By Paul MacDonald
When it comes to construction equipment, B.C. contractor Bob Marquis likes yellow—and that also extends to his personal vehicles.
Sitting in his garage in the Sunshine Coast town of Powell River, B.C., is one of only a handful of bright yellow 1932 Ford five-window coupes that were used in filming the movie, American Graffiti.
“When I saw the movie, I thought, ‘I have to have one of those’,” he says. “It took me 15 years to track one down.”
That liking for yellow also extends to the dependable John Deere equipment that he uses to build logging road and install logging road bridges on the B.C. Coast.
“From our perspective, it’s true—nothing runs like a Deere,” says Bob.
“There are diehard Cat guys out there, and Komatsu guys. Really, at the end of the day, it’s all about what does the job for you.”
And for Bob Marquis Contracting Ltd., they look to John Deere and B.C. Deere dealer, Brandt Equipment, to do the job for them.
Included in his equipment line-up are three John Deere 350 GLC excavators, two 270 CLC excavators and a 160G LC excavator.
Illustrating the amount of road construction Marquis Contracting does, they also have two Tamrock 700 rock drills, and three Terex TA 30 rock trucks. Helping to round things out on the equipment side are a Caterpillar D6D dozer, a 50 ton Western Star tri-drive low bed truck, a 30 ton tri-axle Trail King equipment trailer, a 2012 Kenworth T800 gravel truck, a 20,000 litre Western Star fuel truck, and two Chevy shop trucks. “On the pick-up side, we only run Chevy trucks,” says Bob.
In all, they have about 22 pieces of equipment.
Maintenance and repairs are done at their shop in Powell River, with their own heavy duty mechanic. But Bob says they receive a high level of service—and interest—from Deere and Brandt Tractor.
Bob notes that once an equipment purchase is made, the interest by a dealer in a customer can be, to be kind, not quite as high.
“But when we do a deal with Brandt, they don’t forget about you,” he says.
“The Brandt and Deere people like to talk to contractors, and want to know how they can build better machines—and that’s an advantage for them, and for us.” The end result is he gets better iron out in the bush, and it helps keep Deere/Brandt competitive.
Bob has been dealing with Brandt/Deere for 30 years himself, and his family, through his father, Lawrence, for over 60 years. In fact, Lawrence Marquis bought among the first skidders Deere ever made, in the 1960s.
Service for them is of paramount importance, in part because of their location up the B.C. Coast. “We may have 22,000 people here in Powell River, and we’re right on the coast. But at the end of the day, you may as well be at the end of the inlet—we are landlocked here, with no road links out. So for us, it’s all about service. If you don’t have that product support for your equipment, you’re SOL.”
They often get same day parts service from Brandt Tractor, with parts flown in from one of the Vancouver Island branches of Brandt, or the Brandt branch in Surrey, just outside Vancouver.
Bob Marquis comes from a long family line in the forest industry. As you might have guessed from the name, his family came to B.C. from Quebec. Bob’s grandfather ran a small steam-powered sawmill in the Abitibi and La Sarre regions in Quebec, before moving to B.C. His father, Lawrence, who is now 85 and came from a family of eight, set up a logging operation in B.C., and also ran a small bandsaw operation later.
Lawrence still occasionally gets out to the bush, and when he does, he gets to see the next generation of the Marquis family in the forest industry: his grandson, Brett, Bob’s son.
The town of Powell River has changed considerably since the Marquis Family moved there. Back in the day, it was, like many forestry communities, a company town. It was home to the Powell River Company, and western Canada’s first pulp and paper mill.
The mill in Powell River was at one time the largest pulp and paper mill in the world. In its prime through the 1950s and 1960s, one in every 25 newspapers in the world was printed on paper from the Powell River mill.
“Those were the days, when old man Bennett was in charge,” says Bob, referring to W.A.C Bennett, who was premier of B.C. for two decades, through the 1950s and 1960s, and oversaw a period of huge expansion for the forest industry.
