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By Paul MacDonald
Depending on the time of year in the Clearwater area of the B.C. Interior, custom cutting could mean a couple of things.
If it’s the fall and hunting season, it could mean a place where you take your game to be custom cut and wrapped.
But right through the year—and for close to 50 years—custom cutting on the sawmill side in the North Thompson River Valley town has meant one thing: Wadlegger Logging and Construction, and its associated sawmill.
As its name states, the company does a lot of logging and a lot of construction. But they are also stepping things up in road building, in the hands of Hans and Sepp Wadlegger, the two brothers who now run the company.
The company’s history dates back to 1965 when the brothers’ parents, Joe and Hazel Wadlegger, first came to the Clearwater area, and set up a small sawmill to produce railway ties.
Joe Wadlegger recalls days of skidding with horses, and getting paid five dollars for a cord of timber. Joe noted that back in the day, he had the first skidder in the area, a Tree Farmer. He recalls when mechanized harvesting started out with equipment like tree snippers, before advancing, big time, to feller bunchers.
“As soon as the equipment hydraulics advanced, the mechanized logging really took off,” he says.
Joe noted that Hans and Sepp were setting chokers when they were teenagers, learning from the veteran loggers they worked with. “The equipment and how we log has changed completely since then,” he added.
These days, Joe runs a small cattle and sheep farm near the mill and leaves the company in the hands of Hans and Sepp, who have overseen some equipment additions in the past few years.
Recent additions to the Wadlegger equipment line-up include a new Tigercat 870 buncher, adding to the existing 870 machine they’ve had for about two years. Both are from B.C Tigercat dealer, The Inland Group (formerly Parker Pacific).
Historically, Wadlegger has been a big Cat equipment operation. The operation is still into Cat equipment, from B.C. Cat dealer, Finning, with everything from Cat 545C grapple skidders to 325D FM excavators. The Finning branch in Kamloops has delivered top notch service to them over the years—and continues to do exactly that.
But they now have a more diversified approach to their equipment than they had a decade ago, with Tigercat, Volvo and John Deere equipment now in their line-up.
“You have to pick the best equipment for the job,” says Hans Wadlegger.
Some of the heavy equipment manufacturers are stronger than others in certain equipment market segments, he notes. “They all have their strong and weak points,” says Hans.
They like the fact that the Tigercat bunchers are purpose built machines. “In our opinion, no one makes a better buncher than Tigercat—we really think it is a top notch product,” says Hans.
At the same time they picked up the new buncher, they also purchased two new Link-Belt carriers, for processing. The machines are equipped with Waratah 622B heads. Hans and Sepp looked at other heads in the market, before opting for Waratah. “We’re very comfortable with the Waratah heads, and so are our operators, so it was an easy decision,” says Hans.
In the mill yard, there’s a fairly new Cat 924K wheel loader.
On the mill side itself, they picked up a new-to-them McDonough 54” vertical band resaw about five years ago, from the Tolko operation at Heffley Creek, just down the Yellowhead Highway from Clearwater. “It’s been a good fit,” says Sepp Wadlegger. “It’s helped quite a bit, with re-manning product.
“The Tolko operation at Heffley was making some changes, and the Tolko guys really helped us out with getting the band resaw,” he explained.
Sepp noted that they had an old resaw that they had used for probably 15 years, and that was purchased from the Tolko Lavington sawmill.
“It was an old girl to start with,” he says. “When the opportunity came up with the mill equipment from Heffley, we decided to change it out. But it had been a good unit for us.”
Sepp explained that they employ the re-sawing equipment for breaking down their larger pieces. “We basically use it for re-manning our timbers down to other products—we’ll cut 8 by 10s and then split them down to 4 by 10s, and then run it through the planer.
“It’s not new technology, but the equipment seems to fit well for us.”
In recent years, and right through the industry downturn, Wadlegger has pretty much stuck to its specialty—producing large dimension Douglas fir products.
“We specialize in longs and wides,” says Sepp. “It’s not a big market, and there is not room for a lot of producers. And it’s not only the product itself, but the quality of the product, that is important. We have very high quality timber here in the valley, so we can hit that high quality, select structural product market—it’s not a difficult thing for us to do with the wood we have to work with.”
It’s a completely different market from the large production sawmills in the B.C. Interior—who specialize in huge volumes of SPF dimensional lumber.
In addition to their steady, long term customers, Wadlegger, located right on the Yellowhead Highway, about an hour-and-an-half north of Kamloops, gets a fair number of people showing up at the office, looking for one-off pieces.
