By Paul MacDonald
When you look at their family background, it’s no big surprise that Paul Hargrave and his son, Scott, are involved in the forest industry.
Paul’s Dad, Dave Hargrave, immigrated to B.C. in the 1950s, and worked at the sawmill in Tahsis, on the west coast of Vancouver Island. But later on, Dave had one of those legendary jobs in the coastal forestry industry—a beachcomber.
Both Paul and his brother helped their dad with the beachcombing when they were kids.
“At one point,” Paul explains, “the market was down and we had a bunch of logs that nobody wanted. So we got a sawmill and started cutting up the beachcombed wood. That’s really how it all began.”
Paul eventually used that sawmill to cut the lumber to build his house.
When his son, Scott, finished school, Paul asked him what he wanted to do. The answer: run a sawmill. Scott had fond memories of stacking the boards and shoveling the sawdust from Paul’s home-based mill.
For Paul and Scott, their business now is all about meeting the needs of their customers with their sawmill—and in the summer, running a motor speedway that features everything from drag cars to drift racers.
The father and son run Saratoga Speedway Sawmills, and Saratoga Speedway, in the small Vancouver Island town of Black Creek, about 140 kilometres north of Nanaimo. And it is truly a family affair, with Paul’s wife, Becky, and his parents, Dave and Patricia, also helping out in the busy summer months, when the speedway is in full throttle.
The site they are on, which conveniently fronts on the old Island Highway and has plenty of drive-by traffic, had been the home of a sawmill previously. But Paul and Scott built their operation from scratch.
They started the operation during an industry downturn, proving that you can’t always pick the time when opportunity strikes.
“The property came up for sale and it looked like it would make a great sawmill site—at that point, the speedway part of the property had been shut down for quite a few years,” says Paul.
The mill side of things has gone through a few changes since Paul and Scott set it up about 11 years ago. They started operating with two Mobile Dimension mills, that they rebuilt, and operated individually, Paul on one mill, Scott on the other. They moved to using a single Mighty Mite 1212 circular saw mill about five years ago.
“The Mobile Dimension mills were fine, but the Mighty Mite allows us to produce a 13 ¼ x 13 ¼ by 40 foot piece of timber,” says Paul. “We don’t get a lot of 40 foot orders, but we get a fair number of 32 foot orders.”
Saratoga Speedway Sawmills regularly cuts logs with a diameter up to 42 inches, which is way beyond the reach of any large, high production sawmill. “The big mills are all set up for the smaller second growth wood now,” says Paul. He adds that they once had a log with a diameter of 9 ½ feet. It went to their carriage mill for breakdown, before going to the Mighty Mite. The Mighty Mite 1212 model is powered by a 100 hp diesel engine, and includes a hydraulic raising and lowering system, and hydraulic log dog deck.
The mobile carriage mill they have is vintage, having been built in 1910, and originally operated as part of an old canting mill at Kyuquot Sound, on the west coast of Vancouver Island. It had been used to produce ties for logging railways, and was rebuilt by a sawmill equipment guy. “He put his heart and soul into it,” says Paul. “He did a great job of rebuilding and engineering old mill equipment.”
In terms of mill maintenance on both the carriage mill and the Mighty Mite, they work to do it themselves at Saratoga Speedway Sawmills. They have a small machine shop on site, with a lathe, drill press, welding equipment and more.
By and large, though, the mill equipment performs well, turning out a variety of products.
Almost all of their customers for those products are regional, from Nanaimo north on Vancouver Island. At any one point, they could be dealing with timber frame companies, fencing outfits and flooring companies—and lots of drive-in customers.
“We have a really good, strong customer base, and it’s diversified.” The decision to diversify was something they decided early on, says Paul.
“Over the years, we’ve had several companies approach us to close our retail business, and to just cut for them. But that’s not what we’re all about. We are not out to produce as much wood as we can.
“And we are only two people—that is all we wanted to do. I did not want to be a huge or even a large sawmill operation.”
It’s clear that Paul and Scott relish the challenge of producing for a variety of customers, with a range of products. They literally never know what kind of requests are going to come with the pick-up trucks that drive in their gate.
“What we produce here is what you can’t get at Home Depot or Rona,” Paul explained. You can’t go down to the local big box store and tell them you want an 8” x 8” x 16 foot clear cedar, he notes. “We pride ourselves on cutting quality wood that you can’t buy elsewhere.
“We’ll cut a custom mantlepiece for somebody—it will take a bit of time to do it, but they get exactly what they want.”
They had a recent customer who is into the tiny homes movement—and whose house was only 750 square feet. “But he is into outdoor decks, too, and wanted a 2500 square foot deck, so we cut that for him out of yellow cedar, and did all the support wood.”
Saratoga Speedway Sawmills also does a lot of cutting for fish farms and the many resorts in the area. They will do very specialized cuts/species of lumber for boatbuilders. “They’ll tell us what they are looking for, and we will set aside the logs for them, as they come in,” says Paul.
