By Paul MacDonald
B.C. logging contractor Russ Parsons has known some of his logging crew for a long time—a very long time.
“I went to school with at least half of the crew,” says the 41-year-old Parsons, who owns Tilt Contracting in Powell River, at the northern end of B.C.’s Sunshine Coast. “They’ve been friends, and they have stayed around Powell River,” he says. And Parsons has also stayed around Powell River.
One of the keys to a successful logging operation are the people who step into the equipment cabs each morning, as operations start.
“I’ve always been very fortunate to have a good bunch of guys on the crew, and a supportive and loving crew at home, which is my wife and two daughters,” says Parsons.
One of his non-school crewmates is his Dad, Ivan Parsons, who is soon to be 65, and still works as an operator. “This might be his last year operating equipment—but I really don’t know if he’ll ever retire. It just wouldn’t be the same out there without Pa,” laughs Parsons.
Parsons says he always tries to open and honest with the crew—and they appreciate that. If they have slower times, he gives them a head’s up that they may be off for a while. “But when things get busy again, and I make the call to them, they come back.”
They’re a good bunch of guys, he says, and they enjoy working for Tilt Contracting, and Parsons. And they know that he is working just as hard, if not harder, than they are. Like his crew, Parsons has a great work ethic.
“I’m not the company owner who sits in the office and who doesn’t know how to run equipment,” he says. “I try to be out there, with the crew. And if I’m not out there in the bush, I’m usually out there trying to find work for us.” Or he could be in the company’s relatively new shop, helping out with maintenance and repairs.
Parsons stresses the importance of having good operators in the cab of his equipment, whether it’s a loader, feller buncher or processor.
“The guys who are in the seats of the equipment are going to determine, in part, if you are going to be productive, and be able to make your monthly equipment payments,” he says. “Or, in some cases, they can increase your maintenance bill for the month, if you get the wrong people in the seat.”
Parsons himself has been in the operator’s seat himself since he was a teenager.
Tilt Contracting itself was started in 2004, when Parsons joined forces with logging veterans Monty Hussey and Bob Nassichuck. The two later sold him their shares of the business, and Parsons took over as sole owner.
“We then starting doing some work on Vancouver Island, and some work up the coast, in Bute Island—lots of sub-contracting felling and processing.”
Following that came the economic and industry downturn, and Parsons focused on getting through those difficult times.
“We then got an opportunity with Island Timberlands,” he explained. “They were putting out tender packages for stump to dump, and we bid on it and were awarded the contract.
“That changed everything—we now had control of the job and were getting paid directly by the company, and it worked out really well.”
From that time forward, Tilt Contracting has grown. They’ve continued to do work for Island Timberlands, and worked for a lengthy time for Olympic Forest Products.
But an opportunity also came up to work for Western Forest Products, the major licencee on the B.C. Coast.
“We’re now coming up on working for Western for 11 years, working directly for them as a stump-to-dump contactor,” says Parsons. “We started out with three or four machines, and we’ve continued to grow, adding a machine or so a year, up to the size we are now, which is 16 machines.”
The growth has been rewarding for Parsons. “I’ve always been ambitious to grow the business,” he says.
They’ve worked with a variety of equipment over the years. But their first equipment was B.C.-born and developed, from Madill Equipment. The company’s name, Tilt Contracting, actually came from their first piece of equipment: a Madill 2250 tilting feller processor, with a Waratah 626 head.
“It was the first Madill buncher they had ever put together with that size a head on it,” recalls Parsons.
They’ve also worked with some Cat equipment. Tilt Contracting has two Cat 330C machines, that they use for processing, and a Cat 330D log loader.
“They are solid—the quality is there. We never have to weld anything on the boom or the undercarriage,” says Parsons. “They just go, and go, and go. They may not be the quickest machines, but if you are in a large stand of timber, they really do shine. They’ve got the power.”
A lot of the equipment they have been purchasing in recent years, however, has been Tigercat. “We got our first Tigercat buncher in 2011, and I ran it a lot of the time,” says Parsons. “It was extremely productive and comfortable. And the service was incredible—they were always there if we needed help.
“From there, I’ve bought more and more Tigercat equipment. They are strictly forestry, and it shows in their equipment, since it is purpose built.”
