Click here to download a PDF of this article

Bring on the challenges

From harvesting beetle wood to working in an area frequented by the woodland caribou, no logging job is too challenging for veteran Alberta logger Gervin Antypowich.

By Tony Kryzanowski

As a former competitive motorcycle and snowmobile racer, Alberta logger Gervin Antypowich enjoys a challenge and isn’t afraid to take a few risks. As if working in the environmentally sensitive and mountain pine beetle-infested region southwest of Grande Prairie wasn’t enough. Throw in a labour shortage and this would be enough to sideline any green logger.

However, given Antypowich’s 30 years of experience growing along with the area’s industry in just about every aspect of logging and site management, he’s definitely the right contractor for the job. He owns Triple G Construction,and last year harvested about 400,000 cubic metres of primarily softwood for Weyerhaeuser, making him one of Alberta’s largest logging contractors by volume.

“What we saw was a need to become total-task,” Antypowich says, “and we’ve worked toward that. They (Weyerhaeuser) manage us, but we pretty much look after ourselves, start to finish, on the harvest and haul side.”

Like many other contractors, Triple G Construction has seen its volumes cut back. Typically it has harvested in the 500,000 to 600,000 cubic metre range annually. One reason for the reduction is the lack of demand for hardwood because of the slow oriented strand board (OSB) market. Any hardwood the company harvests from its cutblocks is shipped to either Tolko or Ainsworth.

Another reason is that the company recently moved to help Weyerhaeuser implement its mountain pine beetle management plan, focusing on an area southwest of Grande Prairie and south of Beaverlodge where the beetle settled in after a mass migration from BC two years ago.

Where othershave foundobstacles, Triple G Construction owner Gervin Antypowich has found opportunity, which explains the size and diversityof his logging and log haul business today after nearly 30 years in business.

Triple G Construction operates a fairly large and modern fleet, anchored by five feller bunchers. The feller bunchers are a combination of tilters and non-tilters so that the company can operate on both flat ground and steep grade, given its location near the Rocky Mountain foothills. The newest purchases are two John Deere 903 feller bunchers equipped with John Deere heads and Loewen wrists.

“The Loewen wrists are excellent for helping us with crossings,” says Antypowich. “They have a big impact on our business because they rotate 360 degrees, so it’s easier to place wood at crossings.”

He also owns a Madill 2200 tilter with a Quadco head, a Madill 2250 tilter with a Quadco head, and an older Tigercat 860 with a Tigercat head.

When most contractors get cut back on their annual harvest, they often start looking at possibly unloading a portion of their equipment fleet. But as a savvy businessman, Antypowich knows that having the ability to react quickly when the oil and gas industry calls can really help the bottom line. “We don’t really need that many feller bunchers, but it gives us the flexibility to go out and do some oilfield work,” he says. “We have the capacity to do that.”

At present, the company makes about 15 per cent of its income working for the oil and gas industry, salvaging timber from roads, wellsite leases and pipeline easements.

The company’s fleet also includes four John Deere 748 GIII skidders, equipped with high flotation tires, which is a Weyerhaeuser requirement for summer logging. Antypowich prefers BABAC chains, using double diamond on flat ground, and heavier one-inch ring chains on steeper ground, occasionally with steel studs for better traction.

There has been a recent change in direction as far as the company’s delimbing approach. “We went back to a processor, which we used to do 10 to 15 years ago,” says Antypowich. “We bought one again this year and have had reasonable success with it for delimbing tree-length wood.”

The processor is a Waratah 622B head mounted on a Komatsu carrier. Triple G Construction also operates a Denharco 4400 Extreme delimber, a telescopic Denharco delimber, as well as several Lim-mit 2100 and 2200 delimbers, mounted on a variety of Komatsu and John Deere carriers. Log loaders include a John Deere 3554 with an IMAC grapple, as well as a Madill 3800 with a Madill grapple.

Capping off the operation are 14 of their own trucks, supplemented with another 14 contractor-owned log trucks. A typical turnaround log haul trip averages six to seven hours.
Antypowich says lately he has been leaning more toward John Deere equipment. “They have a reasonably good product, there is good dealership support, and overall we’ve felt they are about the best to deal with out there,” he says.

