By Tony Kryzanowski
Encouraging younger family members to join the family business often brings enthusiasm, energy, and an eagerness to investigate new ideas to well-established logging companies. Alberta logger Cody Erickson is a good example of that.
“I actually remember the day I started work quite well,” says Cody. “It was a Saturday morning in 2001, the year I graduated from high school.
“My dad, Murray, said that I should come out and give him a hand at work. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be helping him that day, the weekend, or what. And fast forward, here we are 16 years later, and it has been full time since then.”
Cody is the third generation of the Erickson family to take up a career in logging, and he works in a variety of hands-on roles—including foreman, safety coordinator, and contract negotiator—at R. Bruce Erickson Construction.
The business, started by his grandfather, Robert Bruce Erickson, has several decades of experience working as a stump-to-dump and road building contractor for West Fraser Timber. They supply logs to both Sundre Forest Products and West Fraser’s laminated veneer lumber (LVL) operations near Rocky Mountain House.
Cody says that in addition to his dad, his uncle, Allan Erickson, who now owns the company, has been a great role model for learning all aspects of this demanding business. The company is headquartered in Red Deer County, with Cody and most logging operations staff members located in Sundre, about 130 kilometres northwest of Calgary.
Their current annual cut for West Fraser is 100,000 cubic metres with an additional 20,000 cubic metres harvested from right-of-ways. Cody says that R. Bruce Erickson Construction is definitely interested in taking on more contract work to grow their annual cut to 160,000 cubic metres, where they have been in the past. They have 15 employees.
Logging takes place primarily in the broken rolling foothills about an hour west of Rocky Mountain House. Their log diet is about 85 per cent lodgepole pine, with the remainder being white and black spruce in the 12” at the butt diameter range, but it can go as high as 20” in some cutblocks.
Cody has a good understanding of the key challenges facing loggers, such as how to access timber in steeper slope environments. He knows that while the company has an excellent reputation for both logging and road building, it will be important to consider new technologies like tethering and cable-assist equipment to help conventional equipment work more efficiently in more extreme slopes. He has attended demonstrations where this equipment has been put to use by other loggers, to see how it might fit within their own operations.
While not the norm, they can encounter slopes of more than 60 per cent, but the average is more in the 30 to 40 per cent range, which offers challenges in both road building and logging.
Cody is also well aware of the importance of maintaining a balance between what forest companies are prepared to pay their logging contractors and the cost of operating a successful logging business, with such issues as the escalating cost of equipment as something that many loggers now face. He was part of the company through the industry downturn in 2008.
“The downturn reinforced the mentality with us that you need to be aware of your economics within your business because you never know when you might have to experience a downturn,” says Cody. “It has created a level of stability so that even when times are great, we don’t let that get away on us.”
He understands the importance of keeping an open mind to new ideas, technology, and equipment that may provide the company with an edge, and an advantage to maintaining a healthy business.
That shows with his willingness to consider new equipment brands entering the market. R. Bruce Erickson Construction recently purchased a SATCO 323TSC processing head mounted on a Caterpillar 320D FM carrier. They tested the unit extensively to evaluate how well it could process logs, and were satisfied that the head could perform at least as well as other popular brands working in their fleet.
Caterpillar owns the global distribution rights to SATCO products, and what helped Cody to make the financial commitment for this lesser known head is the service support that local Caterpillar dealer, Finning, has provided to the company over the years
“For as long as I have been working with the company, we have always had a great relationship with Finning,” says Cody. “They have always provided exceptional service, with really salt-of-the-earth staff that connect well with the logging industry. Caterpillar and Finning have stepped up and provided excellent support for that SATCO head.”
However, like other popular processor brands, Cody says that SATCO’s biggest challenge will be to prove that its processing heads can survive over the long term and work consistently in the notoriously challenging and cold weather Canadian logging environment. They own three other heads from a competing brand that all have well over 10,000 hours and closer to 20,000 in service. Cody describes them as having “fantastic performance structurally, with only minor overhauls as needed, and they just go back to work. So SATCO will have to pass the test of Father Time.”
SATCO, with its headquarters in New Zealand, says that its primary aim has been to build a rugged head that has had plenty of logger input into its design. It is the newest entry in what has become a Kiwi-dominated processor head market in Canada. Competitors such as Waratah and Southstar also originated in New Zealand.
