By George Fullerton
New Brunswick logger Alan Costain explained that his first job in the woods was carrying nubbins off the yard on his father Kenneth’s logging operations near their home at Benton, in the Upper St. John River Valley in western New Brunswick. With his sheepish grin and chuckle, Costain recalls that his first job promotion gained him a four-foot measure stick and a double-bitted axe, to mark pulpwood bolt lengths on tree length timber for chainsaw bucking.
Costain added that after he grew his legs long enough, he was allowed to follow, hook up and unhook the yarding horse.
In his teens, Costain graduated to chainsaw and skidder operator on his father’s logging operation. Eventually, he bought his own cable skidder, and in his early-20s, began his own operation in 1978. In addition to buying stumpage on private woodlots, he contracted 21 years for Georgia Pacific Corporation.
Costain allows that through his years working in the woods, he’s observed that “things are always changing”.
In 2000, Costain approached Rex Brown, woodlands superintendent with the Nackawic pulp mill, proposing buying stumpage on a piece of Nackawic land, close to his home.
After a short time, Brown came back with a contract offering—and Costain Lumbering began a business relationship with the Nackawic mill.
The Nackawic mill was built in 1970, and for 34 years produced kraft pulp. In 2008, Aditya Birla Corporation bought the mill and converted it to a dissolving pulp process, using poplar and maple fibre. The unique cellulose product is shipped to Aditya Birla fibre plants in Asia to manufacture rayon fibre.
In 2008, with encouragement from the Nackawic mill, Costain stepped into mechanical harvesting with the purchase of a Case 9030B excavator conversion with an Ultimate (Quadco) 5600 fixed mount head.
For the first year and a bit, the harvester felled, delimbed and bunched tree length, and cable skidders pulled tree length to roadside, where product was slashed out with chainsaws and piled with a log loader. By 2010, a slasher, a grapple skidder and (new to Costain) used loader were added to the yard operation.
“I have only ever bought one new piece of forestry equipment, a 1998 Timberjack skidder. I have always been cautions about investing in new technology, basically because I was not sure how it would work, and how I might get along with it,” says Costain.
“Also, I have always been cautious about taking on major financing challenges. The trade-off for buying used and making fewer payments is I have spent an awful lot of time shutdown repairing used equipment.”
True to family tradition, Alan Costain brought his sons Jonathan and Jason to the woods operations at an early age, eventually introducing them to chainsaw operation and running skidders and other equipment, as well as involving them with equipment maintenance and repair. For the most part, they began working full time on the family-owned logging operation after they finished high school,
“They are both good mechanics,” explained Alan. “I can get by with regular mechanics and hydraulics, but with newer machines with electric over hydraulic and electronics, I am lost. But they understand it well, and can keep things running. We had a full time mechanic for a number of years, and both Jason and Jonathan worked closely with him, and learned a lot.”
Costain began seriously considering cut-to-length technology around 2012, after AV Nackawic began suggesting the move. By the spring of 2013, he had made a deal on a used Tigercat 822 with a Log Max 9000 head, with about 28,000 hours on the clock. He followed that with the purchase of a used Timberjack 1410 forwarder, in Nova Scotia.
“Nackawic was a bit surprised when we jumped into cut-to-length so quickly. They thought we would take several years to make the move. It was a good decision, though—cut-to-length has been a positive move for our business.”
Part of the purchase agreement for the Tigercat harvester included the previous owner’s commitment to send an operator to train Jason to operate the new machine.
“At the time, we were on a block harvesting for our trucker, Eric Cummings. Eric wanted it cut tree length, which was quite a challenge for the trainer because he had only ever operated cut-to-length. The trainer had a very hard time trying to adjust to operating for tree length, but he was able to show Jason the basics of operating the machine, and then Jason just took off with it.”
Costain says that although it is hard to compare the CTL to his tree length operation—because of differences in stand types and tree size—he contends that with the new head, the CTL side is nearly twice as productive as the Ultimate/grapple/slasher operation.
“We work in different forest types and we steer the Tigercat towards softwood where there are a lot of sorts, and we put hardwoods and poplar toward the tree length side of the operation. We can still put up a lot of hardwood with the tree length side.”
Jason spends his time in the Tigercat and Jonathan in theTimberjack. Alan typically is on the loader and slasher, while operator Brent Brewer is in the Case harvester, and Greg McKinley is in the Timberjack grapple skidder.
“We need a lot of room for tree length operation to pile wood and then equally, a lot of room to pile products, considering there are a lot of sorts for sawlogs, studwood, biomass and several hardwood sorts.
“I really like the fact that with CTL, Jason does the cutting and sorting products right at the stump. Jonathan loads sorts as he sees fit, and when he lands it in the product piles at roadside, we are done with it. It is handled far less, and more efficiently, than with the tree length operation.”
As the cut-to-length team was integrated into the operation, true to Costain’s used equipment mantra, there was a good deal of minor and fairly major repairs to the equipment. The crew soon realized that they needed to make a change in heads.
“The heads are very complex and ours had lots of worn parts giving us trouble. In the first year, Jason was working on the head several times a day, it seemed. Eventually, we decided that in order to make the machine productive, we would need to put a decent head on the Tigercat.”