He says he tends to hold onto his equipment a bit longer than most, as the company has established a preventative maintenance program, has full mechanical field support, and does major work on the fleet during spring break-up. In fact, his son Tyler is in the process of completing his apprenticeship as a heavy duty mechanic and performs some of the company’s equipment maintenance, along with two other key mechanics.

What has also helped reduce wear and tear is the company’s recent decision to only work a single shift. That way a machine typically only has a single operator, and given that situation, they tend to take more notice of how well the unit is performing because the settings are consistent from shift to shift.

“We are looking at our productivity levels and equipment availability,” says Antypowich. “They appear to be pretty good, and we have a lot of happy workers.” Single shift also stretches out the life of the machines, which he says tend to have more longevity anyway these days, given how much better they are engineered.

“How long to keep machines is what everybody is struggling with,” he says. “Should you trade them off in three years or stretch it out to five years? I’m not certain really what’s right, but stretching it out seems to have worked for us with having our own field mechanics who really know their stuff, and having a good maintenance program.”

Antypowich started as a road building contractor for Canfor, but took advantage of BC Forest Products’ (BCFP) move into Grande Cache a couple of decades ago when they established a dimension sawmill in that predominantly coal mining community south of Grande Prairie. Triple G Construction actually cleared the site for that sawmill, which was later purchased by Weyerhaeuser. They closed the sawmill in 2003, but it has since been reopened and is owned by a Quesnel-based company and operated as Foothills Forest Products. It specializes in value-added wood products.

After an unsuccessful detour to Fox Creek to work on a proposed pulp mill for BCFP, Antypowich returned in Grande Cache. “It was at that point that we looked to diversify more, so that’s when I got into the logging side of things,” he says. “Then in 1994, we decided we needed to diversify even more, and so we went into the trucking side of the business.”

When the Grande Cache mill closed in 2003, Triple G Construction took advantage of an opportunity in 2004 to move its operations to Grande Prairie. By doing so, their annual cut more than doubled.

Today, Antypowich is also a partner with his brother-in-law, Wally McNeil, in McNeil Construction, which does most of its business with the oil and gas industry, and also Summit Transportation. Additionally, he is a land developer and a convenience store owner. In other words, Antypowich keeps his ear to the ground to determine where there might be a need and a potentially profitable venture. In some cases, because of the reputation he has earned, people approach him to get involved in a new venture.

A good example of taking advantage of a new forestry-related opportunity and putting a bit of a silver lining to a dark cloud is his recent foray into beetle control work. He has purchased two Rolly chippers—one mounted on a TimberPro carrier and one on a Tigercat—to implement the government’s aggressive plan to eradicate areas showing significant signs of beetle infestation in Grande Prairie County. Always thinking ahead, however, Antypowich adopted this beetle control method because he can convert the Rolly chippers back into processors and use them in a conventional forestry application as the need arises. This also meshes well into the company’s new delimbing approach using processors.

Weyerhaeuser’s master plan calls for harvesting infested wood at an early stage while it is still merchantable, focusing on mature to overmature wood, and also establishing barriers to the beetle’s forward march by cutting off the food supply.

“We’ll clean out that area (south of Beaverlodge) over the next couple of years because it’s sort of the front area where beetles are coming into Alberta,” says Antypowich. “We haven’t seen a lot of really large pockets of beetle wood, but there are some there.”

One tactic they’ve taken is that if they spot beetle-infested wood that may be slightly outside of their harvest boundaries, they make sure it is harvested. So far, the green and infested wood is not being sorted for delivery because it only represents about one per cent of the total volume, and most infested wood is just in the process of dying.

Triple G Construction is also working in an area frequented by the endangered woodland caribou. Antypowich says they do make adjustments in an attempt to maintain caribou habitat.

“A big thing is leaving small patches of timber and regen, and not clear cutting,” says Antypowich. “There are corridors left for the caribou—as well as fur bearing animals—to move throughout the area. It’s really important that we pay attention to that. There have been different things tried over the years. I’m not sure if anyone knows which one is the most successful, but there has definitely been a lot of effort put into it.”