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September 2006 - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal

CONTRACTOR PROFILE 2

Preaching preventative maintenance

Former schoolteacher Susan Duquette, who took over from her father at Ranger Logging in Northern Ontario almost 20 years ago, preaches preventative maintenance to her contractors, and it’s a lesson that has paid off.

By Marg Turner

Once a teacher, always a teacher, or so the saying goes. That may explain why Susan Duquette is committed to keeping her logging contractors educated. Duquette left the classrooms of Sault Ste Marie, Ontario and traded her chalk for computer spreadsheets about 18 years ago.

As owner of Ranger Logging, Duquette attends a yearly operations meeting with other North Shore Forest Inc licensees, and now she brings along her contractors. “The industry is more complicated now and complex things can lower morale. I try to keep them educated as to why we make the decisions we do,” she says. “Seeing the big picture helps them watch their own bottom line.”

Duquette inherited the Crown licence from her father, Vic Hamilton. When he decided to retire, Hamilton had to follow due process; he could offer his Crown licence to someone within the family, then to the existing licensees with North Shore Forest and only then to the open market.

Hamilton started Ranger Logging in 1963 when he acquired a Crown licence for Nouvel Township near Thessalon, east of Sault Ste Marie. He later purchased two more licences, increasing Ranger’s harvest share and opening up more options for timber. Ranger Logging originally cut only hardwood, but has had to diversify.

Hamilton had three children. Two died at a young age. The third, Susan Duquette, did not want to see her father’s years of hard work and dedication to logging in Northern Ontario come to an end. So she left teaching, and after raising her family, decided to take over the family business.

Susan Duquette and long-time friend and mentor Lorne Nicholson discuss cut plans for Ranger Logging.

Along with Ranger’s licences, Duquette inherited some logging contractors. Presently she contracts Gordon Berry Logging Ltd and Ralph L Logging Ltd on a full-time basis, and Keith Brock Logging Ltd part-time. These contractors are responsible for their own men, equipment, and hauling and according to Duquette they are very competent operators who efficiently harvest a lot of wood.

Berry has worked for Ranger Logging for more than 20 years. He started when he was 14 years old, working for his father, Roy Berry, who worked for Duquette’s father. Berry employs one man, and an independent trucker, Larry McMillan, that hauls for him. He has a fleet of John Deere equipment—two skidders and a backhoe.

He also brings a Ford 800 tandem dump truck, a Deere 490E excavator and a 710 Champion grader to the mix. Berry’s 648 skidder is a 1986 model, but, this vintage machine remains as faithful as an old dog.

“I have over 30,000 hours on it, and I’ve had no problems,” says Berry. He enjoys the familiarity and the comfort of the machine. “It’s just a nice machine to operate,” he says.

Duquette leaves the purchase of equipment up to the contractors, but preaches preventative maintenance. “They are basically weekend mechanics and practise what I preach,” she says. “They maintain the equipment in the bush, or take parts out to work on them. Each contractor has his own philosophy for choosing his equipment. It usually comes from years of experience in using a particular brand, which translates into less downtime and reduced expenses.”

Duquette goes to the bush perhaps three or four times a season to talk oneon- one with the men. “I keep a low profile as forestry is not my background,” says Susan. “I try to implement work plans in a creative way with my woods manager, Terry Montani.”

Duquette spends most of her time finding markets for her logs and negotiating contracts. She also does all the office administration, including payroll. She pays the contractors and they pay their men. She relies on Montani to ensure the men in the bush are doing their job right. He does the hiring and firing, determines boundary layouts and deals with land and lease issues with the Ministry of Natural Resources, North Shore Forest Inc, private landowners and the public, among other duties.

Contractors Gordon Berry (left) Ralph Maetzold (right) and woods manager Terry Montani (centre) with a Deere 640D skidder. Montani echoes Susan Duquette’s sentiments about maximizing uptime with well maintained equipment.

Montani echoes Duquette’s sentiments about maximizing uptime with well maintained equipment. In fact he says he doesn’t remember Berry’s last downtime. He credits the seasoned logger’s gentle approach to the cut and his care and respect for his machinery.

Montani says the John Deere skidders work well in single tree selection in tolerant hardwood stands. The limited slip front drive allows these cable skidders to maneuver in confined areas with minimal tree damage. “These skidders maneuver well which suits the small cut blocks,” he says.

