Sias van Greunen, owner of PSP Timber, has not always been the hands-on timber processor and
merchant he is now. While making his living as an insurance broker and investment consultant,
he saw an opportunity and became a silent partner in a wood processing concern in the hot and
dusty Karoo town of Oudtshoorn.
The year 1995 saw him leaving the financial consulting field and turning his full attention to
the timber business. Ably assisted by his daughter and son-in-law Lizél and Constant de Waal,
PSP Timber supplies creosoted poles and other treated timber to agriculture, the housing and
construction market as well as the export market.
With the head office and processing plant in Oudtshoorn, they distribute treated poles to pole
yards under their own banner in Cape Town and surrounding areas. Plans are afoot to create
franchises for their products across the Western and Eastern Cape provinces.
Pine is currently the most popular timber being processed by PSP Timber. While a percentage of
their timber stock is bought and delivered to their premises in Oudtshoorn's industrial area,
they also buy timber as it stands in plantations. They are able to buy the majority of their
timber from the former state-owned forests now trading as Mountain to Ocean (MTO) as well as
from other smaller privately owned plantations. PSP's own teams of harvesters and contract
harvesters, harvest the timber and transport it to the processing plant by road.
Here the timber is sorted and debarked before being cut and processed. Timber destined to become
poles is cut cylindrically. Creosote processing takes place in vacuum chambers where the timber
is permeated. Poles for the export market are often not treated with creosote as clients prefer
their natural wood fibre colouring. These poles are dunked in a solution to stop them turning
blue and so maintain their natural wheat colour.
Both the in-field harvesters and processing plant operate six days a week. Peak times with high
demand for treated poles from the grape farmers in the Western Cape fall between May and September.
This is the time when new vineyards are planted and creosoted poles are necessary to support the
vines. During this time, PSP will often work 24-hour shifts at the processing plant to satisfy
the demand. Processing continues even during Oudtshoorn's rare raining days although no timber
harvesting is done due to treacherous underfoot conditions.
Poles vary in length from 1.2 metres to 11 metres. PSP Timbers' most popular pole is that
produced for agriculture, 2.1 metre long and 75mm thick. This pole is used extensively by grape
farmers in their vineyards and fruit farmers who supply deciduous fruit. The 2.1 metre pole is
also used for fencing.
Nearly half of PSP's current production of poles goes to agriculture with the rest being split
between the construction industry and export markets. Exports are made to mainly New Zealand,
the United Kingdom, Mauritius and Reunion. Plans are in place to exprt to the United Arab
Emirates as well in the coming year.
While PSP Timber finds itself to be an important source of employment in the Oudtshoorn
district, employing 260 people, it has not held back on certain mechanisation. From day one,
Van Greunen has relied on Bell Equipment's proven reliability in the timber industry to assist
them in their material handling.
"When we embarked on this venture, we looked at Bell's Loggers and realised that this was the
machine to do the job," he said. PSP has steadily increased its fleet of Bell Loggers and
currently own nine, one Bell 220 model with the rest being Bell 225s. "We believe there is
no other machine like this one on the market," he added. "They each do the work of
PSP Timbers make their Bell Loggers available to their contract harvesters in the field.
This helps speed up their harvesting operations. Trees are felled on the steep slopes of
the plantations and skidded downhill to where they are cut into preset lengths. They are
then stacked and loaded onto transport using Bell 225 Loggers.
Strict safety standards are maintained in the harvesting areas with hard hats, safety boots,
safety glasses and visors and gloves being the order of the day. Timber is supplied to PSP
Timbers from as far afield as Plettenberg Bay in the East to Swellendam in the West.
Sias van Greunen's words that the Bell 225 Loggers do the work of many ring true when one
notes the high level of activity in the PSP Timbers yard in Oudtshoorn. Bell 225 Loggers
unload rigid trucks and stockpile the timber. Others feed debarkers and cylindrical cutting
beds. Yet another Bell Logger dunks long poles destined for the export market into a bath
containing "anti-blue" solution. The versatility of the patented Bell Logger is very evident
And yet despite all the activity in what seems to the eye to be a very busy yard, it is said
that stock levels of timber are low. So says PSP Timbers' General Manager, Constant de Waal.
"Because we experience such a hot dry climate in Oudtshoorn, our wood dries quicker than that
which is processed at the coast where the climate is more temperate. We can therefore keep our
stock levels lower as our turnaround time is quicker in processing the timber."
"It would be fair to say that we could not maintain this pace if we did not have the Bell
Loggers," he adds.
Oudtshoorn is known for its extreme climate, searing heat in summer and being very cold in
winter. To add to this there is the dust factor that has the potential to wreak havoc on
many an air filter of engines labouring in the heat. To this end, PSP Timbers makes sure
that their operators adhere strictly to daily maintenance and lubrication schedules for
the upkeep of the Bell Loggers. Operators work through a checklist every morning and try
as far as possible to do preventative maintenance.
Technicians from Bell Equipment's Customer Service Centre at George, are only called in
to do major repairs. Van Greunen is full of praise for the Bell Product Support Team:
"We find that they are always prepared to go out of their way to help us, " he said.
The Bell Loggers at PSP Timbers work hard and clock an average of 1 500 hours per year.
To add to their versatility, Van Greunen has plans to equip some models with forks in the
near future. Additions of more machines to his fleet are also planned. Fuel figures average
out a nominal 5 to 6 litres of diesel per hour.
We asked Van Greunen what it is that keeps PSP Timbers at the forefront of suppliers of poles
in the Western Cape. While acknowledging that without his loyal staff and reliable Bell
equipment his company would battle, he is quick to point out that the difference is found in
the company's attitude: "We never use words like 'we can't' or 'we don't have stock'," he says.
"Like Bell Equipment, we make a plan."