By Tony Kryzanowski
Veteran Alberta logger Doug Rehn has yet to find a good equipment deal that he could refuse.
That explains the number of times that D & L Rehn Contracting Ltd, located about an hour west of Edmonton near Wildwood, has bought and sold equipment over nearly four decades in logging, construction, and firefighting. They have logged for both the forest industry and the oilpatch, while harvesting and selling timber from a Commercial Timber Permit (CTP) administered by the Alberta government, as well as harvesting, purchasing, and marketing wood from private land.
Doug once went to an auction with a brand new Chevy pickup that he had spent time customizing to his exact specifications. A vehicle salesman offered to buy the truck right on the spot, and given the profit he could pocket from the deal, Doug sold it. The only problem was the phone call to wife and business partner, Lori, that he was hitchhiking back home to their acreage near Wildwood because he had sold his truck.
Then there was the time that Doug was harvesting some private wood beside the highway, with his John Deere 2054 carrier equipped with a Waratah 622 processing head. Another logger drove by and realized that this was exactly the piece of equipment he needed. So once again, he made Doug an offer he couldn’t refuse, and Doug sold it as well.
“I couldn’t believe that,” says Lori.
“Everything is for sale, all the time, except for some of the antique stuff that we have,” says Doug. “If someone comes along and they are wanting to buy, and they are offering what I am willing to sell for, then I’m out—and they are in.”
That’s been the pattern at D & L Rehn Contracting over the past 36 years. The latest example was in 2014, when Doug and Lori sold their entire fleet of nearly new logging equipment to take some time to decide just how busy they wanted to be at that point in their careers—and because many of the consultants they enjoyed working with in the oilpatch had retired. But it turns out that they weren’t ready to quit logging. What brought them back was the current high demand and prices for timber.
“There was a point in time when it was quite difficult to sell the wood. But now, the mills are competing for it,” says Doug, noting that the current lumber price is quite high, thereby fueling demand. But once lumber prices drop to $285 per thousand board feet or lower, it’s difficult to find wood buyers.
Recently, they purchased some second-hand logging equipment and are back harvesting wood on a CTP as well as buying, harvesting, and selling commercial timber from private land not too far from home. The timber, which can be a mix of both softwood and hardwood, is sold to whatever forest company offers the best price and the list of potential customers is long in both Alberta and British Columbia. Maintaining their logging and timber marketing independence has just made better business sense for the Rehns.
The Rehns have been operating sawmills and logging for three generations, with Doug and Lori’s son, Rico, who operates their feller buncher, being the fourth generation family member building a career in forestry.
Although they have slowed down, the couple says that if the right logging contract to work for a forest company comes along, or if they find a good group of consultants to work with to salvage timber in the oilpatch, jumping back into either scenario is not out of the realm of possibilities. They’ll just do what they have always done: go out, buy the equipment, and start all over again. They have had several logging contracts, primarily with Millar Western and Weyerhaeuser, although Doug says that throughout the years, they have harvested timber all over Alberta. At one time, they even purchased a new Morbark sawmill and were harvesting and sawing dimensional lumber from fire burns north of Whitecourt for Millar Western. However, that’s all been sold off now.
“We’ve bought and sold sawmills like we’ve bought and sold logging equipment,” says Doug.
There is only one word to describe the Rehns’ approach to business in either forestry or construction, and that’s fearless. There have been lean times, without a doubt, but there have also been extremely prosperous times. The bottom line is that they have never been afraid to sell it all, move in a different direction, yet leave the door open to whatever opportunity might fall into their lap.
“The key is to have a partner who understands,” says Doug. “Lori and I were quite compatible because she grew up in a construction environment and I grew up in a construction, sawmilling and farming family. I walked in sawdust as a baby. Everything is risk, but I don’t find it stressful a high percentage of the time to log because there are very few surprises after 36 years in the industry.”
Lori agrees that having a good partnership is important.
“I think that it’s important to have a partner that works alongside you and that you have good communication,” she says.
Although the company is currently operating older, second-hand equipment as part of their CTP and private wood venture, they know that it’s dependable equipment based on their four decades of accumulated knowledge in the business, and Doug can do the repairs if necessary. It features a Timberjack 618 feller buncher, an older John Deere 648 G skidder, and an older Caterpillar 322 carrier with a Denharco DT3000 delimber attachment.
But not too long ago, D & L Rehn Contracting was busy supplementing their logging activities on their CTP with log salvage work for the oilpatch.
“When the oil field would get really busy, they would require more help,” says Doug. “We would usually expand our business to look after their needs, and at one point in time, we were running two logging lines, two low-bed trucks, and three log picker trucks moving oil field salvage mainly.”
Their most recent logging fleet featured a new John Deere 753 feller buncher.
“We made it into a bit of a Swiss Army knife,” says Doug, who has considerable experience with a wide variety of equipment brands, models and styles throughout his career, including one of the first Scandinavian KETO mechanical harvester/processor heads back in the 1990’s.
“On the John Deere feller buncher, I made a quick attach so that I could drop the bunching head off it and attach a bucket or drop the bucket off and put a mulching head on it,” says Doug. “So you could do pretty well anything with that machine.”
That fleet also featured a new John Deere 748G III skidder and a Tigercat 630 skidder. For processing, they used a John Deere 2054 carrier with a Waratah 622 processing head. They also owned two log trucks with picker attachments for self loading.
“John Deere treated us well and they have a very good product in the 748G III,” says Doug. “It’s probably one of the best skidders ever made as far as reliability and horsepower.” Brandt Tractor is the Deere dealer for Alberta.
In terms of their private wood operations, D & L Rehn Contracting will perform either select or clearcut logging, depending on the landowner’s needs. For select logging, they use the herringbone harvesting approach, with a single skid trail through the centre and connecting trails strategically harvested in either direction from the main trail, so that the feller buncher can reach in and harvest the prime timber without destroying the smaller wood and regen. That way, the landowner will have more wood to harvest within a few decades, and the woodlot remains intact.
“If you check with any of the people we have worked for, they have always gotten paid,” says Doug. “So, it’s not hard to get a job when the people know that they are going to be paid.”
In terms of others following their business model, Doug and Lori say that it depends on the individual. If they are the type of person who can motivate themselves every day, then the Rehns’ freelancing business approach might work. But they realize that others might need a push from above, so contract work might be better. As far as their approach to buying and selling equipment, Doug’s philosophy is simple.
“Don’t be married to anyone but your wife and business partner,” he says. “The rest of it is all for sale.”
Over the years, Lori adds that they have been treated very well by Millar Western, Weyerhaeuser, and West Fraser Timber in Blue Ridge, whom they have worked for and sold timber to on many occasions.
On the Cover:
A new Sennebogen 830 M-T at the Cameron River Logistics operation in northern B.C. moves 16-foot CTL logs from truck to rail for the Dunkley sawmill. Watch for the next issue of Logging and Sawmilling Journal, and a feature story on how a Sennebogen 830 M-T log handler’s stacking ability has boosted yard capacity for Saskatchewan’s Edgewood Forest Products (Photo courtesy of Sennebogen).
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Keeping their options open—even with logging equipment
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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 and Alberta Innovates.