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March 2005  - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal

CONTRACTOR PROFILE 2

Making changes

BC contractor Jerry Horovatin is looking to make some changes to his logging operations, and has new equipment in the form of a Deere 2054/Waratah HTH 622 combo to help him make the transition.

By Paul MacDonald

BC logging contractor Jerry Horovatin knows all about change—he’s seen one heck of a lot of it in his 30 plus years in the logging business. And there’s more to come.

Horovatin’s Deere 2054 with Waratah head.

These days the change for Horovatin, son Scott, and their crew is making the transition from principally doing right-of-way logging and roadbuilding to carrying out more conventional logging. Most of their work in the past has been for Riverside Forest Products (which was recently taken over by Tolko Industries) in the Okanagan area of BC, and they will be continuing to do that. But the operation is also now branching out, looking to develop business elsewhere in the industry.

“We’ve built of a lot of road over the years,” Horovatin says. “We used to average 80 kilometres of road a year, and now we’re down to doing about 35 kilometres. Because of that, we’re now doing more cutblocks and less right-of-way logging.” Over the years, and this also continues today, Horovatin was the “go-to” guy for Riverside, taking on site-sensitive jobs, such as blowdown or particularly steep slope logging. Doing the equivalent of troubleshooting logging means they are used to being on the go, and that is no different these days. “We do all kinds of work and are on the move a lot, and have been for years,”

Horovatin explains. This means a lot of low-bedding of equipment, moving some machines in, and taking others out. And while tight management of equipment logistics is important for any logging operation, that’s even more so for the Horovatin operation. “We used to sometimes do 15 or 20 kilometres of road at a go in one area, but now we’re getting into doing shorter and more difficult spurs, and tougher ground, so we are always hustling, always having our equipment on the go.” Added to this is the fact that logging seasons are also getting shorter.

The Deere 2054 has paid off, says Horovatin. “It’s been excellent,” he says. “Really bulletproof. It has great stability and we need that.”

Horovatin has a new piece of equipment on the go these days: a John Deere 2054 carrier equipped with a Waratah HTH 622 head, from Deere dealer Brandt Equipment. It’s an equipment addition that has paid off, says Horovatin. “It’s been excellent,” he says. “Really bulletproof. It has great stability. We’re in some tough ground, so we got a high and wide package for the machine. We need that stability.” In the case of the Deere/Waratah, they are processing at the side of the road, not on the road, so the machine has to be able to handle the steep ground and still deliver productivity with the head. And productivity, day in, day out, is what they are looking for in their equipment, says Horovatin.

While they are happy with the Deere/Waratah equipment combo as a whole, they have been so satisfied with the Deere 2054 that they have ordered a 2054 roadbuilder. “I’m not running down other equipment because the other machines have worked out and the dealers have been good to us,” notes Horovatin. But in this case, the 2054, with its 140 hp John Deere engine, has made a strong impression. The Waratah head also gets its share of credit from Horovatin.

The Horovatin operation is making the transition from principally doing right-of-way logging and roadbuilding to carrying out more conventional logging. They have done a lot of troubleshooting logging, such as blowdown or particularly steep slope logging, in the past so they are used to taking on challenging jobs and being on the go.

“The Waratah has been durable, easy to service, delivers production and is accurate. And our customer, Riverside, likes what we are delivering.” Keeping customers happy is what it’s all about for contractors. And to do that, Horovatin had to make some changes. “Everyone in the industry has been feeling the pinch, and Riverside was trying to cut down on waste going to the mill,” he explains. “They wanted exact lengths at the mill in Kelowna. And we’re able to deliver that with the Waratah.”

To maximize uptime on all their equipment, they have their own preventative maintenance program. Oil samples are done on major components on all the equipment at spring break-up and again in the fall, along with routine maintenance. And sometimes keeping uptime high is all about sticking to that program—no matter what. “We try to make sure the oil changes and filter changes are done on schedule. It can sometimes be easy to let that go, but we try to stay right on top of that. Sometimes something as simple as changing the filter when you are supposed to can save you big money.” They have their own shop to take care of the maintenance items, and a relationship in place to contract out anything over and above that. Recently, Horovatin has had a variety of equipment on the go, for Riverside, BC Forest Service and some private projects.

