Cat on trial in Tassie

While not harbouring any real issues with the brand, the fact remains that over the past three decades in business, Walkden has preferred a Japanese competitor’s colours.That changed when he decided it was time to test the Cat metal by signing for a 330D excavator and a William Adams Standard 3748 support package – and in doing so he became the company’s one-thousandth Standard 3748 client.Starting in business about 33 years ago with what Walkden says was a “month’s rent paid on the shed and the will to work”, he has built a company of strength and diversity. Beginning with a few small sub-contract trucking runs for the likes of TNT, Ansett and CIG, he also picked up a timber cartage contract with his brother Jack driving. It was a starting point in forestry and larger timber cartage contracts soon followed.Now the company carts timber, provides logging and in-field wood chipping services, supplies forestry by-product for fuel, mulch and livestock feed as well as transport services for coal and potato by-products.“We harvest and cart 200,000 tonnes per annum of hardwood, transport a further 100,000 tonnes of hardwood as well as 260,000 tonnes of softwood,” Walkden said. “We’re based in Launceston and cart the hardwood north and the softwood south so the trucks never run empty – which is good for the industry and good for me.”Although a long-time acquaintance of Cat dealer William Adams territory representative Neil Chenhall, until recently Walkden could not be swayed on his choice of brand.But now he has decided to mix things up a bit, putting the Cat 330D and a 325D forestry-equipped excavator through their paces in a remote coupe. It’s clearly a test case before any further fleet infiltration is possible.In the remote forestry coupes in which Walkden’s teams operate, William Adams claims Standard 3748 is a support program that no competitive company has the resources to match. With strict harvesting quotas in place, Walkden said the support package was an attraction but machine performance was the major factor in his decision to give Caterpillar a try. “We will have the two Cat machines on the same site, because you never work solo,” he said. “But breakdowns still knock your production around and we’ve got very strict quotas.”While far from having decided to switch brands altogether, Walkden said “we decided that we should also look somewhere else”. “The day we bought the Cat we also bought a 30-tonne Komatsu, and we also bought the other Cat [325D] and a 27-tonne Komatsu,” he said. “So we are going to put the Cats to the test in the cable harvesting areas and that means they are going into a pretty tough environment. We’ll know in three years how they’ve gone.”Walkden said the 330D and 325D would be accompanied by a Cat E450 equipped as a mobile tail spar for hooking cables to for cable logging. “The cable logger is a Madill 171 which has a Cat engine – so we’ve put them all together,” he said.“They are tough, steep conditions. You can’t go off the landing because it is too steep so the timber is felled by hand and winched up. The 330D has a William Adams-made Talon grab fitted and does the loading, segregating, barking and splitting for pulp wood.”The performance of Walkden’s new Cat machines will be under intense scrutiny.“We’ll be looking at fuel economy but the major thing we will be looking for is durability,” he said. “Because of what we do, we get pin wear and bush wear from handling big, heavy logs. “We tend to turn over our machines regularly – we’re not sort of 10,000 to 12,000-hour people, so we will see how these two do over the next three or four years.”Walkden said driver feedback was also very important. “They need to be comfortable because it is their room for 40 hours a week on the job and they’ve got travelling time on top of that to get to the remote areas,” he said.“We’ll also be looking at the machine’s stability – there’s really a range of things we’ll be watching for.”If the Cats perform as expected, they might just make enough of an impression to see more of a mixed brand fleet develop over time. A Cat 966 wheel loader “that came with a job” seems to have already been doing the right thing by Walkden. “I thought we’d get rid of the 966 the day after we got the job,” he said. “It had done 18,000 hours at the time and it has now done 28,000 hours. So it’s been a marvellous machine – actually a brilliant machine.” Les Walkden’s new Caterpillar 330D fitted with Talon grab at work in a Tasmanian coupe.

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