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November 2005  - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal

CONTRACTOR PROFILE 2

Making the Transition

Ontario logging contractor Claude D’Amours is making the transition to at-the-stump processing and is carefully planning out the equipment changes, adding Levesque processors/Komatsu carriers and Valmet forwarders to his equipment line-up.

By Tony Kryzanowski

The difference between a mediocre and successful logging contractor is often determined by how strongly motivated the owner is to succeed. Given the track record of Ontario logging contractor Claude D’Amours, he is definitely a very motivated—and successful— contractor.

After launching his contracting business at the age of 16, with a single cable skidder, D’Amours is now one of the largest logging contractors in north-central Ontario, with 110 employees, and a business that includes logging, equipment rental, easement clearing, a machine shop, and a gas bar in his hometown of Moonbeam.

Those early years involved filling three five-gallon jerry cans with fuel and traveling
two hours each direction every day, except Christmas and New Years, to operate his C-5 Tree Farmer line skidder.

“I was out there working, pulling only enough money out of the job for meal tickets at the camp,” he says. “But I believed in my business and knew it was only hard because I was starting out.”

Today, C D’Amours Contracting Ltd harvests up to 400,000 cubic metres of conifer, primarily for Domtar in the Foleyet/Ramsey area of Ontario, as well as 75,000 cubic metres of poplar for either the Norbord plywood mill in Cochrane or Grant Forest Products’ OSB plant in Timmins. The company also harvests incidental cedar for Maibec and a company in southern Ontario, and white birch sawlogs for Temagami Forest Products. Altogether, it has about 14 sorts at roadside. The average diameter of the predominantly black spruce and jackpine in the company’s cutblocks averages eight to 10 trees per cubic metre.

Logging contractor Claude D’Amours on the change which will bring processors and forwarders into the equipment fleet: “We visited different logging operations and talked to people who were already into it,” he says.

To date, the company has not felt the effects of significant industry consolidation in Northern Ontario, as the mills it supplies continue to operate at full capacity. However, the closure of sawmills in Kirkland Lake, Opasatika, Chapleau and Dryden has created a surplus of heavy equipment in the area.

What has helped C D’Amours Contracting weather this storm is its fiveyear contract with Domtar, with rates negotiated annually.

D’Amours has witnessed a number of changes in logging over his 27 years in the logging business. “A small cable skidder used to cost about $50,000,” he says. “Now, that’s basically the cost of my insurance on a fleet of equipment. The cost of equipment has gone through the roof, as have operating costs such as insurance and fuel.” He says he used to pay up to 35 cents a litre for red diesel 12 years ago. Now it is 75 cents a litre and his insurance costs have tripled.

Another change that his company is in the process of implementing is converting from grapple skidding, processing, and slashing at roadside to processing at the stump and forwarding to roadside.

This must be completely implemented by October 2006 according to a Domtar directive. The motivation behind the change is so that slash won’t accumulate at roadside and fewer roads will be required. While the company is currently skidding trees up to 800 feet to roadside, it will forward trees up to 1,200 feet.

This will eliminate the need for grapple skidders, delimbers and slashers,while bringing processors and forwarders into the fleet. The company anticipates no job loss, as operators will simply be changing job descriptions. “We visited different logging operations and talked to people who were already into it,” D’Amours says. Maintaining productivity using a new system was definitely a concern. “We have a pretty good idea of how to maintain flow.”

One change will require the company to log 24 hours a day, but it will continue to use its two Tigercat 860 and 870 feller bunchers to fell and sort the wood at the stump. It also will continue to hire two sub-contractors using Tigercat feller bunchers, for a total complement of four in the company’s fleet. Feller buncher operators will be required to drop the trees in a different direction to ensure that the processor operator can access them. The processor operator will then process the logs according to their required size and lengths depending on the species and their ultimate destination, sorting them into piles for the forwarder operator to take to roadside.

D’Amours owns four trucks and supplements that with hiring 12 owner/ operators. The company harvests up to 400,000 cubic metres of conifer, primarily for Domtar, and 75,000 cubic metres of poplar for either Norbord or Grant Forest Products.

D’Amours is not overly concerned that it will be difficult to maintain accurate sorts because of the experience of his logging crew. “The guys know their species well because they’ve been doing it for so long,” he says. “It’s like when you go to the store and you want an orange pop instead of a Pepsi. You know which one to take, even if they change the label.”

