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Logging and Sawmilling Journal March/April 2014

August/September 2014

On the Cover:
Greg Smith, Chief Operating Officer of Gilbert Smith Forest Products in Barriere, B.C.—and grandson of the founder of the family-run company—is proud of the resourcefulness the mill and its employees showed in carrying out a major mill upgrade on a tight budget (Photo by Paul MacDonald).

Landmark Alberta forestry agreement
A deal with Northern Alberta Métis that involves long-term commercial rights to 200,000 hectares of forestlands is said to be a landmark agreement and could be worth millions of dollars to the community, say its backers.

Resourceful mill upgrade
The Gilbert Smith Forest Products sawmill in the B.C. Interior has just wrapped up a multi-million dollar upgrade that included some new equipment, a lot of used equipment—and involved a whole lot of resourcefulness.

Tracking down energy savings at the mill
Weyerhaeuser’s Princeton, B.C. sawmill is seeing some big-time cost savings from a number of energy initiatives the mill has introduced over the last several years—and the operation is continuing to track down energy saving opportunities.

Cars made out of …Wood?
The BioComposites Group plant in Alberta is very close to bringing its unique product—wood fibre mat produced from refined SPF wood fibre—to industries such as auto manufacturing that are looking for greener materials, and cost savings.

Newfoundland’s
Northwest an award-winner

Newfoundland logging contractor Northwest Forest Resources—now run by the third generation of the Reid Family—recently added to their award hardware collection, being awarded the Canadian Woodlands Forum’s Contractor of the Year for 2014.

Old iron on the Internet
B.C.’s Todd Smith is on a mission to photograph and video old logging equipment—and he’s now sharing his work, and the rich history and heritage of B.C. logging, on the Internet at Youtube.

First Nations band gets into sawmilling
The Hupacasath First Nations band on Vancouver Island is now in the small sawmilling business, having purchased a portable Super Scragg sawmill from D & L Timber Technologies, and is looking at other opportunities in the forest industry, including getting involved in logging.

Ready for the upturn
With increasing demand for wood products, Nova Scotia’s Consolidated Forest Owners Resource Management stands ready to meet an increase in activity in the woods, with its high level harvesting and forest management services.

The Edge
Included in The Edge, Canada’s leading publication on research in the forest industry, are stories from Canadian Wood Fibre Centre, Alberta Innovates - Bio Solutions, Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development, Forest Innovation Investment (FII), NRCan and the Woodlands Operations Learning Foundation (WOLF).

The Last Word:
Court ruling a possible
game changer

The recent Supreme Court of Canada ruling in the Ts’ilhqot’in Nation vs. British Columbia case could be a game changer for the forest industry, says Jim Stirling.

DEPARTMENTS

Tech Update: Grinders

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B.C.’s Todd Smith is on a mission to photograph and video old logging equipment—and he’s now sharing his work, and the rich history and heritage of B.C. logging, on the Internet at Youtube.

Old iron on the Internet

B.C.’s Todd Smith is on a mission to photograph and video old logging equipment—and he’s now sharing his work, and the rich history and heritage of B.C. logging, on the Internet at Youtube.

By Paul MacDonald

Todd Smith is a man on a mission—and anyone who loves old logging equipment can be thankful for that.

Smith, who lives in B.C.’s Fraser Valley just east of Vancouver, has taken on the mission of photographing and taking videos of old logging equipment, which has been fast-disappearing in recent years due to high scrap prices overseas. For years, Smith has been ranging around the backroads and logging roads on the B.C. Coast. At first, it was for his own interest. But with the Internet, he now posts photos and videos to his YouTube site, www.youtube.com/user/skadill He has over 1200 videos on his site, and adds a new video every week.

For years, Todd Smith has been ranging around the backroads and logging roads on the B.C. Coast, looking to take photos and videos of old logging equipment.

Many of Smith’s photos are on the YouTube heavy equipment forum, under the forestry equipment section in a post called ‘BC logging equipment left to rust’ and he’s known as ‘Skadill’ online.

Smith had an interest in heavy equipment at a young age. He recalls taking logging magazines to school, and reading them during band practice. “I’d get in trouble, reading about line loaders and logging trucks. But even then, I remember thinking, ‘that’s the kind of stuff I want to work with’.”

Smith recalls being into heavy equipment right from high school—rather than the usual bikini pin-ups most guys had in their lockers, “I had heavy equipment pictures in my locker. Nobody really got it.”