Ranger’s second contractor, Ralph L Logging Ltd, is owned by Ralph Paetzold. He owns two Tree Farmer C7 skidders, a Hood slasher and a D600 Champion road grader, and employs three men. Gene Blouin and Dennis Gareau are cut and skid operators. His slasher operator Jason Grexton is a versatile jack of all trades, an important plus for such a small operation. He not only runs the slasher, but acts as welder, mechanic and occasional grader operator. The hauling is done by LA Trucking.

The benefit of hiring contractors for Ranger Logging is low overhead. Duquette’s contractors own their forestry equipment. They basically run their own business and are in control. “If you own the equipment you look after it better,” explains Susan. That’s how her father originally set up the business and it remains a win-win situation. “These guys just want to be in the bush logging and not have the hassle of running the business and dealing with government administration. They just want to log and deliver.” This leaves Duquette to run the business side of things.

Duquette knows these long standing contractors make her business what it is. “We are very fortunate that we don’t have a high turnover,” she says. “Good loggers are hard to find. Young people are not interested in that part of the industry, and it is a costly business.”

One of the major investments for both loggers has been the Champion road graders, a D600 and a 710. These purchases were solid investments for both Paetzold and Berry, and are paying off with longevity.

Owning a road grader allows the contractors to do some snow plowing during the winter months, when things may be a bit slower. The contractors also have to build their own logging roads and bridges under very strict regulations and sometimes have to know two years in advance where they are building to submit the blueprints to the Ministry of Natural Resources.

Ranger’s cutting allocations are managed by North Shore Forest Inc, and their wood is directed to specified mills. Ranger cuts pulp for Domtar Inc in Espanola and St Mary’s Paper in Sault Ste Marie and, just recently, Weyerhauser-Wawa. The logs go to Midway Lumber Mills, Thessalon, Columbia Forest Products in Hearst and Domtar Inc in Nairn Centre. “We pay a fee for every tree we cut, so I tell the contractors to maximize the volume of their cut. For example, don’t send a tree full of rot over the weigh scales.”

Ralph L Logging’s Hood slasher (above) carrying out work for Ranger Logging in Northern Ontario. In addition to the slasher, contractor Ralph Paetzold also has two Tree Farmer C7 skidders and a D600 Champion grader.

It is a delicate balancing act for all parties involved. Last year the contractors lost 19 working days because of a severe forest fire situation that resulted in a total shutdown. On top of that, they have to remain cognizant of load regulations, environmental concerns, road building and signage rules, workers compensation requirements and escalating operating costs. Insurance is a big obstacle for the loggers and truckers and the high cost of fuel is a major concern. “Mills have been subsidizing us for fuel, but they are slowly relinquishing that subsidy as they fight for their own existence,” laments Duquette.

She emphasizes that they used to be able to negotiate prices for their logs, but this has been less the case in the past few years. She understands that the mills are struggling, too, and if there aren’t any mills, no one will have work.

Duquette says they try to be supportive if a mill is losing money. She is hopeful her contractors will support her situation in turn. And she remains optimistic that there may be a turnaround or compensation down the road, and is not yet ready to give up.

Even after all these years, Duquette squirms slightly when asked about being a woman in a very male-dominated industry. “I feel more comfortable about being here now and not as conspicuous at the operational meetings as I used to be,” she admits.

Her father was more hands on. He did the business administration and the woods management for many years. But he consistently hired experienced woods managers throughout the company’s history, a practice Duquette follows today.

Two former colleagues of her father are her mentors today and act as directors for the company. Lorne Nicholson retired from St Mary’s Paper in 1992 and upon retirement took a keen interest in the operations of Ranger Logging. Lorne and Vic Hamilton shared a fondness for fishing and hunting in the Ranger Lake area, which prompted Vic to select the name for his company. Duquette relies on Nicholson for his historical knowledge, his friendship and his advice. Andy Waluk became woods manager for Ranger Logging after his retirement from St Mary’s Paper (known then as Abitibi). He spent many long days walking the bush and looking for new areas to harvest and was a definite asset to the company.

Duquette also relies on her current woods manager and speaks highly of his abilities. The feeling is reciprocated. “Susan is a great boss and I respect her a lot,” says Terry Montani. “She’s let me have free reign.”

But that “free reign” trickles back down to the heart of the operation—the contractors. Montani appreciates the experience of the men and always seeks their opinions. Duquette says you should always buy good equipment and maintain it. But the one thing her father taught her is that a piece of equipment is only as good as the operator.

 


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