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Sept 2003 - Contractor Profile2

Maxing uptime

BC coastal contractor Ted LeRoy is interested in getting maximum uptime from his equipment, and takes the approach of always having fairly new iron in his logging operations.

By Paul MacDonald

LeRoy Trucking’s main shop is in Chemainus on Vancouver Island. All of the major maintenance is done at this 8,000 square foot facility.

It’s tradition that the line-up of speakers each year at the Truck Loggers’ Association convention in Vancouver includes both the BC Minister of Forests and the BC Premier. This year’s convention was no different, with Forests Minister Mike De Jong taking the opportunity to talk about the changes in store for the forest industry in BC.

The government’s objective, De Jong told the group of coastal logging contractors, is to give them a chance to succeed. “I’m telling you that these reforms will ensure that you have the ability to compete on a fair and equitable basis.” Premier Gordon Campbell followed up on the last day of the convention with a speech in which he called 2003 “the year of forests” in BC—and received three standing ovations. This was followed later in the month by the government announcing the proposed establishment of a 45 million hectare Working Forest that would provide the forest industry with some much needed stability in terms of land base.

Above, a Madill 3800C log loader at work at the TimberWest dryland sort at Race Point, just north of Campbell River. LeRoy Trucking operates the sort on a contract basis for TimberWest. The company also operates a dryland sort for Weyerhaeuser in the same area.

The figure represents about 48 per cent of the province. For the BC forest industry—and especially the coastal industry, which has been beset by protests and boycotts over the past decade—the government support and specifically the move towards a designated Working Forest comes as good news. And for coastal loggers like Ted LeRoy, who—along with wife Rebecca, and sons Kurt (operations manager) and Jason (general manager)—run contracting operation Ted LeRoy Trucking on Vancouver Island, it comes as especially welcome news. “It’s essential that the industry knows what is available and what we have to work with,” says the veteran logger. “We can’t keep going the way we have in the last 10 years, with more land being set aside. We need to get some stability to attract capital investment.”

LeRoy sees the latest government moves as being positive. But he is guardedly optimistic, mindful of the 10 years of battles the industry had with the previous government. “The government is making an effort with this Working Forest, and it will be good as long as they don’t undermine it once it’s in place.” The tide could be turning for the coastal industry.

The shop runs two shifts and this year, for the first time, is going to be running seven days a week to keep up with maintenance on LeRoy Trucking’s 100-plus pieces of equipment.

There are already some small signs of flexibility and change, both in terms of how the industry operates and investment. After years of almost non-existent sawmill investment by the major forest companies on the coast, forest company TimberWest announced earlier this year that it is going ahead with $10 million of improvements at its Elk Falls sawmill in Campbell River on Vancouver Island. (See June 2003 Logging and Sawmilling Journal.)

Doman Industries, which has been struggling, has made agreements with unions at its sawmills to make the move to three shifts at some operations, from two shifts. Weyerhaeuser’s sawmill at Chemainus is also moving to three shifts. These changes will allow both companies to better utilize their equipment and help make the coast more competitive.

Utilizing equipment is something Ted LeRoy knows quite a bit about, except it’s on the logging side. “We’ve been doing that type of thing with our logging equipment for years,” he says. “We’ve had continuous shifts, operating anywhere from 20 to 24 hours a day with all of our mechanical equipment. Our capital investment is just too high to run things any other way.” Despite its name, LeRoy Trucking does full phase logging—not just trucking—and has more than 100 pieces of equipment, from feller bunchers through to logging trucks.

Over the last decade, LeRoy Trucking has made some significant moves to meet changes in the industry and keep pace with the requirements of their major clients, Weyerhaeuser and TimberWest. From the mid-1990s, the company made a move from larger trucks, loaders and grapple yarders and invested in more mid-sized equipment. They bought their first Madill 124 yarder in 1995 and now have four of these units. This helps to keep them, and their operations, flexible, says LeRoy. “We want to make everything easier to move—so we wouldn’t necessarily be tied to one place—to keep the equipment working.”

LeRoy believes flexibility is going to be extremely important for coastal loggers in the future, as the industry moves more towards market logging, and away from guaranteed tenures. The government has already said this is the direction it will be going. Hoe chuckers, feller bunchers and processors all put on 5,000 to 6,000 hours a year at LeRoy operations.