Once he was old enough, Todd started working with his Dad, Ken, who had a logging business, and they cleared many large acreages in B.C.’s Lower Mainland through the late-1980s and early 1990s. “I thought it was the greatest thing, being out on some acreage clearing it. A logging truck would come on site, and I’d be all eyes watching it getting loaded with logs.”

Smith also ran skidder, hoe chucked, bid on jobs, ran a sawmill with his dad, and loaded the logging trucks. He also logged, working as a faller, sometimes taking down trees that were nine feet across. True to his interest in equipment, Smith can quickly recall what their equipment was: a John Deere 540A line skidder, and a Timberjack 404 skidder, the latter picked up used in Chehalis, Washington. “The Timberjack had one of those Esco 510 grapples on the back—we thought we had gone to heaven when we didn’t have to set chokers anymore,” he recalls.

They were operating mostly around the Fraser Valley area, which still has fair bit of land in farm acreages.

B.C.’s Todd Smith is on a mission to photograph and video old logging equipment—and he’s now sharing his work, and the rich history and heritage of B.C. logging, on the Internet at Youtube.From there, Todd and Ken purchased some small sawmills, to try and add value to some of the hardwood logs they were taking down in the clearing operations. They set the mills up on a paved site in Maple Ridge, about 45 kilometres west of Vancouver. They had a D&L Double Cut sawmill and a TimberPro (now Timberwolf) band saw.

They were sawing hardwood, and it was a tough market; they had to compete at the time with Weyerhaeuser-owned Northwest Hardwoods. “We were just a small volume producer, we’d cut a truckload of wood a day—but in addition to the wood we were harvesting, we had to compete with Northwest for wood—it was all we could do to find wood and buy it,” recalls Smith. They did some BC Timber Sales, “but it was a tough go getting the wood.”

Eventually, they got out of the mill side. The economics were just not there, says Smith. “Our overhead was just too high. We were producing 5,000 to 6,000 board feet a day, and you really need to be in the 10,000 to 20,000 board feet a day and up range, to generate good cash flow.”

Added to that, the regulations for the industry and the area they operated in changed considerably. Most of the areas they were operating in then, now require permits to take down trees. And as margins diminished and the industry became more bureaucratic, Smith moved out of the logging business.

Smith now runs a rental equipment business; he has about 16 pieces of equipment, from mini-excavators to full size excavators. He does a lot of the maintenance work on the equipment from a small shop in Mission. But his passion for B.C.’s logging industry remains strong.

Smith has been taking pictures of older equipment for more than 20 years. “Before the age of the Internet and YouTube, I was kind of on my own.”

But on his YouTube site, he has hundreds of videos of old logging equipment. Each Friday, he posts a new video on the site, and usually gets a quick 1,000 visits from people, eager to see his latest equipment find.

B.C.’s Todd Smith is on a mission to photograph and video old logging equipment—and he’s now sharing his work, and the rich history and heritage of B.C. logging, on the Internet at Youtube.Smith has stepped up his efforts in recent years, as older logging equipment has been scooped up for scrap. “What really sparked things is the price of scrap has gone up a lot over the last five years,” he says. There is a lot of steel in old logging equipment, and China—in addition to being a very good customer for Canadian lumber—seems to have an insatiable appetite for scrap metal. And in some ways, the scrap is coming full circle. The melted-down scrap may be used to produce a piece of heavy equipment in China or Korea, that is shipped back to B.C.

Added to that, there are fewer hidden areas with equipment.

“Urban development has encroached on a lot of areas around southwestern B.C., and all the old trucks and equipment that had been sitting around on that land is being sold—there aren’t those hidden areas any more. It’s getting harder for that old equipment to sit and retire and grow in the weeds.

“And once it’s gone, it’s gone.”

As a British Columbian, Smith takes great pride in the history and heritage this logging equipment represents. “B.C. was where the biggest logging went on, and it had the biggest equipment. Much of it was purpose built for this region.”

Though this older equipment might have required more monkey-wrenching than its modern counterparts, for logging veterans names such as Hayes and Pacific in trucks, and Cypress and Madill in yarders, and Chapman in log loaders, bring back fond memories. Madill, of course, is still in the business of supplying the industry.

“It’s kind of a shame that it’s all carted off, and gone forever. I don’t mind the scrap guys—I’d just like to get to it first and preserve its image, so people now and in the future can see it.”

In the last couple of years, Smith discovered a great logging equipment find up the coast. “It’s a neat mix of equipment, some off-highway trucks, some early hydraulic log loaders and some old line machines—there are parts and pieces of all kinds of equipment. The guy who owns it has never let go of anything—he has the first skidder he bought when he was 15.

