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Logging and Sawmilling Journal November 2014

November 2015

On the Cover:
G R (Mac) Lind Logging of Princeton, British Columbia, has a long history with Caterpillar equipment, and their equipment line-up includes two Cat 320D processors, equipped with Waratah 622 heads, which continue to be proven performers (Cover photo by Paul MacDonald).

Spotlight — Ecosystem management project seeking long term funding
The Ecosystem Management Emulating Natural Disturbance (EMEND) project in Alberta is looking for additional funding to keep its work on evaluating logging practices in the boreal forest—and their impact on forest health—going for the long term.

Revving up Resolute’s Thunder Bay mill
Resolute Forest Products has ramped up production at its Thunder Bay sawmill as part of a larger capital plan for its facilities in northwestern Ontario, a move that will allow the sawmill to capture more higher grade lumber products.

Iron investments
New Brunswick logger Ken Thomas has recently made some significant equipment investments, including a new John Deere 703 harvester with a Waratah H480C head, which has been working well in commercial thinnings—and still does a great job in final harvest.

Figuring out Ontario’s logging playbook
Ontario logger Gord Griffiths is looking to retire, but he’s concerned about who in the next generation is willing to take over the reins, given a constantly changing logging playbook from Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources.

Gradual growth for B.C. sawmiller
Sawmilling operation Vancouver Urban Timberworks started out modestly, but it has gradually grown, and the company recently installed a new mill, a Wood-Mizer WM1000—the first WM1000 to operate in Canada—at their production facility in Squamish, north of Vancouver.

Sawmill Sid shoots—and scores,
with hockey sticks
Producing everything from guitars to hockey sticks, Ontario mill operation Sawmill Sid is working hard to see that the trees in Toronto that have been hit by the Emerald Ash Borer have added value, and don’t just end up in tub grinders.

The Edge
Included in this edition of The Edge, Canada’s leading publication on research in the forest industry, are stories from the Canadian Wood Fibre Centre, Alberta Innovates - Bio Solutions and NRCanada.

The Last Word
Jim Stirling on how B.C. forest companies are heading to North America’s lowest cost lumber producing region—the U.S. South.

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Ontario logger Gord GriffithsIron investments

New Brunswick logger Ken Thomas has recently made some significant equipment investments, including a new John Deere 703 harvester with a Waratah H480C head, which has been working well in commercial thinnings—and still does a great job in final harvest.

By George Fullerton

As Ken Thomas approaches his fifth decade, he has made the decision to continue to make his living working in the woods, and stick near his cultural roots around the village of Stanley in central New Brunswick.

That plan led Thomas to make a deal on a new John Deere 703 harvester in 2015, and replacing his tired Timberjack 610 forwarder with a newer John Deere 1010 forwarder.

The business plan logger Ken Thomas put together led him to make a deal on a new John Deere 703 equipped with a Waratah H480C head.

Thomas’ forestry career began in his teen years, working in the yard in his father Ron’s cable skidding operation. Following high school, Thomas continued to work in local forestry operations. He attended the University of New Brunswick forestry program on a part-time basis in the early 1990s, and gained a degree in 1997.

“I had just ended a job operating a feller buncher, and my future wife suggested I try university,” explains Thomas. “It provided the opportunity for a lot of good discussions with professors, putting textbook theory into the context of forestry on the ground.

“I had to juggle university with a contracting business and we had started a family, but overall I guess the formal forestry education was a positive and it helped open some doors for me.”

Thomas continued to be employed on various manual and mechanical logging operations while studying, and in the mid-1990s established a company, Silva-Care, and began contracting pre-commercial thinning. Initially, thinning contracts targeted private woodlots, later expanding to industrial contracts including Crabbe Lumber, a family owned sawmill operating in Bristol, NB.

In the late-1990s, with Silva-Care’s pre-commercial thinning contracts growing, Thomas hired a supervisor to help handle the operations.

“It was a good time for pre-commercial thinning,” he says. “There were a lot of big blocks in the range of a hundred acres. It was fairly easy to lay out, and those blocks concentrated work in one area for an extended period of time.”

Silva-Care also expanded its forestry contracting to handle inventory contracts, and completed a lot of work in the northeast United States, working as far south as West Virginia.

“That inventory work was a great experience,” recalls Thomas. “I would have up to four or five foresters hired, and we saw a lot of country and a lot of timber.”

Thomas bought his own skidder in 1997 and worked it on stumpage jobs when his schedule allowed. He developed a reputation for doing high quality commercial thinning, in addition to other harvest work. The skidder stuck around operations, and was finally sold off in 2015.

In 2011, Thomas bought a Timberjack 608 harvester with a 762 head, and jumped into learning mechanical harvesting. He added a used Timberjack 610 forwarder to complete his harvesting team.

“Wood has been getting smaller all the time, and I could feel my body wearing out operating chainsaw and pulling skidder cable,” says Thomas. “I figured if I was staying in the woods business, I would have to be doing it in a harvester.

“I climbed in the harvester, and basically learned to operate it through a series of hard knocks. I know a number of local guys who had operated 608 machines and they were great with advice to help me troubleshoot problems. I also built a good relationship with a John Deere mechanic and he would often walk me through problems over the phone and get me working, after I had exhausted my own efforts.”

Thomas confessed he started out with little experience with equipment electronics, but he learned to troubleshoot—to a point—and then sometimes it was just a matter of replacing parts until things started working again.

Through the years of handling thinning contracts, Thomas had the idea that his career would eventually switch to harvesting those same pre-commercial stands. He said that many of those stands are now ready for commercial thinning, and some are ready for final harvest. One of the challenges he deals with currently is convincing woodlot owners to carry out commercial thinning or final harvest on those managed stands.

