September 2005 - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal
AHEAD OF THE GAME
Working smart—and keeping its late model Cat equipment fleet in good shape—has helped BC contractor Jebway Contracting stay ahead in the harvesting game
By Paul MacDonald
At one time, working harder out in the bush seemed to be the answer to just about any challenge facing a logging contractor. While that desire to work hard is still a “must have” quality for loggers and contractors, it’s clear that these days the industry is just as much about working smart as it is about working hard.
While he professes that the work doesn’t involve “the skills of a rocket scientist,” British Columbia logging contractor Jim Byrne is working hard—and smart—to stay ahead in the logging game.
Based in Princeton, BC, Byrne ended up in logging by a somewhat unusual route. He was one of the first students at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, when it opened in 1965. His goal: becoming a teacher. During his time at SFU he did some student teaching, however, and found that teaching was not really for him. “I finished my fourth semester and decided that I needed to find a new direction.”
Coming from the resource community of Princeton, there were plenty of logging jobs about and he started out on an International skidder with a local contractor. Before long, Byrne and two other equipment operators, Ed White and Bill Mervyn, decided to start their own operation and Jebway Contracting had its start (the JEB in Jebway stands for Jim, Ed and Bill). “At the time, all we had was ambition and desire and nothing else working for us,” recalls Byrne.
The business evolved and changed. With Bill leaving and Ed deciding that he wanted to remain a skidder operator rather than be part of the effort to ramp up Jebway, Byrne was left with some hard decisions. “I came to the realization then that what we were doing wasn’t working, that we needed to invest further and get more equipment, and that’s when I started doing business with Finning,” he explains. “We couldn’t pick up more work because we did not have the equipment. We needed to move forward and take some risks.”
Although he had lots of energy, was hard working, and had plenty of savvy, all those qualities meant little at the bank when it came time to get financing. But Caterpillar equipment distributor Finning decided to take a chance on Byrne and Jebway. More than 25 years later, Byrne is, understandably, a faithful Finning customer.“They helped get me off the ground when all I had was the desire to grow the business.”
The first Cat equipment the company purchased from Finning was a 518 grapple skidder. Since that first purchase, Byrne has seen a huge evolution in the logging industry and been very much a part of that change. When they started out there were no wheel loaders in the bush, or rubber-tired skidders. “We saw the bunchers and processors come from nowhere to where they are today,” he says. “We’ve lived through it all and you want to believe there were some growing pains.”
There were some huge leaps in technology over that period, but the advances now are more modest in scope. The new Cat 320C and Waratah head Jebway has now are examples. Byrne says the 320C is an improvement over the 320B they already have in their equipment line-up.“It’s got a better undercarriage and it’s a high and wide versus our standard 320B.”
The cab, in particular, is improved. In the past, Jebway has always opted to go with the custom forestry cab that was available from Finning, which offered more room. The cab on the new 320C offers improvements in this area, however, he notes. “It’s still not as roomy as the custom cab, but the improved cab has a lot of things going for it.”
In terms of technical specs, the 320C has an operating weight of 61,600 pounds, has swing torque of 45,611 pound-feet, and swing speed of 11.5 rpm. Maximum travel speed is 3.4 mph.
The Cat 3066 T diesel engine delivers 143 horsepower, gross. Standard track on the machine is a 28-inch double grouser, with optional 24-inch double grouser.
As for the head, they opted for the Waratah HTH622B: the other processor has the 620 head. Built for thinning and final felling up to a 22-inch diameter—versus a 20-inch diameter for the 620 head—and for processing decked wood, the 622 is said to be a robust harvester head, with large drive motors and three feed rollers in a strong frame. The 5,500-pound head has two top delimber arms with replaceable front and back knives, plus a floating front knife that ensures clean delimbing.
Jebway does not really have a maintenance shop since the equipment is in the bush pretty much year-round. At break-up, the equipment is brought in for heavier maintenance and repairs. “The push is on to get the work done then when the equipment is in to avoid breakdowns in the bush.”
Operators deal with the day-to-day mechanical items, including changing oil and filters. Although some of the equipment is running two shifts, with two operators per machine, Byrne designates one operator to be in charge of each machine. He has no problem with the other operator servicing the machine, but the responsibility still falls on the designated person for the overall condition of the machine. “That’s their machine. When 250 hours is on the clock, they have to make sure it’s serviced.”
