The 2017 Great Lakes Forwarder Operator Challenge was held in Escanaba, MI on two beautiful September days.  This was the 14th year for the Forwarder Operator Challenge (FOC) and it featured 17 contestants competing for $2,100 in total prize money.  In the past, prize money was awarded for only the first 3 places. This year’s competition awarded prize money for 5 places:  1st place – $1000.00, 2nd place - $500.00, 3rd place - $300.00, 4th place - $200.00 and 5th place - $100.00. 1st through 4th places were also awarded a plaque.

The FOC tests the operators’ skills in simulating normal daily tasks such as loading, unloading, and pulling logs from between trees, all while maneuvering in extremely tight spaces.  But it also includes testing special hand-eye coordination skills such as placing a log between closely-spaced cones and vertically stacking log sections on end.

Contestants operated the new Komatsu 855 Tier 4 Final forwarder, one of the most productive and technologically advanced forwarders on the market today.  The 855 features a powerful, fuel-efficient 228 hp (170 kW) Tier 4 Final diesel engine, 14 metric ton (15.4 US ton) rated load capacity, and robust grapples & cranes with reaches of up to 32’10” (10 m).  Its rugged frame has a high tractive effort 8WD system, +/- 42º articulation steering and 28” (710 mm) high ground clearance which allows the 855 to handle tough terrain conditions.

The competition course had 5 different stations with each one testing a different set of operator skills.  Actual “clock time” for the total course was kept, but then penalty seconds would be assessed for various station “violations” which would yield a “net time”.  One of the more difficult stations was that of the “Flagpoles”, in which contestants had to lift and load two logs by bringing them through 2 closely-spaced vertical poles.  Each bump of a flagpole by either the log, grapple or crane would result in a 20 second penalty.  The last station, “Stacking”, has been one of the toughest stations for the contestants and a favorite for the spectators.  In previous years the contestants had to vertically stack 4 individual 18” log segments on top of each other and the stack had to stand for at least 2 full seconds.  This year two additional log segments were added for a total of 6 log segments that had to be stacked on top of each other, making for an even tougher finish for the contestants - - but even more exciting for the audience.  This station truly required keen eyes, nerves of steel and steady hands.

The Time Trials were run on Friday which determined the 8 fastest contestants, who were then bracketed for the elimination runs that began later Friday afternoon.  The 4 contestants with the fastest net times from each pairing then advanced on to the Semi-finals held on Saturday morning. David Anderson, who had the fastest time of the four contestants who did not move to the Saturday Semi-Finals, was awarded his 5th place $100.00 prize on Friday.

On Saturday morning, the final four contestants gathered at the scorer’s tent anxious and ready for the competition to begin.  The Final Four had Steve Anderson from Felch, MI running against Ryan Carey from Champion, MI.  This was Steve’s 9th competition and he has placed in the top four 5 times with one 1st place finish in 2012. Ryan had 3 top four finishes in his 6 years of competing. Steve advanced to the finals with a net time that was 15 seconds faster than Ryan’s.

The second pairing had a 3rd time competitor, Alex Johnson II from Eckerman, MI, who placed 3rd in 2016, running against Manley Murray. This was Manley’s 2nd year competing and he had finished 4th in 2016. This pairing turned out to be a nail-biter and one of the most exciting of the competition, coming down to the hundredths of a second. Manley’s time was 4:30.22 and Alex came away with a 4:30.09 with no penalties against either contestant.  This 0.13 second difference was a definite photo finish and a huge crowd pleaser.  Immediately following, the 3rd and 4th place run-off had Manley Murray back in a machine to compete against Ryan Carey. Manley Murray finished with the faster time and earned the 3rd place prize of $300.00. Ryan Carey claimed the 4th place prize of $200.00.

The Championship run was also another nail-biter, as Steve Anderson and Alex Johnson II ran the course side-by-side to the last station where it came down to stacking the 6 log segments.  It looked another photo finish was in the works - - that is until the logs began to tumble.  With both contestants stacking their blocks almost simultaneously, the trouble started as Steve placed his 5th block on his stack. The stack swayed one way and the other, and then fell to the ground.  He had to pull his hands off the controls to allow the judges to flip his blocks upright, giving Alex the advantage.  As Alex now edged ahead and was placing his 6th and final block, his stack also began to lean. Alex tried to hold and maneuver the last block with the grapple to balance the stack, but it was not meant to be. The whole stack tumbled to the ground like a house of cards, forcing Alex to begin stacking all over again. The tide had turned and the advantage was now with Steve and he used it wisely.  He methodically stacked his 6 log segments and placed the grapple in the bunk stopping the clock. Steve finished the course with a time of 4:58.81 accruing 30 seconds in penalties for a total time of 5:28.81.  Alex finished with no penalties and a time of 6:03.66 Steve took home the top money prize of $1000.00 and Alex was awarded the second-place prize of $500.00.

A huge “Thank You” to all the people who made this competition possible.
The Great Lakes Forwarder Operator Challenge is sponsored by the Great Lakes Timber Producers Association, Roland Machinery Company and Komatsu America Corp., Forest Machine Business Division. Pomeroy Forest Products, Inc. provided the logs used in the competition.

CLICK HERE to view a video of the exciting nail-biter semi-final run between Alex Johnson III and Manely Murray.

FOC 2017

Pictured from left to right are
Jim Williams - Komatsu America Corp., Director Sales & Service, Forestry Division
Ryan Carey, Champion, MI – 4th Place ($200)
Manley Murray, Felch, MI – 3rd Place ($300)
Alex Johnson II, Eckerman, MI – 2nd Place ($500)
Steve Anderson, Felch, MI – 1st Place ($1,000)
Henry Schienebeck, GLTPA Executive Director
Perry Hughes – Roland Machinery Company, Forestry Division Manager
Mitsuhiro Utsumi – Komatsu America Corp., Vice President & General Manager, Forestry Division

FOC 2017
Station 1 - Loading 12 Logs into bunk

FOC 2017
Station 2 - Pulling a log from beneath hoop

FOC 2017
Station 3 - Maneuvering two logs from between two poles

FOC 2017
Station 4 - Placing a log between cones without touching or dropping tennis balls.

FOC 2017
Station 5 - Stacking 6 log segments end on end