Jason said that through their experience with the machine, they had developed a great working relationship with Log Max Forestry in Moncton, “Whenever we had a problem with the head, I would call Log Max and they would put me right through to a mechanic, and they would quickly analyze the problem and explain how to fix it. They also carry a real good inventory and we got parts very quickly.”
That positive working relationship led the Costain’s to purchasing a new Log Max 7000 head in 2014.
For the head installation, they floated the harvester to Eric Cummings’ truck garage, and gave a hand to the Log Max technician installing the new head.
“We started fairly early in the morning and by supper time we walked the harvester, complete with new head, out into the yard. The installation went very smoothly,” said Jason.
Start-up with the new head was painless, except Jason had to get used to the increased power and function speed. “When I cut the first tree, I was operating the controls like I did with the old head, but when I hit the delimbing function, the tree nearly shot completely out of the feed rollers. I was very surprised how strong and how fast the new head was. I had to concentrate for a bit to learn how to handle the new power.”
The new head went right to work without any mechanical issues. In addition to reliability and performance, Jason also enjoys a larger screen which came with the new computer. It works basically the same as the old one, but is a lot easier to read.
Jason confirmed he has a good deal of admiration for the purpose-built Tigercat harvester. He pointed out that while they often operate in some very rocky ground, he is comfortable with and has confidence in tracked machines, adding that he just has to be aware of his travel path.
“When we are working in very rocky conditions, I will harvest for a while, then get out and walk to pick out a trail for the machines. It’s not so much finding an adequate path for the harvester, but more to make sure the forwarder can travel through the boulders and reach the wood.”
Now in his 60s, Alan feels the wear on his body from years of manual logging. Still, he loves logging and finds it very rewarding to be working side by side with his sons.
While working in the woods is his sweet spot, Alan recognizes the business side requires a good deal of work and he recognizes the long support and dedication to the family enterprise by his wife, Sally.
“Sally is a very important part of the business—in addition to handling the majority of the office work, she also dedicates a good deal of time obtaining parts and supplies to keep equipment running,” explained Alan.
True to family tradition, Alan supports exposing their grandkids to the woods and harvesting operations, and maybe taking the opportunity to share a story or two about a yarding horse.
Alan says it’s not unusual on a nice day in the summer for all of their grandchildren—which includes Shanice, Sashta, Jackie, Jade and Sloan—to show up and have a picnic with the crew.
“It is a special time for us to see those kids in the woods, and have them see the way we make our living,” he says, with pride. “They see and learn a lot of things through that kind of experience. I don’t know if they might have a career that associates with the woods, but they will head out in life with valuable experience and knowledge.”
On the Cover:
The Weyerhaeuser sawmill in Princeton, B.C. has added two new Volvo wheel loaders, a Volvo L350F and a Volvo L150H, from B.C. Volvo dealer Great West Equipment to help manage log operations. Read about how the equipment is helping make the operation more efficient beginning on page 10. (Photo by Paul MacDonald).
Tapping into the growing bio-economy at Alberta’s Bio-Mile
A new $11 million Clean Energy Technology Centre recently opened in Alberta and among its goals is supporting greater product diversification within the forestry sector, and encouraging more participation by the industry in the bio-economy.
Volvos delivering volume
Some new Volvo wheel loaders are helping the Weyerhaeuser sawmill in Princeton, B.C. deliver efficiencies in the millyard, in feeding logs into the high production, two-line sawmill, and handling chips and hog fuel.
“Big Data” already being utilized by forest industry
Although “Big Data” has become a buzz term in business circles in recent years, the forest industry is already well on its way to using Big Data in a number of areas, from machine centres at the sawmill, to woodlands operations.
Hard work = successful sawmill
Though it requires a lot of hard work, Alberta sawmiller Colin Ruxton says that small sawmilling can pay off—and he’s proven it with both a band and circular sawmill.
Going from logger—to lumber producer
New Brunswick’s Pierre Friolet has used skills developed as a logging contractor to set up an added-value operation that produces thermally modified wood, finding customers from architects to guitar makers for the unique wood product.
Lean log handling
B.C.’s coastal forest industry and the provincial government are working on streamlining the log handling process through making changes based on the “Lean” philosophy that is practiced in other industries—and it’s already showing results.
Family fencing operation
B.C. specialty mill operation Nagaard Sawmill, run by brothers Darrol and Dale Nagel, has found its niche—and it’s in producing fence components from western red cedar for a growing market, with a mill that features a fair bit of home-made equipment, and lots of ingenuity.
Liking the Log Max/Doosan combo
New Brunswick harvesting contractor Remi Doucet is a fan of the Doosan/Log Max harvesting combination, and recently upgraded his equipment with a new Log Max 7000 head.
BUILDER of business relationships
B.C. logger Shane Garner says a successful harvesting contracting operation is all about business relationships, from his employees to his John Deere-heavy logging equipment fleet.
A life in logging: from horses—to Tigercats
Long time logger Alan Costain may have started with yarding horses, but these days the horsepower in Costain Lumbering is of a very different sort, with equipment such as a Tigercat 822.
The frontier community of Colville Lake, 50 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle in the Northwest Territories, has acquired a new portable sawmill which will produce building materials to help address the community’s need for improved housing.
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 and Alberta Innovates - Bio Solutions.
The Last Word
The Fort McMurray fire of earlier this year could have ripple effect on the cost of insurance for the forest industry, says Jim Stirling.