Hauer Bros. Sawmill in B.C.’s Robson ValleyHAUER BROS. MILL has a lot of history

The mid-sized Hauer Bros. Sawmill in B.C.’s Robson Valley has a long history in the area, and these days finds its market niche producing mostly timber for regional markets in the B.C. Interior.

By Paul MacDonald

The two Hauer brothers—Henry and Robert—that started the Hauer Bros. Sawmill operation near Valemount, B.C., always viewed setting up a sawmill as a means to an end; they were going to make some good money harvesting timber and selling lumber, and then go back to farming in Alberta.

That story probably sounds familiar to a few sawmillers.

But more than 65 years later, the next generation of the Hauer Family is now running the medium-sized operation in the Robson Valley region of B.C.

These days, Dale Hauer, and his sister, Darleen Guillon, two of Henry’s children, are both involved in the family business and face a challenge: make some changes and additions to the mill, which includes dealing with one of the last surviving beehive burners in B.C.

The business, although modest in size, supplies jobs on both the mill side and logging side near the town of Valemount, which sits in the midst of the RockyMonashee, and Cariboo Mountains, in east central B.C.

Hauer Bros. Sawmill in B.C.’s Robson ValleyWith their equipment decisions and mill operation, the Hauer Bros. mill seeks to get the most recovery and value out of every log they process. Pretty much all of their finished product goes to customers in Prince George, B.C.

Utilizing spruce, pine and balsam from a 11,000 cubic metre cut on their own forest licence, and additional volumes from the Valemount Community Forest, Hauer Bros. has a steady business producing mostly timbers, from 4 x 4 through to 8 x 8 and bigger, and some 2 x 4, 2 x 12 dimensional lumber.

The Hauer Bros. mill has truly been part of the local community for decades. “My dad and uncle provided lumber for just about every church in Valemount,” says Dale.

Dale himself started piling lumber from the planer at the mill while he was still in school.

“I worked at the mill for quite a while, and when my younger brother started at the mill, I went to the bush, and stayed on that side of the operation,” he says.

Dale has seen a whole range of equipment advances in his time in the bush. They were often working in steeper ground, but it was too steep for the then-new feller bunchers. Timber was hand-falled, and for skidding, they used tracked Cat equipment, to move the timber to roadside, for hauling to the mill.

In the early days, he notes, the timber did not even leave the bush. “Back in the day, all the sawmills used to be in the bush and the wood was milled there. The lumber was hauled down, to be planed, and then loaded on to railcars—we had our own rail siding,” he says. “There were a lot of bush mills back then.”

Hauer Bros. had several of their own bush mills, before setting up their current operation in the community of Tete Jaune, just outside of Valemount. They’ve had two mill fires; when their beehive burner was set up, it made the operation safer, because all the wood debris could now be burned, rather than being stored on site.

“We were able to salvage equipment from both of the fires, and rebuilt the mill,” says Dale. “But each time, we changed the design of the mill a bit.”

They often sourced used equipment from mills in the area, and further afield. “Some of our equipment came out of a mill in Merritt, some from a mill in 100 Mile House,” he says. “Our Dad looked at what would fit with our operation.” And the mill is continuing with this approach. A recent purchase on the mill side was a used hogger, from a mill equipment sale in nearby McBride.

Hauer Bros. Sawmill in B.C.’s Robson ValleyThe mill kind of has to fend for itself in terms of supplies and parts these days, says Dale. With all the mill shutdowns the region has seen, there are fewer and fewer sales reps working the territory, simply because the business volume is pretty skinny with only a handful of small sawmills—and one major sawmill, the Canfor operation in Vavenby.

“Things are a lot slower around here with the shutdowns that have taken place,” says Dale. “So now we get our supplies in Prince George, which is fine because I’m there a lot anyways.”

With their equipment decisions and mill operation, Dale says, they have sought to get the most recovery and value out of every log they process. Pretty much all of the finished product leaves the Robson Valley. Valemount has a population of around 1,000, so there is limited local demand for wood products.

Some of their dimensional lumber goes rough to Dollar Saver Lumber in Prince George, a lumber retailer and specialty mill.

But most of their wood, in the form of timbers, goes to CanWel Building Materials, in Prince George, where CanWel has a wood treating plant.

“We used to cut scaffold pine, producing 2 x10s and a lot of 2 x 12s, when a lot of wood was used in scaffolding,” explains Dale. “But when that market started drying up, we moved to producing timbers.”

Some of their product also goes to Brisco Wood Preservers, in Edson, Alberta. They also ship one or two timber orders a month to Bigfoot Log and Timber Homes, in Tappen, B.C. to the south, in the Shuswap Region of B.C. From time to time, they also get orders for big timbers from eastern Canada.

Hauer Bros. Sawmill in B.C.’s Robson ValleyHauer Bros. uses spruce, pine and balsam logs from an 11,000 cubic metre cut on their own forest licence, and additional volumes from the Valemount Community Forest. It has a steady business producing mostly timbers, from 4 x 4 through to 8 x 8 and bigger, and some 2 x 4, 2 x 12 dimensional lumber.

“We’ve been around so long that people know us,” says Dale.

“The rest of the wood goes where we can get the most revenue, and we deal with brokers for that.”

As much as possible, they try to steer away from producing commodity lumber, leaving that to the big guys, such as the Canfor mill in Vavenby, which started up again in 2011, after a two-year shutdown. The Canfor Vavenby mill has a production capacity of 240 million board feet a year. At one time, there was also a high production Carrier Sawmill in Valemount.

