BC’s Munson Equipment plans to keep a strong focus on its logging business, but is also working to do more construction work to try to even out the inevitable business swings of the forest industry.
By Paul MacDonald
With a business, sometimes it’s difficult to see the forest for the trees. Loosely interpreted, it means you can get hung up on the details of the day-to-day things going on in the business and not see the “big picture” of industry developments, and what’s coming down the road.
Logging contractor Munson Equipment of Chase, BC, however, works hard to see the forestand the trees. It takes care of the details of day-to-day operations carrying out efficient and effective contract logging for forest company Interfor’s Adams Lake Lumber Division in the southern Interior of BCand the company’s management also sees that big picture. And these days it is a picture that includes the company diversifying into doing more construction work, in addition to keeping a strong focus on the timber harvesting end.
This past summer, Munson Equipment was wrapping up servicing work on a 15-lot residential development being built by the local First Nations band, the Little Shuswap Indian Band. This comes on top of the servicing work Munson previo
usly did for a 50-lot subdivision the company itself developed with partners. “We bought that land with partners, surveyed it, subdivided it into lots and then did all the serviceswater, power, telephone,” says Grant Munson, who operates the company, along with sons Jamie and Rick.
There was also a job involving a lot of dirt moving work for the band’s new 18-hole golf course, that opened this past summer. And they are in the process of working on a joint venture with the Little Shuswap Indian Band on a gravel operation.
It’s only too well known that the forest industry has its ups and downsand with lumber prices in the doldrums, many mills have ratcheted back operations, with the inevitable effect on loggers. With the construction work, Munson is trying to even out the business swings a bit.
Grant oversees the construction side while Jamie and Rick work on the logging side. Rick operates a processor and Jamie, a feller buncher. Another son, Jerry, had been operating an associated small sawmilling business, which has since been sold. He has moved into selling real estate, but is still involved with Munson Equipment, just not on an active day-to-day basis. “There are still good opportunities in logging, and it will still be the core of our business,” explains Grant. “Logging has been great to us. But we’re trying to slowly develop other things so when logging slows down, we have some other work for our employees.” The construction work they do is often flexible, meaning that if they have to increase things on the logging side, they can re-schedule the construction.
“If we need to ramp things up with the logging, we have the people available. We have good employees and we want to keep them.”
Grant notes that is especially true now, with the high cost of equipment, and generally low profit margins in the logging industry. “We need experienced operators to deliver the wood. We have them now and want to hang on to them.”
What it comes down to is their employees want steady work, and their skillsof operating heavy equipment, for exampleare easily transferrable. One of their processor operators, Alex Cyr, was deftly handling excavator work on the residential project this past summer. The strong work ethic of their employees is also welcome in the construction business. The local logging business got a big shot in the arm earlier this year when forest company Interfor announced that they would be spending $100 million to rebuild the nearby Adams Lake sawmill. “That’s encouraging,” says Grant. He adds, though, that it’s still healthy for the company to diversify.
In some ways, doing construction work is already second nature to Munson Equipment. They’ve built hundreds of kilometres of road for Interfor over the years, since moving operations down from Terrace in northwestern BC, and setting up in Chase in 1976. The roadbuilding business was sold off several years ago, but the construction experience remains with the company.
Munson Equipment originally started out as a trucking company, with Grant partnering with father, Syd. Syd was also a bush pilot, and when flying proved to be a greater draw than trucking, Grant bought his father out and moved into full-phase contracting.
When the company moved down from Terrace, they had, as Grant describes it, “a Cat loader and some logging trucks. And that was about it.” These days the equipment line-up is lengthy, as they are scheduled to do 180,000 cubic metres of harvesting on an annual basis for Interfor Adams Lake.
Among the newest pieces of equipment is a Volvo EC240B LC excavator. It has been doing work mostly on the construction side, but is also put into service in the bush, when required. “It’s big enough that we can take it into the woods if we need to, but it’s not super guarded,” notes Grant.
The equipment line-up also includes a Madill 2250B buncher, a Prentice 6 0 buncher, a John Deere 2054 with a Waratah 622B processing head, a Hyundai 210LC-7 with a Waratah 622B head, a Timberjack 660 skidder, two John Deere 848 G grapple skidders, a Deere 2554 butt ‘n top log loader, a Caterpillar 0LL butt ‘n top loader, and a Hitachi 00 grapple/ excavator. On the trucking side, they have three 2007 Kenworth T800s, and a 2005 T800, all with Peerless log trailers.
Grant says that doing the construction work sometimes involves juggling equipment around from the logging side, but it has worked out pretty well so far.