“We still have walk-ins, people building a timber frame place, and they’ll ask if we can cut them five pieces of this, four pieces of that—we get a lot of that.
“But we have a lot of steady customers that we’ve developed over the years, that we cut truckload orders for,” says Sepp.
They have a fair bit of local business, doing pieces for bridge construction, for example, in addition to the high quality, visible timbers for homes. “We’ve got one customer that we do a truckload a week for, treating stock, that goes into projects like docks, on the coast.”
Sepp noted that a key part of the company’s approach—and success—lies in its flexibility, and being responsive to what customers need. And sometimes they need it right away.
“A great part of what we do is the variety we can produce. I can get a phone call, and we can change or add to an order very quickly. On a recent Friday, I was loading a truck for the coast, and the customer phoned me and said he needed a single 22 foot, 6 by 10 plain piece.
“And so we went out to the sawmill, got it on the planer, and got it on the truck that left that day. It wasn’t a problem for us to do that. Our customers can have very quick needs, and we can meet those needs.”
The regular orders from customers can dovetail well with what Wadlegger is doing in the bush.
“What really gives us a leg up is that I can be in talking to our broker, and he will let us know that in three weeks he is going to need a whole lot of select structural 8 by 8, 16 footers,” explains Hans. “I can get hold of our processor operator out in the bush, and let him know that we need some 16 foot premium logs with a 12 inch top. And in a few days, we’ll have a logging truck rolling in with the exact logs that we need to produce what that customer is looking for.
“We’re not having to put a lot of logs in inventory, and sit on them,” he added. “I can get them straight from the bush. Our customers are like that, too—they don’t want to be inventorying anything anymore.”
It can be pretty darn close to just-in-time log deliveries. “Having our own logging company and our own timber that we can source from is a big help for us,” says Hans.
As noted, when it comes to meeting customer needs, the word “No” is really not in the Wadlegger vocabulary.
“Meeting customer needs is something that I think we do well,” says Hans. And it works both ways, he adds. Their customers try to keep them busy, even during down times in the industry. “The efforts we put in to help our customers come around to us,” he says.
Wadlegger does not have any tenure—all of their timber comes from BC Timber Sales (BCTS). BCTS is a stand-alone organization within the Ministry of Forests and Range which, a number of years ago, replaced the province’s Small Business Forest Enterprise Program.
BCTS develops and offers Crown timber for auction to establish market price and cost benchmarks, and capture the best possible return for the public. On the basis of the highest bid, BCTS sells timber to a variety of customers, such as Wadlegger—market loggers, sawmill operators, timber processors, re-manufacturers and major licensees.
BCTS itself conducts forest planning, timber cruising, layout and engineering, road construction and maintenance, bridge installations, and silviculture activities such as tree planting, surveys and stand treatments. It is responsible for managing some 20 percent of the provincial Crown allowable annual cut (AAC).
“Most of the volume we log is BC Timber Sales,” says Hans. “We do it mostly for our needs, but we also do some logging for other people, too.”
They buy and sell timber with the major sawmills in the region, Tolko, Canfor and the Gilbert Smith Forest Products cedar mill in Barriere, just down the Yellowhead Highway.
This buying and selling of timber ideally makes best use of the timber in a region—logs go to the sawmill where they can best be utilized.
Hans says that between the logging they do, and the purchases they make, timber access is fairly good for them.
“Part of that, though, is a function of us being here for many years, and the relationships our Dad, Sepp and I have built up over the years. If we need some oversized logs, for example, we can phone someone, and they can usually help us out.”
To accommodate the company’s needs, its equipment has grown over the years.
Hans notes that 10 years ago, they took delivery of a Cat 325C FM loader and it was #64 for the company. A Cat 329F excavator they recently took delivery of was unit #110. “That includes our trailers, too though,” he added. They also have a Bandit 3680 grinder to handle their residual wood.
A piece of equipment that was recently added to the fleet was a Traxxon TR-EX 2000 rock drill.
“It was kind of the last piece of the equipment picture for us,” says Hans. “Aside from upgrading or getting more than one or two of what we already have now, there is really nothing else that we need to get right now.”
The rock drill is a major part of their move into building more road, and diversifying. They developed a gravel pit in the last several years, and expect to have a rock quarry soon.
“A key to the roadbuilding side is good equipment, but more so than that, it is having good people—that is really important,” says Sepp. “We’ve got good guys working for us now. There is the opportunity to get larger with our logging operations, but if you don’t have the right guys, it’s not worth tearing down what you already have for that extra work. We want to be sending good guys out there that will deliver good products, right through.