Even if people could find what they were looking for elsewhere, it would be probably only be available in Vancouver, and cost the equivalent of an arm and a leg, he says. “We’re able to offer them a better price, can eliminate the transportation cost—and we’re be able to produce it for them in small volumes.”
And whatever they produce, it’s full size. If they have 2 x 4’s out in the yard, you can bet they are a full 2 x 4 inches—not 1 ½ x 3 ½ inches. “Nobody does that anymore,” says Paul.
And unlike Big Box stores, customers are welcome to go through the piles of lumber to find the pieces they like. “Maybe I’m old fashioned,” says Paul, “But when wasn’t the customer king anymore? I think they should be able to look around and choose the pieces they like.”
Paul and Scott take particular pleasure when a family visits to buy lumber. They like the idea that the kids see that the lumber can come from local trees cut at a local sawmill—and not the Big Box store. “The wood is grown locally, logged locally and sold locally,” notes Paul.
And Saratoga Speedway Sawmills utilizes 100 per cent of the fibre they are working with. Sideboards are bundled up for firewood and sold to local people. “We keep it affordable,” he says. Paul figures their wood helps to heat some 200 homes in the area.
Paul mentions one retired fellow who buys five bundles of sideboards a year, and cuts it up into kindling for his neighbors.
Their lower grade wood will go into 2 x 8 or 2 x 10 landscaping ties, and their sawdust goes to local farmers, and gardeners.
But like pretty much all small sawmillers on Vancouver Island, getting the logs to produce that lumber is a continuing challenge.
“We try to buy logs locally where we can,” says Paul. “But it’s getting tougher with the big forest companies dominating the region. They have their own sawmills, and they don’t have time for small volume log purchases. With fewer players in the business, it makes it tougher to get hold of logs.”
And it’s not like they need a lot of wood, he points out. “A large mill will go through the logs we need for a year, in two shifts.”
They use a fair amount of salvage wood; some of it can be very old, but it’s still good, says Paul.
“The salvage wood guys will go into an area that has been logged, and the salvage wood might have been down for a long time—some of it for over 100 years.” This might be Douglas fir, yellow cedar or Western Red Cedar. “The logs might have some rot on the ends, but we’ve had some salvage wood come in that would just knock your socks off.”
And some of the Saratoga Speedway Sawmills customers are specifically looking for lumber manufactured from salvaged wood. “They like the story behind the wood—it might be from a particular spot on Vancouver Island—and they like that it was not logged.”
And unless a log is for a specific project or customer, it usually moves to the mill fairly quickly. They have some inventory, but a log will usually be on the mill within a month, tops, of it arriving in the yard, and often sooner.
Moving the timber and other material around at Saratoga Sawmills are four Bobcats, a vintage Hitachi loader and their go-to equipment, an Ingersoll Rand VR-1056. “The 1056 has been great for us. We had a large boat order, and there was no way we could have picked up the logs with the Bobcat,” explains Paul. “We got an Ingersoll Rand from United Rentals and when we were done, we knew we needed one—and we got one from Westerra Equipment.”
The IR VR-1056, which is all wheel drive, comes with a four-cylinder Cummins engine that delivers 110 hp, and a 3-speed forward and reverse transmission.
The IR 1056 is even used on the speedway side, to move cars around, and stack cars when they do car jumps.
They’ve had the Hitachi Ex 200LC for about six years. “It’s an oldie, but a goodie,” says Paul. “I put the key in and it starts every time. We don’t use it a lot, but when we need it, we need it. It’s a problem-solver for us.”
Some of the logging trucks that arrive in the yard were loaded in the bush, and they will use a combination of the Hitachi and a Bobcat to lever the logs off the trucks. “We’ll then buck the logs, and move them with the Ingersoll Rand.”
Westerra Equipment does most of the maintenance on their mobile equipment. The Bobcats do a wide variety of jobs around the mill, from helping with unloading logs, to moving sawdust. These were also purchased from Westerra.
As for the speedway side, well, it sure makes for a busy summer for both Paul and Scott. “We each do a combination of different things with the business overall,” says Paul. “Scott might be doing some cutting, and I’ll need some help on the Speedway track, and he’ll come over.”
In addition to helping out with the concession stands at the speedway, Paul’s dad also teaches teenagers how to drive cars at the track.
The support the sawmill receives from locals is clear from the amount of business they do, and the lumber they sell. But the support the speedway receives from local businesses is clear from the boards around the Speedway track. And some of their lumber customers will, in fact, be Speedway drivers on the weekend. And they get a number of loggers who are weekend racers. “It’s great to see,” says Paul.
One of their log suppliers, Fearless Logging of Campbell River, sponsors a race during the season, and will bring in its loader-equipped trucks, for one of the more popular features: car tossing.
Opening night is is in early May. The first Saturday offers fireworks, Crash to Pass Cars, Hornet Cars, Road Runners and Mad Max Extreme Racing—and it is, says Paul, loads of fun for families.
Whether it is the speedway or the sawmill, they take great pride, says Paul, in being part of the community. “That’s
what we’re all about.”
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.