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Fink’s Sawmill carries on logging–minus the mill
The sawmill in Fink’s Sawmill is long gone, but the company continues on as a logging contractor in the B.C. Interior, tackling beetle-infected lodgepole pine in the Bulkley River drainage.
By Jim Stirling
Ben Fink used to work in the gold fields of Barkerville. After his days there, at the most famous of British Columbia’s gold producing communities—and now a restored historical site northeast of Quesnel—Fink moved out west to work at a hard rock mine near Hazelton.
While there, he identified a demand for excavation timbers and started up a small sawmill to help meet it. Some 50 years later, that initiative has evolved into a successful log harvesting contract business based at Smithers, in west central B.C.
Fink’s new business idea was around 1962, recalls Myron Smaha, who is Ben Fink’s son-in-law. In the early and mid-1960s, Smaha was following a very different course. He was a school teacher, focusing on industrial arts. But when he joined his father-in-law and helped run the sawmill, the die was cast and a new direction set.
Log harvesting work of different types followed and in several parts of B.C.’s west central interior. The next major step was establishing a stud mill and acquiring a quota in Smithers. Today, the sawmill has gone but the name Fink’s Sawmill lives on as the log contracting company.
After government clawbacks and licence acquisitions, Fink’s Sawmill now harvests around 110,000 to 113,000 cubic metres annually for the Pacific Inland Resources (PIR) sawmill, a division of West Fraser Timber Co., in Smithers.
When Logging and Sawmill paid a recent visit, Fink’s Sawmill logging crews were targeting mountain pine beetle infected lodgepole pine stands, about 160 kilometres north of Smithers in the Nilkitkwa River drainage of the Bulkley River drainage. The stands being harvested were categorized by West Fraser as Opportunity Wood. It had to be at least 35 per cent red attack pine and needed to be felled by December 31, 2011 to qualify for that year’s cut control.
Smaha describes the wood as good, beetle infected but not yet dessicated. The growing stands were favourable to sustaining some better than average diameter pine stems.
The distance from Smithers and the PIR mill necessitates a camp situation for the loggers. A conventional catered logging camp situation was cost prohibitive, explains Smaha. An answer was found in small, modular and portable units, each equipped with its own compact power generator. The loggers receive a per diem rate and are responsible for their own food preparation. “They can’t complain about the cook,” notes Smaha.
The crew set up its own work schedule of four twelve-hour days and back in town for most of the weekend.
Fink’s Sawmill has assembled a solid mix of equipment to harvest and process predominantly tree length wood for PIR. The line-up includes a Tigercat 890 feller buncher and the company also uses a sub-contractor with a Cat buncher. Skidding duties are filled by a six wheel Tigercat 625 and John Deere 748. The log processing line-up at roadside includes a John Deere 2524 with a Waratah 624 head, a Cat 322 with a Waratah 622 and a Link-Belt 240 matched with a Waratah 622 head.
Smaha makes productive use of a Link-Belt 290 to neatly pile the stems delivered by the skidders. Untangling and preparing the skidded logs at roadside boosts production for the following processing stage, notes Smaha. A Komatsu 220 with a Pierce knuckleboom loader services the incoming logging trucks. Fink’s runs three of its own logging trucks: a Kenworth and Western Star both built new from the 2005 production year, and a 2011 Peterbilt.
“We usually buy new equipment,” says Smaha. “It runs trouble free for us for a while.”
And there’s another factor influencing equipment longevity. “We repair our equipment when it needs it and we do it properly.” The strategy seems to work. The company still uses two older Cat D5s and a couple of D8s bought new in 1980. “We repair and keep them. They don’t owe us anything,” he says.
The venerable Cat machines are a regular part of Fink’s roadbuilding activities along with an older Komatsu PC 200 hoe acquired through a Ritchie Bros. auction. The company typically builds about 20 kilometres of mainly block development roads annually, along with an additional average of six kilometres in contract work. A low bed tractor for moving equipment around is pretty much an essential part of a logging show, especially given the small and widely scattered patches that can typify beetle wood salvage harvesting blocks.
Smaha points out the company’s logging crews have been pretty stable and operators typically stay with “their” machine, getting very familiar with it in the process.
And that habit in itself becomes an integral part of the mix. Reliable, experienced people with good well-maintained equipment and sound direction are what help keep Fink’s Sawmill focused on being an efficient and productive logging contractor.
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