CLICK to download a pdf of this article
In the woods innovators
B.C.’s family-run Lime Creek Logging has a track record of working with innovative equipment in the woods—these days, that includes a Delimbinator, to handle small limby timber, and a Southstar processor head.
By Paul MacDonald
Lime Creek Logging of Grand Forks, B.C. recently celebrated 35 years of being in business, and it’s been able to last that long due to a dedication to delivering what its mill customers want in service: timely, efficient and economical delivery of logs to the mill yards.
And service is what it expects—and must have—from its equipment dealers. That’s especially the case over the last couple of years, with sawmills gearing up production—and Lime Creek upping log production.
“With the equipment dealers, it’s really 100 per cent about service,” says Shawn McIver, who owns Lime Creek Logging along with his father, Dale McIver, and uncle, Hank McIver. They operate the company from an office and shop along the Crowsnest Highway, just east of Grand Forks, in B.C.’s Southern Interior.
“You could even deal with an underpowered piece of equipment, if the service is there to stand behind it. But you could have the best piece of equipment in the world, and if you don’t have the service, it’s no good, because eventually all equipment breaks down.”
That service component is even more important considering the high level of technology on equipment, Shawn added. Their mechanics and operators are focused on the equipment and logging, and are not technical experts. So they defer to the specialists at the dealers for help. “We can change hoses and cylinders and engines, but as far as the computer issues, you need the right tech person who knows the specific piece of equipment.”
While they have a variety of logging equipment out in the bush, Lime Creek Logging has generally relied on equipment from Great West Equipment, particularly the branch in Vernon, B.C.
“Service-wise, we find Great West the most reliable,” says Shawn.
Great West Equipment generally sends a service truck out once a month, for a week or so, through their region. “We get the same mechanic each time, and he knows our equipment, and has a good idea of what shape the equipment is in,” says Shawn. “He knows what the issues might be with the equipment, and what he is going to do the next time he sees us. It works our pretty good.”
They usually have a piece of equipment from Great West on warranty, so the travel time for the mechanic is not on Lime Creek’s dime.
Hank McIver noted that while the dealerships are pretty good at getting parts to them, they still pay a bit of a price for operating in this part of the B.C. Interior, which is a ways from any major centre.
“There is a cost to operating where we are. Parts are expensive—every O-ring you are ordering comes with a shipping price tag because we’re in Grand Forks. It’s not like we can go into Grand Forks and buy a hydraulic fitting or a U-joint.” There is the cost of the part itself, the shipping, and the real cost: equipment downtime.
The Lime Creek Logging shop, as a result, has a basement chocked full of everyday parts that they use to keep unscheduled downtime to a minimum.
Among the equipment they run from Great West is a new Madill T2250 buncher, as well as two fairly new Tigercat skidders, a 630 and a 635.
They also have three Volvo 2421 carriers from Great West doing processing work, two equipped with Waratah heads, and one with the Southstar 22” QS500 processor head, which has been around for a bit more of a year. All in, they have about 40 pieces of heavy equipment, plus about half-a-dozen pick-ups.
Shawn notes they have had the Southstar head since February 2013, and that Marcel Payeur and his crew have been patiently working with them on a few issues.
“The Southstar people have been very good at helping us out. That’s really one of the main reasons we bought a Southstar head—because of Marcel and the people with the company, and the service they have provided in the past. We know they will stand behind the heads.”
Most of the challenges they have had deal with the Dasa computer system on the head, but Shawn is confident they are close to being fully addressed,
“If we were operating in small pine, cutting short logs, we would not have seen any of the issues we’ve had, but we’re cutting long logs. In Southstar’s defense, cutting small logs is what the head was built for. We kind of went out on a limb, feeling the head would work with our bigger wood here, and our long log configurations. We wanted to give it a try, and we’ve been working with Southstar tweaking things to get it to work in the bigger wood.
“If we are going to move forward and keep up with the times, we need to try new equipment. I have faith that it is going to work for us.” He noted that Southstar has produced quite a few different parts to make the head work better for them, and which, he says, should also help Southstar with other loggers.
“They went to a leaf spring link arm, and that seems to be working for us. They also redesigned the grab arms to handle the bigger wood.”
Southstar has been very responsive in other areas as well, said Shawn. He noted that one of their operators mentioned to Marcel Payeur that a voice command feature would be nice on the head. A short time later, it was on the machine. “It’s a voice command to change species, so instead of fumbling on the key pad, you can just say ‘larch’, or ‘balsam’ or whatever, and the computer will change the controls.
“It’s not perfected, but it was neat to see that they had an idea from an operator figured out only a month later. They really listen to you.”
Lime Creek Logging has two crews, one working in tree length wood, and the other in short length. Their main crew supplies cut to length wood for the Interfor mill in Grand Forks.