“I was on Cloud Nine when I saw it—it was like stepping back 30 or 40 years in time, seeing all that equipment.”

Such finds are rare, he said. “Often it’s just one piece of equipment.”

B.C.’s Todd Smith is on a mission to photograph and video old logging equipment—and he’s now sharing his work, and the rich history and heritage of B.C. logging, on the Internet at Youtube.Smith politely declined to say exactly where all this equipment is, referring anyone interested to check out his YouTube site to see equipment details. And there is still more out there. In the Fraser Valley, which Smith has pretty well covered at this point, there are supposed to be a handful of steam donkeys, and a logging locomotive. He noted some old loggers in the Fraser Valley are sitting with dozens of pieces of equipment—everything from boom boats to skid mounted yarders--on their acreage. “It’s neat when the equipment has trees growing through it. It makes for kind of a postcard shot.”

And there is still the occasional find that hikers will come across. “There is still equipment out there—but it’s way back in the weeds. I’ve gone through all the easy pickings. Driving around, I’m seeing the same pieces of equipment out there, and that isn’t cutting it for me.”

At this point he receives—and actively solicits—leads on where old equipment might be, so he can check it out and take some new photos and video. “I’m looking for new equipment leads to find anything fresh, and add to the YouTube site.” He can be reached by e-mail at slstks@telus.net

Smith would like to make it up to the former Queen Charlottes, now called Haida Gwaii. “There’s some equipment up there, I’m told. It was all big timber up there, so there would be some big gear.”

What’s really interesting, Smith says, is when equipment is found exactly where it finished.

B.C.’s Todd Smith is on a mission to photograph and video old logging equipment—and he’s now sharing his work, and the rich history and heritage of B.C. logging, on the Internet at Youtube.“It’s one thing when they are sitting in a yard. But when a truck is exactly where it was when the last guy who turned the key walked away from it, it really adds some mystery to it. It’s like stepping back in time. Someone shut the key off 38 years ago—and it’s been there ever since.

“You wonder—who was that last guy to operate that truck? Did he think he was coming back the next day? What happened?”

Smith says it’s sometimes difficult to explain his fascination with older logging equipment. It seems to be something you get—or you don’t get. “Some people might look at an old yarder as a piece of junk. But it represents a piece of B.C. logging history. Guys worked with that yarder for 20 years, fed their families, provided timber for sawmills on the B.C. Coast. It fed the economy in this province. There is so much behind that one machine.”

Smith notes that today’s equipment is modern, productive, and safe—but it lacks the rich history of this old equipment.

That history, of course, includes the loggers themselves. Back in the day, the logger going down the main street of any forestry town with suspenders, stagged-off pants and cork boots was respected—and feared in any bar fight. “The logger of today is so different,” says Smith. “He has a laptop, maps and GPS, is well dressed, and there is a cell phone in the cab, with computers in the feller buncher printing out how many stems were cut that day.

“Years ago, it was all about the man, not the equipment. Was he a good hook tender, or a good chokerman, or a good rigging slinger?”

Things have changed dramatically in Vancouver, which used to be a hub for logging equipment manufacturing. Opsal Steel used to be one of the major companies producing logging equipment from a location near Vancouver’s False Creek.

B.C.’s Todd Smith is on a mission to photograph and video old logging equipment—and he’s now sharing his work, and the rich history and heritage of B.C. logging, on the Internet at Youtube.False Creek itself, south of downtown Vancouver, used to be ringed with sawmills back in the day. It is now home to soul-less high rise condos. And outside of Vancouver, the McDonald Cedar mill site in Fort Langley is occupied by townhouses. Such is progress.

Some have criticized the city of Vancouver for having gone from being a muscular manufacturing centre for the forest industry to a city full of latte-sipping hipsters glued to their laptops.

Though he’s busy with his business these days, Smith notes that he still has his hand in logging from time to time, helping out a local log yard, and doing some land clearing. His equipment was used to do some clearing recently on a 40-acre site in Maple Ridge. “It had some nice Douglas fir,” says Todd.

And though he may spend time on the weekends working on the equipment for his business, he quite happily drops that to check out a new old equipment lead—and the history that perhaps comes with it.

“I think logging is still the number one industry in B.C. I don’t know whether it is in dollar terms. But that’s how British Columbia began.”

And it’s a passion that still extends to sawmilling, too. “There’s just something about opening up that log, and smelling it,” says Smith. “It’s like opening up a present, seeing what is in there. With our operation, we were cutting the trees with our own hands, taking it out of the forest and milling it into a board, and perhaps a finished product that could outlast yourself. There’s great reward in that.”

There still is.