“Many woodlot owners understand that timely harvest is necessary—but on the other hand, some woodlot owners seem to think stand quality will sustain indefinitely,” he says. “I have to help them understand that there is a time for harvest, which will give them the best value. I know there are thousands of acres in my local region that are coming to the point of requiring harvesting, both private woodlots and industrial ground.”

Logger Ken Thomas (left) with equipment operator Andrew WallaceLogger Ken Thomas (left) with equipment operator Andrew Wallace. Wallace starts out the day on the Deere 703 harvester, and then he switches with Thomas to run the forwarder after about four hours.

Thomas also encounters landowners who have the idea that a thinning harvest, even in a stand with only marginal tree quality, will improve stand quality. “You can convince some people that a final harvest is the best option, while others go ahead with a partial harvest, only to watch the rest of the stand blow down.”

This past July, Thomas took delivery of the new John Deere 703, with a Waratah H480C head.

Asked why he selected a tracked machine, he replied: “First off, tracks lower the price of the harvester by quite a bit. Second, my operations are on pretty good soils so tracks work great. If I worked in a lot of rocky ground, I imagine I would have considered wheels a lot more—but for now tracks work great for me.”

Thomas recognizes a lot of similarities between the 608 and the new 703, and some important improvements.

“The physical layout of the machine and its mechanical components are very similar, although it has different joysticks, which I like a lot. The new machine is about the same horsepower as the 608, but the pump set-up is different and it provides better oil delivery to the head so that the head performance is markedly improved.”

Like most contractors, Thomas says it is a continuing effort to find qualified machine operators. Good operators are transient and in short supply—some head west for bigger money and some just seem to want a change and move to a different operation.

Andrew Wallace hired on with Thomas in spring 2015. Wallace had completed an operator training course provided by New Brunswick Community College, and had some buncher and forwarder experience before he began on the 703.

Wallace starts out the day on the harvester, and then he switches with Thomas to run the forwarder after about four hours.

Waratah H480C head.A routine chain change on the Waratah H480C head. Ken Thomas says his goal is for the Waratah head-equipped Deere 703 harvester to operate sixty hours per week. To meet that goal, Thomas puts in a couple of extended days each week.

“The first four hours of the operating shift are the most productive, so Andrew is in for the morning while I work the forwarder,” explains Thomas. “Then we switch for the balance of the day. That way he puts productive time into learning to operate. It also avoids him operating later in the shift when his attention is less acute, and hopefully we avoid mistakes that would lead to machine downtime.”

Thomas’ goal for the harvester is to operate sixty hours per week. He says to meet that goal he puts in a couple extended days each week.

New employee Andrew Wallace was fortunate recently to be operating in some good wood.

“This is as close to a perfect piece of woods for Andrew to learn to operate the harvester as anyone could wish for,” explained Thomas, looking toward the balsam fir stand where they were operating.

“This is old agricultural land that regenerated naturally and then had some initial work to develop it for Christmas tree production, and was then left to go wild again. The stem size is uniform and there is no understory vegetation. After you cut and process a tree, the next one is standing there right beside the previous stump.”

The woodlot, located at Williamsburg, NB, had suffered wind damage from post tropical storm Arthur in early July 2014. Throughout the woodlot, small groups of trees as well as individual trees had snapped off or were leaning. Thomas related that fibre quality of downed trees degrades very quickly, and a remarkable amount of fibre has been lost in just one year.

“The Arthur Storm hit the area around Stanley pretty hard and caused a lot of patchy wind throw,” Thomas explained. “It actually created quite a little bit of extra work, with woodlot owners calling to see if I could come and recover the downed timber. I think it also reminded a lot of woodlot owners that their woodlots need management and periodic harvest.”

The Williamsburg operation was a combination of partial cuts and final harvest, depending on stand condition.

In recent years, Thomas has taken winter contracts with Crabbe Lumber Ltd., harvesting blocks to feed the Crabbe family-owned mill.

New Brunswick logger Ken Thomas“Crabbe is a good balance with my private woodlot work,” he stated. “With Crabbe, I don’t have to dedicate time and energy to seeking out that stumpage and setting up deals with land owners. Crabbe just points me to a block, and then they have another when that one is completed. Crabbe understands the challenges the contractor faces, and they work along with those challenges.”

Crabbe’s forester, Marc Blanchard, is a very practical and understanding forester, says Thomas. “They have been calling to see if I could take on more work. Like most mills, they are looking for harvesting and trucking capacity. Our industry is continuing to re-build its workforce and harvesting capacity after the out-migration of operators and contractors that left during the downturn.”

Thomas pointed out that one of the main challenges facing most New Brunswick forestry operations is the lack of a viable market for softwood pulpwood.

“We minimize the amount of pulpwood we produce by making sure the studwood is taken down to minimum top diameter spec,” he explained. “We always generate some pulpwood, but it actually costs us money to handle it and the woodlot owner is definitely not making much on the stumpage.”

For trucking, Thomas calls on his father, Ron, and other local truckers when things get busy. Thomas uses a local float service, which provides good quick service. That’s important, because his operations are often in smaller cut blocks on private woodlots, and that means he moves fairly often.

Thomas had an established relationship with the Deere dealer, formerly Wallace Equipment, and explained that the same reliable service continues under the Brandt Tractors banner.

Thomas also relies on a number of service and supply businesses in addition to Brandt. ALPA Equipment, Parts for Trucks and Auto Machinery get called upon for a variety of needs for his harvesting operation.

To date, Thomas is happy with the performance and versatility of his new John Deere harvester, pointing out it works very well in commercial thinnings, and still does a great job in final harvest, with lots of power and speed, and—especially—more uptime and greater productivity at the end of the day.