By Tony Kryzanowski
An interesting dynamic has developed between the husband and wife team of Dave and Roxanne Haggart as they navigate the day-to-day logging operations of Carrot Creek, Alberta-based, JD Haggart Contracting. It’s very much a philosophy of working hard, and sinking or swimming together.
When it’s busy, both will sometimes work seven days a week, because they know from experience that oilpatch logging especially is a high risk/high reward endeavor. To earn the big payday from the oilpatch, a logging company must have both ability and availability.
But there were a couple of years recently when the oilpatch wasn’t very busy. In fact, many wondered if it even had a pulse.
Like many other contractors working for this sector, JD Haggart Contracting downsized its fleet; today, it is about half the size that it was before the downturn.
Their equipment line-up consists of a John Deere 903K feller buncher, a Tigercat 870C feller buncher and a Tigercat 860C feller buncher. They have two John Deere 648H skidders, as well as two John Deere 2154 processor carriers. One has a Waratah 622B head and the other a Waratah 622C head. They have two log loaders: a Komatsu 300 and a John Deere 2154 with a power clam attachment. Rounding out their fleet are an assortment of dozers and backhoes. They own eight trucks in their log haul fleet, employing a further seven sub-contractors, for a total of 15 trucks.
They log for both the oilpatch and for the forest industry. At present, they harvest about 60,000 cubic metres annually for Millar Western Forest Products in Whitecourt. Their oilfield logging work has taken them anywhere from Nordegg in central Alberta to Grande Prairie.
While others shy away from oilpatch logging, JD Haggart Contracting pursues this business for one simple reason—it pays better and they have the experience to be able to mobilize quickly when an opportunity comes their way.
“Oilpatch work started to pick up again in the spring of 2016,” says Dave. “There are a lot of guys I know that are back working. So it looks a lot better. But it’s not back to the way it was, and it may never come back to that level.”
Dave is very hands-on, able to operate any piece of heavy equipment with great precision. And he expects a strong work ethic from all his employees, including his wife when she is out on the job site. Now 44 years old and having logged since he was 16, Dave lets Roxanne handle the human resources part of the job. He focuses on working with a core of employees who understand what he expects, who bring unique and valuable skills to the jobsite, have a good attitude, and a desire for high performance every day. The company works hard to keep their permanent staff of about 10 employees working throughout the year. Dave points out that good operators, even those working for them part-time, never seem to have problems finding work.
Although Roxanne manages the office and dispatches the equipment wherever it is needed, she says she enjoys coming out to the job site. Lately, she’s been helping more to co-ordinate the growing number of lucrative oilpatch pipeline, lease, and road easement logging jobs that are starting to show up again.
The company spent a couple of years logging in the Grande Cache area for Weyerhaeuser, harvesting many blocks of mountain pine beetle-infected wood. While Dave appreciates that this work helped to keep the lights on, it was particularly challenging on their trucks because of the extra wear and tear working in that steep slope environment. But being closer to home now, where they are logging primarily on flat ground and with the oilfield picking up, they have turned the page. They are looking forward to steadier and better income than they have experienced over the past few years.
Dave started out working for several years as a heavy equipment operator and purchased his first feller buncher in 2002. He has worked to build up his fleet and industry contacts since then.
“We got to the point where we were logging 80 per cent or more of the time for the oilpatch, and doing a small amount of contract work for Millar Western,” says Dave. “We really started cutting more forestry contract wood when the oilfield slipped down in 2013.”
They are a stump-to-dump contractor, with softwood harvested from Millar Western’s cutblocks west of Drayton Valley averaging about 10” in diameter. The hardwood averages 15” to 18” in diameter and typically represents about 25 per cent of each block. Their logging is an entire cut-to-length (CTL) operation, with softwood sent to Millar Western’s sawmill in Whitecourt, and the hardwood to Weyerhaeuser’s oriented strandboard plant in Edson.
Their family backgrounds make Dave and Roxanne a good team. Dave grew up on a family farm in the Carrot Creek area and in addition to logging, still farms a couple quarters of land. He learned the value of hard work from his parents, but determined at a young age that if he was going to work that hard, it was going to be at something that had the potential to earn him a lot more income than farming. So he turned to logging, and primarily for the oilpatch.
Roxanne’s father gave up an accounting practice in Vancouver to take up logging in Williams Lake, B.C. Because she grew up around the logging industry, she knew what to expect, and for several years, worked in the insurance industry providing coverage to logging contractors. While she describes how hard Dave works and the excellence he brings to the logging profession with great pride, she understands the value of working hard to support a business herself. She recalls one time making a point of meeting up with a logging client at 11 p.m. at night because that was the only time he was available. And because she was willing to work with his schedule, she won his insurance business.
