goes to the landing, and the landing battery goes to be charged at the end of the day. The fourth battery is in the landing shovel being charged by the cigarette lighter outlet. They’ve only replaced one battery due to it’s being broken.

The crew

The crew is cross-trained and quite versatile, plus they rotate jobs in the course of the day to keep everyone fresh. Everyone knew where they were going and what needed to be done without being asked, sign of a good crew.

The operation ran smoothly without a hitch after setting up. It was quietly efficient, turn to the landing, Komatsu PC200LL shovel (with Pierce boom and grapple) operator removes the chokers, sends the carriage back over the hill, returns to the shovel to clear the chute, work up the logs then decks the wood, and readies for the next turn.

The remote control work with the carriage was faster than you’d see in most tower thinning operations just because the choker setter can see and control that carriage and turn as he’s watching it weave its way to the corridor.

All in all they were hanging out about 1,200 feet and moving a good volume of wood efficiently considering it was a thinning show. The crew was very comfortable with the harder and had it working flawlessly the entire time.

As with anything in logging your there is no single silver bullet that solves any and all logging settings, but for the right circumstances, Koller’s K602 remote control yarder can be run with fewer hands and is up to the task.