One of the more interesting things they are doing these days is processing small, limby pine with a piece of equipment called the Delimbinator. A piece of equipment new to the B.C. woods, the Delimbinator is chopping the time it takes to delimb small, limby wood, allowing loggers to maximize fibre production in marginal timber stands. The company that manufactures the machine, Chambers Inc., is based in Mississippi.
Westwood Fibre, a forest management company based in Kamloops, B.C., started work with the Delimbinator two years ago, and is now the Canadian dealer for the equipment.
Lime Creek started work with the Delimbinator for BC Ecochips at Okanagan Falls, B.C. in undersize pine. They have since purchased a Delimbinator, and have a contract to supply wood for pulp mill Celgar, about 100 kilometres away in Castlegar. The wood they supply is chipped in the nearby town of Midway, at BC Ecochips.
“We have a pretty good system now with the Delimbinator, and it works well, but it was a year of try this, try that,” says Shawn. “But it works really well in that kind of operation, with small, limby pine. With that kind of timber type, there is no other way you can deal with it that would be economical.”
The Delimbinator concept in B.C. appears to have a lot of merit, but the machine is toughened up by Westwood Fibre when it gets to B.C.
“They have a totally different system in the U.S. South, where the Delimbinator was developed, with paved roads and plantation wood,” says Shawn. “I’ve seen them loading logs down there on practically a four lane highway.”
In addition to the upgrading that Westwood Fibre does on the Delimbinator, Lime Creek found it helpful to do some further undercarriage upgrades for their operations.
Dale McIver noted that Lime Creek Logging has had a tradition of trying out new equipment since he and brother, Hank, started logging more than 30 years ago. “We’ve always been willing to try new equipment. We were first to start grapple yarding in this part of B.C.,” he says. He says they have always focused on having a well-run logging outfit. These days, that is more important than ever. “If you don’t run your outfit like a finely tuned machine, you are not going to be here.”
Dale says that while it has started to get more stable for the contracting sector in the forest industry, there is still a ways to go. “We’ve fine tuned things with our operations better, but the rates need to be better. It’s an uphill battle—the industry is not anywhere close to where it needs to be on rates. With rates, it’s a struggle where it should not be a struggle.”
Contractors, and associations such as B.C.s Interior Logging Association, make the strong case that a healthy contracting sector is good for the big forest companies, and the industry as a whole. And that case makes more sense than ever, with the large forest companies making some good healthy profits, with the rebound in demand and prices for lumber.
“I think some of the companies are realizing the importance of contractors and good rates—they lost track of that during the downturn. It should start with the big companies, taking a look at freeing up some money for better rates.”
The industry, too, and the companies, need to invest in the logging road system in B.C., he added. The industry, Dale says, has been coasting for quite a while on the existing system. “The road system is the backbone of the industry—you can’t do anything without transportation. The industry and the government need to do some long term thinking on what we need.”
Lime Creek Logging was able to keep their crews busy through the downturn—thanks to a large construction project for a local mine that helped to fill in the gap when the Grand Forks sawmill was shut down by its former owners, Pope & Talbot. “We have great crews that go the distance,” says Shawn. But one struggle they—and much of the logging industry—faces is getting good logging truck drivers.
This past summer, they had three rigs parked because they could not get drivers. “There are drivers out there, but there is no sense in putting someone on a truck who is going to get in trouble. It’s a lot better to have them parked than you having to pick up loads and trucks from the ditch, or down an embankment. There are a lot of guys out there that you wouldn’t want hauling for you. You really have to be careful who you put in that seat.”
One solution they are trying out is training an equipment operator they have who is interested in driving logging trucks. They are also running a Project Heavy Duty program with the local school district, and the district’s two secondary schools, Grand Forks Secondary School and Boundary Central Secondary School, to encourage students to enter the forest industry.
While the company is SAFE certified, and follows WorkSafe BC regulations, all of the McIver’s say that the best way to round out a safety program is to instill a sense of safety responsibility in employees. On a practical basis, the bush foreman can’t always be overseeing every employee’s actions.
“We give them the tools, and show them the safe way to do the job, but every person also needs to look out for their own safety,” says Shawn. “They have to realize they have some personal responsibility. We want our employees to get home safely every night—and everybody looks out for each other in our operation. But we can’t be looking over their shoulder all the time.”
The guidelines spelled out in the SAFE program and WorkSafe documentation can be helpful, but it does not apply to every situation.
“Following a piece of paper that explains how you do something isn’t always going to cut it out in the bush,” says Dale. “Situations in the bush can change every second. That piece of paper might have been relevant for that rock, but not the rock over there. We do everything we can—but they also have to work safely for themselves.”
This page and all contents ©1996-2015 Logging and Sawmilling Journal (L&S J) and TimberWest Journal.