The equipment works hard, close to around the clock, and then it’s company policy to replace the equipment with fresh iron. “With our feller bunchers, they’re gone after 12 months or 5,000 hours whichever comes first,” LeRoy explains. “We don’t keep equipment very long. Our operators are always in a new seat.” In 2002, they bought four new Madill 3800C log loaders and plans call for purchasing two more this year. But while the equipment is working for LeRoy, it’s subject to an intense maintenance program, which is key to keeping it up and running—and producing.

The main shop is in Chemainus on Vancouver Island, where all of the major maintenance is done at an 8,000 square foot facility just off the Island Highway. “When equipment comes in here, we take everything apart,” notes LeRoy. “It gives us the kind of control we need to know exactly what has been done.” While that is the preferred way to go, they are also practical—some repairs have to be done out in the bush with service trucks. “Everything can’t come back to the shop. But probably the biggest problem we have out in the field is that we will have a mechanic working on a piece of equipment and they will get a call that something has broken down, and they are pulled away from that job. Consequently, things might get missed or a rebuild can drag on and on.”

The shop runs two shifts and this year, for the first time, is going to be running seven days a week. The company has a full time supervisor who oversees its operation and the scheduling of work. “We take on the big jobs here,” says LeRoy. “We’ll have our grapple yarders barged or trucked into Chemainus and brought into the shop.” A big job earlier this year involved a Wagner loader—severely damaged by a suspected arson fire—that was completely rebuilt.

LeRoy Trucking, like many other contractors who have survived the lean times on the BC coast, has expanded over the last decade. The goal is to achieve economies of scale—you need to be bigger just to survive. Through buyouts of other contractors, or volume, the operation now has an annual cut of 490,000 cubic metres, with extra volume also directed their way. “These days, you’ve got to have volume to handle the overhead,” LeRoy says. “We’ve got one full-time staff member who deals with just compliance. There are so many things you have to deal with, from powder licences to the WCB to the forest practices code and on and on it goes. It’s hard if you’re a small operator.”

And there is ongoing pressure to contain costs from their clients, the forest companies, who themselves have faced some tight times in the last few years. LeRoy’s response is to always be on the lookout for a better way to do things. “You have to be constantly looking for the next improved mouse trap. For us, our edge used to be continuous shifting and getting more out of our equipment. But a lot more contractors are now moving towards that. We’re not sure what the next better mousetrap is going to be, but we don’t want to get too comfortable.” LeRoy Trucking may now be at the edge of a trend: turning back equipment earlier to dealers or putting it on the market.

It works out well for them because they always have very productive equipment and it seems to work for the dealers. This arrangement, in effect, can result in an attractive price point at the dealership for fairly new equipment. “The dealer will get a buncher back with 5,000 hours on it, with the latest fuel technology and hydraulics, and it’s only a year old,” explains LeRoy. “That machine will work well for the guy who only operates five days a week, eight hours a day. He can’t afford to go out and buy a brand-new machine for $650,000.”

LeRoy admits there may be no one magic bullet these days to dramatically improve efficiency—it may be a matter of tweaking things, making improvements throughout the operation, from the bush to the shop floor. And many of those productivity improvements can come from people, rather than from the iron, he says. “We look at different ways of doings things and our employees deserve a lot of credit for their involvement.” One approach that LeRoy emphasizes is that employees need to be very aware of the next person’s job in the chain. “They are always working on setting the next phase up—that’s key. You don’t just go out there and do your job because that is your job. Your job is also to think about what the next person has to deal with.”

Example: it’s the yarder operator’s job not just to yard the wood in, but also to properly set the wood up for the processor or loader operator. From appearances, this seems like a simple approach—but if it is executed properly in a logging operation, it can be tremendously effective. “We try to always think down the chain. You’re really not doing your job if you’re making it miserable for the next guy in the phase. Everybody has to be pulling on the same rope and our guys are doing that.”

LeRoy knows that their clients want them to go that extra kilometre and you need good people to do that. A case in point was last fall when Weyerhaeuser and TimberWest directed some big volume their way on short notice. “We had an extra 300,000 cubic metres thrown at us in September. We had three months to pick up that volume, and at the same time we were awarded a contract to run a new TimberWest dryland sort at Race Point.” It was, he admits, a bit of a scramble for everyone at the company. “People really worked together, some of them for 40 days straight. We came out of the year having harvested a total of 706,000 cubic metres and sorted an additional 209,000 cubic metres at Race Point. It was pretty aggressive taking all that on, but in the end, we were able to pull it all off by everyone pulling together.”

They have continued to build operations from there. The TimberWest deal was followed by the company being awarded the contract to operate one of the Menzies Bay dryland sorts for Weyerhaeuser. Both of the sorts are on Vancouver Island, at Campbell River.

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