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Improving equipment, but doing it in-house
Facing challenging business conditions, Henderson Contracting, like all logging contractors, is looking to make its operations more efficient. For this B.C. logger, that includes doing its own machining and fabricating, a capability that has paid off for them, and their customers.
By Jim Stirling
British Columbia's logging contractors have been forced into refining their individual survival techniques.
For Brian Henderson, the strategy includes acquiring more harvesting volume, finding ways to lengthen the traditional logging seasons and improving equipment in-house.
"We're always looking for ways to make the outfit better," says the principal in Henderson Contracting Ltd., based in 100 Mile House, in the B.C. Interior. "I guess my complaint is we can only go so far. We've spent money to try and improve the system but there's a limit to it all. We can't operate and live off 10 to 12 loads a day," declares Henderson.
But the operation is finding ways to do some things right: it's still logging and hauling into main licencee West Fraser Mill's 100 Mile yard.
Henderson Contracting's quota cut for West Fraser is 150,000 cubic metres annually. "But we have to do small business sales and bid on other timber sales too," he adds. If they're lucky, it all adds up to between 450,000 and 500,000 cubic metres a year. "We're pretty busy."
Like sawmills which take advantage of economies of scale to lower unit operating costs, so too must the strategy be considered for logging contractors. Henderson Contracting now employs about 50 people, estimates Henderson, runs a fleet of about 20 trucks for logging and contract low bedding and has about 25 to 30 pieces of timber harvesting and processing equipment.
When his parents, Larry and Lori, struck out on their own Cariboo country business in the 1970s, they did so with a single piece of equipment: a Timberjack 550 skidder. "They built the company from the ground up," says the younger Henderson.
It's still very much a family affair. Apart from Larry and Lori continuing to help out, Brian's brother-in-law, Richard Duff's responsibilities include overseeing the trucking side of the business.
The Henderson Clan was preparing to tackle an interesting 50,000 cubic metre sale for West Fraser in the high country between Clinton and Cache Creek recently.
Henderson reckoned it was going to be slow and pretty expensive logging.
He's used to dealing with a variety of terrain from flat to 30 per cent slope. But there are some areas in the sale considerably steeper than that.
Fortunately, the company has acquired some depth and equipment versatility through the years and Henderson was planning to assign an older Trans-Gesco skidder to the task in the steeper areas. It will likely be joined by a couple of feller bunchers, a rubber tired skidder and a couple of processors.
To compound the challenges with the sale, much of the wood is small diameter bug killed pine (average .8 cubic metres/stem) mixed with uninfected pine pockets and some spruce and fir. "It's going to be pretty low ball," predicts Henderson. Getting the wood harvested and decked and hauling it out in the winter is a strategy the company was considering, depending, as ever, on the licencee.
Henderson Contracting runs a mix of harvesting, processing and hauling equipment and has upgraded its shop in 100 Mile to accommodate an increased workload with in-house machining and fabricating. "We've actually made it by cutting costs and doing our own repairs. We've had to adapt to the rates," he explains.
The company eyes equipment auctions for cheap older machines that can be cannibalized for parts.
Henderson has a trio of Hyundai processors. "They're not as fancy (as other machines) but they're cheaper and do the same job," he vouches.
Log Max processing heads are something of a fixture for Henderson Contracting. The first 7000 model, acquired in 2000, is still going strong after a total head rebuild, reports Henderson.
Pride of place right now for Henderson's operations is a Log Max 7000XT head with about 6,000 hours on it. "It's been pretty much flawless," says Henderson. "There's no breakage. It'll tackle bigger wood--24 to 28 inch pieces--and measure them bang-on." That's critical. The company typically works within a five centimetre window on target sizes.
"The 7000 works as well with small wood and measures it as well," Henderson adds. "It handles the dead wood real nice. The only downside is there's a lot to learn and get used to with the head." Ken Burgoyne is the go-to operator for the 7000 and looks after its regular maintenance.
Henderson Contracting does most of its own trucking. "And we build our own trailers," continues Henderson."We'll buy older ones and do the fabricating and machining on the bunks ourselves."
The capability has helped out West Fraser on more than one occasion. The licencee wanted wider bunks to get the extra weight hauling dry beetle killed wood. Fabricating its own bunks within the regulations, allows Henderson Contracting to move the volume with fewer loads. "It was good for us and good for them," he says.
Finding ways to do the job better to the mutual benefit of all concerned is what it's all about in the demanding current operating climate.
Summarizes Henderson: "It's been--and is--a learning experience.
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