In recent years, the Powell River mill has cut back on production and gone through several ownership changes. Catalyst Paper now produces newsprint and specialty papers, with three machines remaining in production.
The logging equipment has changed a lot, too, in that time, from the tower and cable skidder that Lawrence Marquis started logging with. That said, it was a huge step forward from the horse logging his family had been doing in Quebec.
The equipment was often around their acreage, so Bob got quite used to sitting in the cab of a skidder or dozer at a young age. He started work with his father while still a teenager.
Bob also worked for Percy Logging for nine years, which at one point was the largest logging contractor for forestry giant, MacMillan Bloedel.
“I was in road construction and the logging end for Percy—in those days, you did a bit of everything. So I got a lot of experience there.”
Bob remembers those times very fondly. Percy Logging ran five camps, with upwards of 100 guys, and they were like family, with George Sr. and his son, Don Percy, who was called a modern “Bull of the Woods”, running the operation.
Following that, Bob set up his own operation in Powell River, doing selective logging on private forest land, land clearing and roadbuilding. He recalls industry innovations that are taken for granted now, like when hydraulic thumbs became available on excavators. “Developments like that really changed the industry.”
In addition to building literally hundreds of miles of logging road, Bob is also a veteran logging bridge builder. “We’ve done over 50 forestry bridges,” he says, including work up in Haida Gwaii, formerly the Queen Charlottes. He noted they are a bonded company, which is an advantage, when it comes to taking on such work. And he added that they don’t shy away from demanding projects that may involve fisheries, because they have plenty of experience in those areas.
“Not every company has the comfort level to take on that kind of work,” he says. “And we also do a lot of work in remote areas.”
Marquis is a big believer in the concept of community forests in B.C., and the Powell River Community Forest in particular.
“It’s a big asset to the community and for the community—the profit from the community forest does not go into general revenue for the town. Instead, this year some $2 million will be invested in programs and facilities right here in Powell River.
“You can actually see the results of the community forest—I think we have the best community forest model in B.C.”
He noted that the community forest in Powell River has some solid forest industry and business people on the board, and in general manager Chris Laing, who has been with the community forest since its inception, 10 years ago.
“Chris does a great job, doing the engineering, laying out the road, laying out the cutblocks, overseeing the reforestation.”
Bob’s company has also been involved with building road and harvesting timber for the community forest. The work for the community forest goes out to bid to companies in the community.
Recently, he was doing about 4.7 kilometres of road work for the community forest, and some spur roads. As always, they were working carefully, mindful of some extremely wet weather the region had received early in the year.
“Erosion control is very important,” he says. “We don’t want the soil going anywhere—after all, that’s what grows our trees.”
Sometimes, they have to carefully plan their activities, to let some areas dry out, before continuing roadbuilding, and to make best use of their equipment. They recently put one of their Deere 350 GLC excavators to work widening a rock quarry, during one such wet period.
They were about to bring in a crusher to produce some three/four-inch minus rock for the road work. From time to time, they will bring in equipment from Delta, B.C.-based Skreenquip to do the crushing. Skreenquip is the B.C. dealer for Terex Finlay crushing and screening equipment, and specializes in mobile screening, washing, recycling and crushing equipment.
“We get a far better product for our road, with a better gradable surface, using the crusher,” says Bob. The equipment they get from Skreenquip is very automated, he notes. The operator feeding the hopper can also operate the crusher.
But the rock to feed that crusher is not always easy to find, he says. “You’d think that working on the west coast, that rock would be everywhere. But I just finished building four clicks of subgrade, and I couldn’t find any rock in it. So we hauled it in from elsewhere on the community forest.”
He noted the community forest does a fair bit of planning out, which is helpful to him as a contractor. “They’re ahead of the game,” he says. That same degree of planning is sometimes not there with licencees, he notes.