“The major sawmills have got bigger and bigger, and you can’t compete with them,” says Dale. “We had to find our own way, our own niche.”

But he notes that Hauer Bros. still has to carry out the same kind of support work for their relatively modest forest licence as the big guys.

“We have a pretty small cut, 11,000 cubic metres a year, but we have to do everything that the big forest companies do on their large licences, from roadbuilding to reforestation. We can spend a lot of money doing roadbuilding, and it can take a long time to recover that on a small cut.”

With the steep ground they work in, in this part of B.C., Hauer Bros. has done some heli-logging, skyline and high lead work to get into high ground. Sometimes the steep ground equipment is initially used to reach a bench, where Hauer Bros. would then use their own conventional logging equipment.

The heli-logging can be very effective, but is almost too efficient, he says.

“With the heli-logging operations, they would want to do 10 loads a day, and the problem is we don’t have the capacity or the space at the mill for that much wood—and we’d have a big stumpage bill, for wood that is just waiting in the yard.

“With the skyline, we get a couple of loads a day, and then three loads from our own conventional operations—that five loads a day works out pretty good for us.”

At one point, they had to switch gears, going from cutting spruce to pine, to deal with the mountain pine beetle. “But the beetle wood is pretty much done at this point,” says Dale. “We’re back into green wood, now.”

Dale still works out in the bush, with nephew, Derek Guillon, and a small crew.

Derek owns a Madill 3200B feller buncher that he works on contract to Hauer Bros. The operation has two skidders, a Cat 535D, that does most of the skidding work, supported by a John Deere 648E. The processing is done on contract. Carrying out the loading is a Volvo 120C equipped with a power-clam grapple.

Hauer Bros. Sawmill in B.C.’s Robson ValleyBeing resourceful, the Hauer Bros. mill takes care of most of their maintenance. Their millwright generally looks after the sawmill and mobile equipment in the yard. And the guys in the bush are pretty handy, says Dale Hauer. “Around where we are, and with our small size, you kind of have to do everything, if you can.”

On the roadbuilding side, they have a Cat 320C excavator, and a Cat D7G dozer. A Cat D4H high drive unit also helps out with roadbuilding, and does some skidding in high elevation and wet ground. They also have two gravel trucks, a Mack 88 and Kenworth 54, both of them conversions from logging trucks. They have two logging trucks, a Kenworth and Western Star.

“If we can wheel load in the bush, we’ll use the Volvo, but if not, we’ve got a Volvo butt ‘n top at the mill. And if something happened to the wheel loader in the bush, we could bring the loader from the mill, in a pinch.” They also have a Cat 924H loader at the mill.

Being resourceful, they take care of most of their maintenance. “Our millwright, generally looks after the sawmill and mobile equipment in the yard. And our guys in the bush are pretty handy,” says Dale. “Around where we are, and with our small size, you kind of have to do everything, if you can.”

Used equipment is the way to go, if they want to add anything, he says.

“In order to justify buying new equipment, you have to be able to work it steady, and do a lot more logging than what we are doing.”

So they make do, and work with—and on—what they have, says Dale.

“For example, our Cat D7G needed major repairs—some undercarriage work. And we would not have got much for it on a trade. So, I thought, well, the motor is still good on it. So we spent a good amount of money doing the undercarriage work, and it’s been fine since then.

“It needs some more work now, that’s fine—but since then, we’ve got close to 10,000 hours out of it.”

Their equipment, Dale says, simply has to fit their volume. “If you have a big cut contract with Canfor or Tolko, and are doing 200,000 cubic metres a year, that’s a lot different than what we do. We do about 25,000 cubic metres a year.”

As mentioned, most of that comes from their own licence or the Valemount Community Forest, but they also source some private wood in the area.

“If anybody has private wood, they will often come to us first because we’ve been here so long.” If the wood is too small or big, it may end up going to Canfor or a Carrier mill.

“It’s hard to get good production out of our mill when the logs are too big,” says Dale. “It takes too long to cut a big log, especially when you are cutting for timbers.”

When they log a block for the community forest, they will set aside what they can use—the spruce and pine—the fir will go to another sawmiller in Valemount, Simpson Lumber, cedar will go to Gilbert Smith Forest Products, to the south in Barriere, and small wood might go to the Canfor mill in Vavenby. “Canfor Vavenby seems to want all the small wood we can get, so we’re able to give them good quality wood for their operation.”

The biggest issue facing the Hauer Bros. sawmill now is how to deal with their residual wood. They are one of a small number of mill operations in B.C. that still have a beehive burner, for burning waste wood, and the licence is renewed year to year.

An easy solution to the problem would be some other use for the wood waste, off-site. At various points, the town of Valemount has looked at a District Energy System that could be powered by wood waste.

And there has been talk about a pellet plant being set up in Valemount, possibly on land purchased by the Valemount Community Forest.

Ideally, says Dale, they’d sell most of their waste material to a pellet operation, but still operate the burner, but in a much more limited way. That would require further permit extensions from the provincial government, for operating the burner, but these have been granted in the past.

At one time, there were dozens of beehive burners at mill facilities in the B.C. Interior. But the number has dwindled to only a handful, as the provincial government, in an effort to improve air quality—and also wanting the industry to use waste wood for energy generation—has worked to phase them out.

“We want to deal with this and keep the mill going—the jobs are important to the local community—but it takes time to get things like this done,” says Dale. Dale says their provincial MLA, Shirley Bond, has been very supportive of their efforts to keep the mill going, and has worked on their behalf.

Logging and Sawmilling Journal
February 2018

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