A good deal of Munson’s equipment is John Deere, and Grant says that a lot of that is due to the service they receive from Deere’s BC dealer, Brandt Tractor. Brandt Tractor has consistently delivered good service when things are going well, and when things are not going too well. “We had a new model of Deere skidder a few years ago, and there were some problems with it, and they took care of us 100 per cent,” says Grant.
“We phoned Brandt up and told them we were having problems with the skidder. They said they would take care of it, and sent out a low bed with another skidder that day. Deere equipment is good, but that kind of service really goes a long way with us.” Grant said the company’s general approach is to maintain their equipment well, and “run them until we find we have too much trouble with them.”
They try to keep their main production equipment current. Most of their equipment is three years old or less. “I guess I’d say I’m from the old school, of wanting to get the equipment paid for and getting it to really work for you,” says Grant. “But these days, it doesn’t pay to keep equipment too long. You spend too much time monkey-wrenchingyou’re better off to bite the bullet and make the payments.”
Loggers used to be able to look forward to the day that their equipment was completely paid off, and see the money that used to go for monthly payments dropping to the bottom line. “Now, by the time it’s just about paid for, it’s time to trade it in and upgrade,” says Grant.
That logging equipment, regardless of what it’s doing in the bush, carries a much heftier price tag. But it’s good equipmentand high tech, with a strong focus on electronics, and with very heavy duty hydraulics, notes Grant.
“It’s great for productionyou can produce a lot of wood in a day. Years ago, if you were getting a load of logs per day per man, you were doing pretty darn good. Now we can get three to five loads per day per man. It just comes with a cost, though.”
Munson Equipment works hard at keeping operating costs down by staying on top of maintenance. “We’re very faithful when it comes to servicing our equipment. Any time a piece of equipment is going anywhere near the shop, it’s dropped off, gets cleaned and gets checked over.” Dust and dirt are constant challenges in the dry, hot summers in the Shuswap region of BC. “The processors can be operating in a cloud of dust all day.”
Part of keeping the equipment clean is practical, in terms of staying on top of maintenance, but it also translates into something else: setting a high standard for their equipment and logging operations. “People take more pride in the piece of equipment they are operating if we put the effort into keeping the equipment looking good and clean, and operating well.”
Munson Equipment also sets a high standard for safety. Earlier this year, the company was among the first logging contractors in the province to become SAFE (Safety Accord Forestry Enterprise) certified by the BC Forest Safety Council. Developed by the BC Forest Safety Council, in conjunction with industry and WorkSafeBC, SAFE Companies is an initiative to develop, certify and annually audit the effectiveness of safety programs in all forestry companies.
Lynda Echlin, Munson’s office manager, is in charge of safety for the company and oversaw the certification. There’s a lot of paperwork involved in meeting the standards set with the certification, Lynda notes. “There are a lot of forms that the guys have to fill out, but it’s necessary to provide the due diligence that safety procedures are being followed.” Munson Equipment already had a solid safety program in place, which helped considerably in achieving certification, she adds.
Achieving certification involved making some changes, some of which initially received a lukewarm welcome. “When we started having more safety meetings, there weren’t groans all the way around from the crew, but there wasn’t exactly a lot of enthusiasm,” says Lynda.
“But the guys are now getting more involvedI used to conduct the meetings, and now they are running the meetings.” There is now a better understanding of the reasons behind the stepped up procedures and the more systematic approach to safety that comes with being certifiedand that, in fact, you can’t be too safe, especially in a logging operation. While the program is generally good, Lynda notes the paperwork side can be very onerous and could be streamlined. She emphasizes that the BC Forest Safety Council (BCFSC) needs to improve its efforts at providing support materials, as well as scheduling more program meetings, and in more locations throughout BC. The independent program has not been completed yet, but the Ministry of Forests has stated that contractors need to be registered for the program. The BCFSC has recently announced more courses to improve the training, and help companies improve their programs within the designated time-frames.
Logging contractors in the area are now also getting together to discuss safety. Interfor’s Adams Lake sawmill has started group meetings with contractorsversus just meeting with a single contractor where safety issues are discussed and shared.
Many of the logging contractors in BC’s southern Interior are now working mostly in mountain pine beetle-affected timber, and that’s been a focus for the last several years. “We started out in 10 to 15 per cent beetle wood, and now we’re up to about 40 per cent beetle wood,” says Grant.
There is some concern in the industry about whether there will be a reduction in logging work once the beetle-killed wood is harvested. The way Grant sees it, that’s all the more reason to try to work towards evening out the inevitable swings you see in this business.