The SATCO 323TSC processing head comes with a continuous rotation system. Among its features are a hose-through-centre system, which the company says not only encases and protects the hoses, but also allows the hoses to travel through the centre line of the pins. This means that the connecting hoses can be made as short as possible. It also eliminates any possible over-bending and rubbing of the hoses, which can cause premature failure. Its tri-knife system features a unique grapple-type design for the delimbing knives in the company’s series 3 models. SATCO says this system simplifies picking logs out of the deck and holds logs straight when delimbing. It has an auto tension saw unit with the ability to run either ¾” or .404 chain by just changing bar, sprocket and catcher on the same unit.
“You are not going to notice a whole lot of difference between a SATCO and a Waratah when they are working,” says Cody. “They are going to look a little different physically, but the SATCO does what is required to process a tree to our client’s specifications.”
He describes its production capabilities as excellent and its precision as top-notch, meeting what Cody describes as their very high standards to fulfill client requirements.
One of the more recent requests from West Fraser has been to produce more random length logs on their smaller diameters, so that the last processed log consistently has an 11 centimetre top.
“SATCO was able to write up software for that almost overnight,” says Cody. “It was pretty remarkable, and I believe it actually performs better than some of our other units on that specific task.”
The SATCO processing head uses a DASA computer system, and although different from the systems used on other heads, Cody says that the transition to this system for his experienced operators was “pretty minimal”.
He describes the cost of the head as very comparable to the cost of competing brands, and notes that SATCO does have a selection of models so that the right unit can be purchased to match a contractor’s typical log diet.
In the past, because of the excellent service from Finning, R. Bruce Erickson Construction had 100 per cent Caterpillar equipment in their fleet, but lately, they are venturing out to include other brands to meet specific needs, particularly in their feller bunching operations.
At present, they have a John Deere 903 feller buncher with a 22” felling head and a Tigercat 870 feller buncher with the company’s model 5702 felling head. Both are non-tilting, full tail swing units because R. Bruce Erickson Construction is already able to harvest trees in areas that exceed their skidders’ abilities to retrieve the wood. So a tilting option wouldn’t bring a lot of extra value like an equipment tethering system, where the company could pursue wood on more extreme slopes.
Their processing fleet consists of four Caterpillar 320 carriers. Three are equipped with Waratah 622B processing heads, with the fourth equipped with the SATCO 323TSC processing head.
They have two Caterpillar 525 skidders and two 545 Caterpillar skidders, with a Caterpillar 330 carrier for a log loader.
Cody has been quite surprised by how well the SATCO processing head has performed.
“There is a little bit of trepidation when you are dealing with the new kid in the sandbox,” says Cody. “To see that there are other options out there that can perform as well as some of the more common brands for our region, it’s refreshing and exciting to see that.”
On the Cover:
For Vancouver Island logger Jesse Drover of JBM Falling Ltd, getting involved in steep slope logging was a natural progression. Drover operated a feller buncher for 13 years, so he was very familiar with mechanical harvesting before starting work with the ClimbMax steep slope harvester—and the tethered harvesting system is working out well for him, doing steep slope logging on the Island. (Cover photo by Paul MacDonald).
Keep on truckin’…
The BC Forest Safety Council—and forest industry—are taking a leadership role in a training program for new logging truck drivers in the province, spurred on by the large number of experienced logging truck drivers retiring.
Taking over—and tackling steep slopes
The next generation is gradually taking over at B.C.’s Van Ommen Contracting, and they’re finding steep slopes ahead of them—but there’s good equipment out there to tackle those steep slopes.
A great fit for steep slopes, Island style
The New Zealand-developed and built ClimbMax tethered harvesting system is making its mark on Vancouver Island—and logger Jesse Drover says the steep ground they have to work in is ideal for the ClimbMax.
Co-operative contracting in Quebec
Quebec’s Eclaircie Gaspesie contract logging operation has found its own path to success: a combination of equipment operators David Lévesque and Sebastian LeBlanc, along with forestry co-operative Groupement forestier cooperative Baie des Chaleurs—supported by solid Ponsse equipment.
SATCO head gets thumbs-up in Alberta
Alberta logging operation R. Bruce Erickson Construction says their new SATCO processing head is performing well, with the company’s Cody Erickson giving the head the thumbs-up both in its production capabilities and precision.
Kiwi super sawmill
The recent start-up of a new line at the Red Stag sawmill in New Zealand has created a lot of excitement, as the mill could now be the largest in the southern hemisphere—and there’s certainly no doubt that it is super fast and super accurate.
The next big thing in plywood
Already known for embracing technology and innovation, Oregon’s Freres Lumber is now taking its operations a step further, building a specialized manufacturing facility to produce the company’s newest innovation, Mass Plywood Panels.
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, Alberta Agriculture and FPInnovations.
The Last Word
It’s time for a mountain pine beetle battle plan—involving the Feds—in Jasper National Park, says Tony Kryzanowski.