This equipment included a Hitachi WX 350 and Cat D7R for roadbuilding, a Cat D300D rock truck, a Hitachi EX 200 for road maintenance, the aforementioned Deere 2054 with Waratah head, a Prentice 630 feller buncher logging right-of-way, Prentice 630 falling blocks, Cat 525B and 527 skidders, a Cat 322 with a Denharco stroke delimber, Kenworth trucks, a Western Star and a lowbed. On the right-of-way logging, there is little skidding. Trees are harvested with the bunchers, the roadbuilding equipment comes in and moves the wood back, and the delimber follows. Supervision is conducted by Jerry, Scott (when he is not operating) and Joe Pommier (foreman and lowbed operator). Their work can include several active sites at once.

Horovatin relies on operators, most of them long-term employees, to give them a heads up about potential equipment problems. “We do pre-trips on every piece of equipment every day, and any problem is written down, even to the smallest detail. “This channels through the mechanics to us, so we can pick up problems early. Being a smaller operation, we rely on our operators to a certain extent.” All of the maintenance reports, along with any other pertinent equipment information, go into a customized Excel spreadsheet. This information allows them to keep close tabs on the equipment, and to cost it out. Costing is handled by Jerry, Attie (Jerry’s wife), Scott and Tracy (Scott’s wife).

The pre-trips employees do fit hand-in-glove with the safety program. Not only are they looking for any possible maintenance issues, but safety issues as well. Safety is an area of high priority—and has been for years. Employees are encouraged to take a variety of courses, paid for by the company. As a result, they have a high number of trained first aid people for the number of employees. One feature of the operation that helps with maintenance is all employees are plugged into the communications system. “Everyone, and I mean everyone, has a radio,” says Horovatin.

Through the use of a repeater system, they can almost always be in touch. “One day I was over at Big White doing logging for new ski runs. There was a problem with equipment in the Nicola drainage system, which is about 110 kilometres away. They told me about the problem they were having, and I was able to get down, get the part, and get them going. Without that system, I wouldn’t have any idea they were in trouble because cell phones won’t work back in there.” And that communications system is just as important, or even more so, when it comes to safety, says Horovatin. “It’s safety first. When we are logging right-of-way, you are in a narrow confined area, and everything is working in a line. Things can get tight, and there is poor access, so you always have to be conscious of safety.”

They maintain detailed GPS markers for all the areas they work in so, if they need to, they can give the ambulance the exact co-ordinates of all their sites. Logging contractors are now caught between a rock and a hard place with rising costs, such as fuel, on one side and fixed logging rates on the other. Jerry, Attie, Scott and Tracy do a thorough job of reviewing and, if possible, reducing their costs.

On a day-to-day basis, it might mean making the decision to leave one pick-up truck behind if a crew can travel to the job in one crew cab. They also shop around for the best prices on parts and supplies, and equipment insurance. Achieving savings usually means doing a number of small things, which can add up to significant savings at the end of the year. “It all adds up,” says Horovatin. “We have always looked for ways to work efficiently, but it matters so much more now. “Everyone in the industry is trying to cut costs, and it’s all being downloaded, but as contractors we are at the end of the road. There is no one we can download our costs to. You just have to accept that as a fact and work a bit harder, a little bit smarter, buy good equipment, and maintain it.”

And have good employees, he adds. “One thing my father taught me is that regardless of how efficient a piece of equipment might be, if you don’t have a good operator, you won’t have a good machine.” Perhaps even more so than other contractors, the Horovatin operation has to be very flexible, which brings its own set of challenges and rewards. The rewards for their equipment operators include being trained to do several different jobs, which makes things more interesting for the operators, and provides that flexibility for the company. And Jerry’s son, Scott, the fourth generation of the Horovatin family to be involved in the forest industry, is ready to assist his father. “Scott is working as an operator, but he’s doing more supervisory work these days, and he’s got some new ideas. And that’s good.”

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