JD Haggart Contracting has been highly successful working with Millar Western, and their oilpatch clients, and for years, and there was good money to be made. Over the years, they developed strong working relationships with a group of consultants who were responsible for soliciting bids for the oilfield logging work. As they can attest, logging for the oilpatch can be stressful because unlike working for forestry, where the work is steady and predictable, oilpatch logging can be feast or famine—and highly demanding, based on the client’s schedule.
But in 2014, oilpatch logging went from 80 per cent to 0 per cent, and that carried on for a couple of years. Consultants who they had worked for regularly, and for years, were suddenly struggling to find work themselves, and showing up in other places. Times were tough, and they reduced both their workforce and their logging fleet.
The company struggled for a couple of years and Dave says it was a situation where the logging contracts they were able to find essentially kept them afloat. Now, however, he’s pleased that the oilpatch seems to be picking up, representing about 50 per cent of the business they do today.
What really helped them through the tough times were relationships. Dave says one reason they continue to log for Millar Western and have worked for them for about a decade is because of how pleasant an experience it is to work for them.
And it was a chance phone call to an old oilfield consultant when no equipment was moving in the yard that helped to bring back some business from the oilpatch. Not surprisingly, they’ve noticed that there has been a ‘rate adjustment’ because of the oil industry’s struggles, but they are just pleased to have that volume and diversity in their business again.
Having that diversity in their business helps to level out the hills and valleys of their forest contracting work, where they are shut down usually from spring break up in March till August 1st. Last year, for example, they were able to find work in the oilpatch from April through the summer, which helped to maintain their cash flow and keep their employees working.
Roxanne says that one of the biggest stress points in their business is to maintain cash flow and payments through the slow times, and having jobs through the valleys makes a big difference.
With their primary focus for years on logging for the oilpatch, Dave says they designed their equipment fleet to work well within that environment. But they recently purchased a couple of larger John Deere 748H skidders when forestry work became their main income.
For oilfield logging, JD Haggart Contracting prefers smaller equipment, choosing John Deere 648 skidders and John Deere 753 feller bunchers.
“We wanted smaller and lighter equipment because we’d mainly be logging pipeline right-of-ways,” says Dave. “I would say that 90 per cent of the work we did for the oilfield was cutting for pipelines.”
The biggest challenges they face when working in this environment are soft ground conditions in some locations and tight, pipeline corridors. So having smaller, lighter equipment is a great asset. Also, having lighter equipment makes it a lot easier to transport from jobsite to jobsite.
However, making money logging for forest companies often requires moving higher volumes per day, so it makes sense to operate larger equipment in this work environment where there is also a lot more space to move around.
On the Cover:
While others shy away from oilpatch logging, Alberta's JD Haggart Contracting pursues this business for one simple reason—it pays better and they have the experience to be able to mobilize quickly when an opportunity comes their way. They also have the equipment to deliver the wood, including two John Deere 2154 processor carriers, both equipped with Waratah heads. Read all about the operation beginning on page 10 of this issue. (Cover photo by Tony Kryzanowski)
Balancing out the forestry workplace
There’s a movement underway to encourage more women to work in the forest industry, and it’s getting some solid traction from forest company Tolko Industries—and full support from women who are now working in the industry.
Ability and availability = logging success
Alberta logging contractor JD Haggart—managed by the husband and wife team of Dave and Roxanne Haggart—know that ability and availability are keys to logging success, especially in oilpatch logging.
Front end focus following mill fire
Saskatchewan’s NorSask Forest Products is bouncing back from a fire that hit its sawmill earlier this year, and has invested $21 million on a major front end redesign following the fire.
Bringing on the next generation...
Nova Scotia’s Sebastien Pouliot knew he wanted to be a logger at a very young age—and he’s now successfully ushering in a new generation of equipment operators, through a training program.
Salvage logging in B.C.—but this time it's for burned wood
Forest companies and logging contractors are getting ready to go into salvage mode big-time to tackle the burned timber from the worst fire season B.C. has ever seen. It’s been estimated that about 53 million cubic metres of timber has been burned, about four times the provincial allowable annual cut.
Paul Hargrave and his son, Scott, have a passion for sawmilling—and for race cars, too, since they have a combination sawmill/speedway operation on B.C.’s Vancouver Island.
Team logging effort
The husband and wife team that manages Ontario’s St. Onge logging has been successful in directing their operations through the industry’s rocky times—and now has a very successful chipping operation, and recently started logging for EACOM and Weyerhaeuser.
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 and Alberta Agriculture.
The Last Word
Jim Stirling on B.C.’s wildest wildfire season, and looking at how to prevent a repeat performance.