Jebway takes oil samples every 250 hours and other major fluid samples every 500 hours. Finning has its own resident mechanic in Princeton that Jebway can, and does, call on from time to time.
But generally they work to keep their equipment late-model, ensuring it delivers. “We don’t let the hours grow on us for production machinery. We try to keep low hours on equipment so we can get a good dollar for it, and we’ve got a good reputation for looking after our equipment.
“I’m very particular about servicing. I could go through the books here and show you that we rarely go above that 250- hour mark. It’s like a religion around here, because to me that’s how you build your reputation with your trades.” Finning is only too happy to take the equipment for resale, as there is a ready market for used equipment in good condition.
Keeping the equipment reasonably fresh works for Jebway, notes Byrne, though it may go against the approach of putting plenty of hours on iron to get maximum equipment utilization. “Maybe that’s the way to go for some people, but you look at what works for you and your situation, and this does it for us.”
The equipment is working a bit harder these days at Jebway, however, because their cut has been increased and they recently took over a smaller contracting operation. The last few years, they’ve been doing 130,000 cubic metres a year, but that’s now up to 165,000 cubic metres. They have hired a few more people. Byrne notes that some employees are flexible and can ably run a number of different pieces of equipment, such as bunchers and processors. Others choose to specialize in running one piece, such as a skidder.
Weyerhaeuser has chosen to consolidate its harvesting activities in the area with four major contractors, including Jebway, in an effort to reduce harvesting costs per cubic metre. Licensees in the area, including Weyerhaeuser, have also done some timber trades. As a result, Jebway is now working in larger blocks and moving less often, which is a real plus. “We used to move up to 20 times a year and that all costs, and it’s all off-time and you have to make that up somewhere,” says Byrne.
Earlier this year, they were working in an area north of Princeton. That work was scheduled to go until August, when they would move to another location an hour away, towards the town of Hope. “If things go as planned, we’ll be there until break-up.”
Besides the Cat 320C and 320B, Jebway runs two Cat bunchers, a 1051 and 722, and Cat 525B grapple skidders. They basically run two shifts, with the afternoon shift sometimes picking up any slack. If they are ahead with the bunching, for example, the focus will be on the skidding and the processing with the afternoon shift.
Almost all of the wood they are harvesting around the Princeton area is bug-killed wood. The Forest Service seemed to have a handle on mountain pine beetle in the region a few years back, but infestation has since roared back. The beetle now has a strong foothold in nearby Manning Provincial Park, and the province has chosen to do only a limited amount of logging. The reason: a feared public backlash if logging were to take place in a provincial park.
But harvesting the bug-kill is certainly keeping Jebway busy.
Looking back on the development of his company, Byrne says those two years at university have sure come in handy in running his business. “It has helped me immensely in growing our business, in being able to relate to our employees and our customers.”
It also reinforced Byrne’s skills at doing paperwork—which is much hated by most logging contractors. “I don’t agree with everything we have to do as contractors, but the Weyerhaeusers of the world want documentation, and I excel at that stuff. I don’t love it, but I can do a good job of it.”
Keeping on top of the paperwork and managing the business has positioned Jebway well in the last few years, with Weyerhaeuser consolidating the number of its contractors. Some contractors have also had to shift operations, meaning employees had to move with their jobs. Jebway has been able to maintain its operation around Princeton, however. While Byrne works hard—and smart—to be pro-active in managing the operation, he believes its success is due to the company’s employees, many of them long-term. “I don’t care how smart a manager you may think you are, you are absolutely nowhere without your employees. You have to have your crew pulling in the same direction.”
Getting everyone pulling in that direction takes effort and time. It’s a story that many contractors surely can relate to: Byrne talks about how he used to often leave for work in the morning and his kids were in bed, and home at night and the kids were in bed. And back then, he was out in the bush doing repairs on the weekend because he couldn’t afford to hire a mechanic. The upside, though— and there is far more upside than downside— is that Jim Byrne and wife, Deb, enjoy running the business, fostering a family atmosphere among employees, and doing a good job harvesting timber “Doing all of that helps us to keep near the top of the pack,” he says.
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