The company has already made its equipment selection for both its processing and forwarding needs, working with equipment supplier Federal Equipment through its branch in Timmins. D’Amours says that Federal Equipment has provided him with excellent parts and service support over the years.

Prior to starting the transition to this new logging method, D’Amours sent his mechanics and operators to the dealer for training so that they understood the operation and maintenance of the new equipment prior to beginning commercial production.

His processors will be 300 series Komatsu carriers equipped with Levesque 220 processors. The Levesque 220 processor is a robust short wood processor sold by Quadco Equipment, and was designed jointly by Quadco and the Levesques. The Levesques are New Brunswick-based logging contractors who were also the inventors of the original Target processor.

“One of the main reasons we went with the Levesque processor is because it uses butt plates to control the accuracy of the log lengths,” says D’Amours. “They are very accurate. Right now, I don’t want my guys out there measuring every log to make sure they are the right length.”

Another important selling point was that it was designed by a couple of Canadian logging contractors who are still active in the business.

The Levesque 220 processor has an operating weight of 8,000 lbs. It has a 22-inch cutting capacity and a feeding speed of 7,800 lbs at 15 feet per second. It has six delimbing knives with a delimbing capacity ranging from two to 22 inches. The butt saw is adjustable, and it also comes with two adjustable butt plates. The processor comes with an optional top saw. No measuring system is offered
with the 220 model.

The operation will continue to use its Tigercat bunchers, an 860 and 870, as well as hire two sub-contractors who also use Tigercat feller bunchers, for a total complement of four bunchers in the equipment fleet.

C D’Amours Contracting will own two processors, with the possibility of subcontracting two more owner/operators using the same equipment.

The company has chosen Valmet 890.2 forwarders to transport logs to roadside. These have an 18 tonne capacity. One of the biggest modifications to this model versus its predecessor is its new loader, which is described as stronger, more powerful, and offering more reach. It can reach between 7.5 to 8.5 metres. Valmet estimates that about 70 per cent of the time spent operating a forwarder is devoted to loading, so a more efficient loader has the potential to improve productivity.

Once the logs are decked and sorted at roadside, they are loaded on to logging trucks using either a 934 Liebherr wheel loader or the self-loaders on some of the company’s logging trucks. C D’Amours Contracting owns four trucks and supplements that with hiring 12 owner/operators.

This change to at-the-stump processing is related to a general trend toward better cutblock management to minimize the environmental footprint. “There’s all kinds of different prescriptions when you harvest a cutblock,” says D’Amours. “Our people are well trained and they do it properly. I agree that we should be concerned about our environment.”

D’Amours describes road building as one of the most challenging aspects of logging in the Foleyet area as opposed to the clay belt area located further north. He says the bedrock and deep holes between outcroppings of bedrock make road building very expensive in what is the transitional forest between the Great Lakes hardwood forest and Shield boreal forest.

“You really have to walk your area properly and make sure your road is in the right place,” he says. “Otherwise, it is going to cost you a fortune. You also have to make sure that the logging trucks can drive up and down the hills without assistance.” His road construction equipment includes a Komatsu TC-300 excavator, as well as Caterpillar D8R and D6R crawler dozers, supplemented with a Volvo rock truck.

Easement clearing for hydro or pipeline represents about 25 per cent of D’Amours’ logging business. The challenge in that environment is working carefully beside hot electrical lines or avoiding damage to fibre optic lines. Furthermore, the work is very intense, as there is often only a very short window to complete the job and there is no guarantee on the quality of the wood.

Once logs are decked and sorted at roadside, they are loaded on to logging trucks using either a Liebherr 934 loader or the self loaders on some of the company’s logging trucks.

Sometimes, the company encounters a stretch of alder, and for that purpose, C D’Amours Contracting has purchased a Denis Cimaf model 150 brush cutter. These are manufactured in Quebec and D’Amours was the first contractor in Ontario to purchase one of these brush cutters.

Overall, D’Amours acknowledges that becoming successful involves taking some risks. The key is knowing which ones not to take. “I admit I’ve taken a lot of risks— some pretty big that a lot of people wouldn’t have taken,” D’Amours said recently when the company celebrated its 25th anniversary. “But as an entrepreneur, it’s in you to take risks. The easy, guaranteed stuff anyone can do. I’ve occasionally turned down jobs where the timing and conditions weren’t right. I think we’ve made good choices.”

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