When he started in the business, he recalls, licencees were usually a year ahead of the falling and yarding. “They were able to let the road settle and season a bit—and as a result, have a harder, better road.
“But now there is a lot of phase congestion with licencees because they are working the markets closely to get the wood out. The community forest sees the advantage of putting the roads in a bit earlier, and having the road network already in place, so you can work the market, and not have the phase congestion.”
In addition to working with the Powell River Community Forest, Bob says they also work with First Nations bands. “They are great loggers—when I worked with Percy Logging, half of the loggers there were First Nations guys.” And, he notes, the First Nations bands are steadily working at developing their capacities in forest management, with their own RPFs and forest technologists.
Bob says they have generally been busier in the last few years. Some of that is due to stepped-up activity in the forest industry. “But I think the main reason is that there are fewer experienced companies out there now,” he says. He is seeing a lot of contractors retiring—or just plain exiting the business.
“It just does not work for them financially any more. It’s a hard grind to make it work—and you better be good at what you do.”
Contractors, whether they are building road or harvesting wood, face high equipment acquisition and operating costs.
And, unfortunately, the large forest companies, who are making healthy profits these days, are not sharing their improved situation with the contractors who work for them, he says. “We don’t see anything trickling down to the contractors,” says Bob.
Like many contractors, he’s very much looking forward to the Contractor Sustainability Review report that George Abbott is doing for the B.C. government. The review is said to be the most significant piece of work to affect timber harvesting contractors in almost 20 years, says the Truck Loggers Association of B.C.
Bob believes that rates need to change, and that forest companies need to share some of the good fortune they are now enjoying with the companies that do the work for them in the bush—and in the communities in B.C. that still rely, in large part, on the industry.
They do some work for forest companies, but it’s more on a fill-in basis, when they are not busy. “I’m glad to help them out when they need it, but I don’t rely on the licencees to keep us busy. With the rates they offer, it does not make sense from a business perspective.”
Bob says he fully understands that the forest companies have shareholders they have to be accountable to—but the sustainability of the contractor sector in B.C. is at stake.
He sees the emergence of other industry players, such as community forests, B.C. Timber sales, and cuts going to First Nations bands, as positive developments. “There is now a broader band of work to bid on.”
Generally, he would like to see the province exercise more control of the forestland that is currently granted to licencees, with benefits being more equally shared, including with the contractor sector. “After all, the land belongs to all British Columbians.”
This coming July, Powell River contractor Bob Marquis will be working hard behind the scenes, as he always does, at the Logger Sports show in Powell River, B.C.
On July 13-15, the 23rd annual Powell River Logger Sports takes over Willingdon Beach in the town, and Bob will be helping out, however he can.
Bob Marquis Contracting is among the many forest industry related companies and contractors supporting the event. But for Bob, it has special significance. Part of the reason he is so involved with Logger Sports is in memory of his brother, Bill, who died in a falling accident in 1984. And Bob, who is president of Powell River Logger Sports, will be working with others involved to make sure the Logging Sport activities are carried out safely.
“Safety is also a big focus for my company,” he says. “I tell my guys that, yes, we need production to keep going. But at the end of the day, I want to hear that everyone is home safe, with their families—and I really mean that.”
This year, Powell River Logger Sports will be hosting contestants from all over the world, including New Zealand, Australia, the U.S., Germany, competitors throughout Canada, as well as locals from Powell River. They will all be there to win Canadian Championships, World Championships and North American Championships—in fact, more titles than any other show on the Canadian Logger Sports Circuit. The 2018 Power River Logger Sports will be the host to seven world championships, 16 Canadian championships and two North American championships.
On the Cover:
B.C. Interior logging company Wadlegger Logging and Construction Ltd. are deploying their leveling feller bunchers and the Tractionline winch-assist system to help their logging equipment work efficiently and safely up and down steep slopes. (Photo by Anthony Robinson)
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Going the distance...
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