“When you send out people that are not good, things can come down pretty quick. We’ve had pieces of equipment sitting out there in yard before—and we’d rather have that than the headaches that come from somebody doing a bad job.”
Hans and Sepp work hard to make sure the work is steady.
“We have little in the way of employee turnover, and a big part of that is we keep busy,” says Sepp. “We don’t have those ups and downs or those two months during break up when there might not be work. During that time, we might not be logging, but there is work to be done.
“The other thing is we have a lot of operators who are very flexible, and we are able to put them in different locations with different equipment.”
Hans said they also work to keep their equipment as current as they can. “The perception of a logging outfit can be very much based on the quality of the equipment you have on the ground. It’s important to have people wanting to work for you, and to get quality people, you need to have some shiny equipment out there.”
Hans noted the industry as a whole seems to be putting effort into smoothing out the work schedule through the year—at least as much as it can.
“The industry seems to have changed a little bit—they realize, especially when the oil patch came on strong, that they needed to try to get away from the typical logging schedule where you go like crazy for eight months of the year, and have four quiet months.
“If you can stretch things out a bit more, keeping logging contractors busy longer, maybe starting a bit earlier in the spring, everybody benefits.”
In terms of the future for Wadlegger, it’s kind of steady as she goes. “I think it’s important that we just maintain a steady flow right now,” says Hans. “We have things set up for a certain level of business and we want to be able to hit our targets.”
Even though the industry has improved greatly since the downturn, Hans noted there is still some uncertainty out there—and they need to be flexible and keep on their toes. “We’re under no illusions; there are a lot of things you can’t control in this business, from markets to the weather—we have to be as flexible as possible.”
On the Cover:
A significant investment by C & C Resources in its Edgewood Forest Products sawmill in Saskatchewan includes a new breakdown line provided by German-based LINCK, and other equipment changes that will allow the sawmill to process a wider range of sawlogs into solid wood products.
An exit, by choice, from the logging business
Long time logging contractor Derek Stamer recently exited the business—but he still believes there is opportunity in the industry, and he had a few words of advice for young loggers, following the final auction of his equipment.
Major Saskatchewan sawmill upgrade
C & C Resources has invested $25 million in its Edgewood Forest Products sawmill in Saskatchewan, which it expects will pay off in a 20 per cent increase in solid wood recovery.
Nadina Logging—which is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year—has a rich family heritage that still forms the foundation for this modern logging company that these days is very capably dealing with harvesting small wood in the B.C. Interior.
Finding its niche
B.C.’s Wadlegger Logging and Construction has truly found its niche on the mill side—producing large dimension Douglas fir product—and on the construction side, the company is moving into building more road, with the addition of a rock drill.
Dust control in B.C. sawmills
A culture of increased safety has emerged in the B.C. forest industry around sawmill dust control, four years after two horrific sawmill accidents that claimed four lives.
Canada’s Top Lumber Producers
Canada’s total lumber shipments increased by more than nine per cent in 2015, but some Canadian forest companies are continuing their pivot to the U.S. South, with both Canfor—which continues to be Canada’s top lumber producer—and Interfor adding to their sawmill counts in the U.S. South during the year.
B.C. Saw Filer’s Conference Preview
The upcoming B.C. Saw Filer’s Association conference—being held in Kamloops April 29-30—is expected to be another success, with solid attendance, and good participation from the equipment companies that supply the filing rooms which form the backbone of sawmills across B.C.
Logger, sawmiller—and cattler farmer
With logging, sawmill, cattle and farming operations, to say that Darcy Coleman’s days are busy would be an understatement.
Lobster trap lumber
Nova Scotia’s AFT Sawmill was born out of necessity to provide lumber for the A. F. Theriault & Son Ltd. boatyard, but it now produces a broad range of products—with a significant “value add” lumber product being lobster trap components.
Alberta’s Robill Contracting fully understands the value of prioritizing efficiency over volume—and when it comes to their logging operation, the focus is truly on the family.
New lathe linecuts a brighter future for plywood plant
With a new $15 million lathe line now in place at its hardwood plywood plant in the Ontario town of Hearst, Columbia Forest Products is looking to ramp up production—and better secure the jobs it provides, being the largest employer in the northern Ontario town.
Included in this edition of The Edge, Canada’s leading publication on research in the forest industry, are stories from the Canadian Wood Fibre Centre, Alberta Innovates - Bio Solutions and
The Last Word
Canada’s veterans could take on many of the forestry jobs the industry is currently looking to fill, says Tony Kryzanowski.