Making the initial investment in purchasing equipment is of course a big deal, but so is the service side, Parsons says. If that is not there, they can be stuck with equipment that, plain and simple, is not working, and not generating production. “It can be a huge problem if the service side is not there,” says Parsons. That has never been an issue with Tigercat, and B.C. Tigercat dealer, the Inland Group.
Operationally, like a lot of coastal contractors, Tilt Contracting can at times face the challenge of overlapping phases in the work it does, and they have to be flexible with their equipment. A contractor can have a couple of blocks on the go, and road construction can still be going on in a particular area. This kind of situation involves more co-ordination and communication, and can affect productivity, says Parsons.
“We try to minimize how many times we handle the wood. Anytime you’re touching the wood twice, it essentially doubles the cost,” says Parsons.
“So when you are getting into areas where a trucking contractor has not yet hauled the right-of-way wood, and you are you having to move that wood to the other side of the road to keep your processor working, it costs you time, fuel and wages. We want to be as efficient as possible, and stay away from that.” Winter conditions can also definitely play a huge role in adding costs when they are not able to haul, yet they still try to be productive and keep the crews employed, he added.
With the growth in the amount of higher elevation work on the B.C. Coast, Tilt Contracting has been looking at tethered systems, for steep slope work.
“We almost purchased a system not too long ago,” says Parsons. “But the biggest thing is having enough areas designated for tethered equipment, to have it make sense financially.” Key to all this, too, are licencees paying a rate that compensates contractors for the investment, and the higher costs of harvesting wood on steep slopes.
“You’ve got to have a realistic contract and the workload there to justify putting the money into a steep slope system,” notes Parsons.
But he said they are prepared for it, equipment-wise. They have a Tigercat L855D tilting hoe chucker that could easily be converted with a felling head. “We already have the winch mount for the machine in the yard of the shop. And we have two L870C bunchers. They could both hit the slopes—we just need the winch system.
“I think we could do well with winch assisted equipment. But we need a steady amount of steep slope volume wood, like 80,000 or 90,000 cubic metres, and the rate, to make it pay.”
Part of the interest in steep slope equipment is a focus by Tilt Contracting to be creative and innovative with their harvesting, and keep their equipment current. They want to be seen as an attractive place to work, with their operators working in newer equipment, which should help attract younger people to the business, and the company. “We also try to have some fun out there,” says Parsons. “When you really look at it, what the guys do out there is pretty neat—logging is a pretty cool job.”
But it can be a tough, and very competitive, business, notes Parsons. To run a professional, safe logging operation, you need to have fair and reasonable rates. A number of contractors have exited the business in recent years because those rates have not been there—or logging volume has been shifted to another operation because they are able to do the work a bit cheaper.
Parsons notes that contractor sustainability is a focus with the managers at Western Forest Products, and it has worked to keep a steady supply of timber going to Tilt, which in turn provides steady work for the crew.
At the end of the day, Parsons says, he needs to make a reasonable amount of return on what amounts to a huge investment in people, and equipment. He wants to pay his crew good wages for the hard work and long hours they put in, and have good equipment for them to operate.
“You know, my heart is in logging,” he says. “But we need to make money at what we are doing—it’s not enough to just love logging.”
In addition to the high tech equipment that their logging machine hit the bush with, Tilt Contracting works with their clients to incorporate new technology, to help them log better.
Western Forest Products uses an ISRI program, ARC/GIS, for all their mapping, and Tilt Contracting was the first logging contractor in Powell River to work with the system.
“It’s working really well, and it saves time,” says Tilt Contracting’s Ross Parsons.
Western Forest Products e-mails the files to them, and they can download them and use PDF Expert to make notes on the maps and files.
Islands Timberlands has been a leader on the B.C. Coast in employing LiDAR, which provides detailed maps to contractors.
“It’s great for the feller buncher operators and hoe chuckers,” says Parsons.
“There were some rocky areas in the last block we started, and it showed exactly where the steep areas are. It’s a block where there are bluffs, and it showed exactly where those are so the operators knew what was ahead of them.”
Tilt Contracting is in the process of installing I-Pads in all of their equipment, which should be complete by the end of the year.
“The guys have been using SmartPhones equipped with Avenza Maps, but we will soon have I-Pads in every piece of equipment,” says Parsons.
With LiDAR information, the I-Pads will let them know at a quick glance where they are in a cublock, and what is around, and ahead, of them.
Amajor change for logging contractor Tilt Contracting in the last couple of years was getting a new shop built, just outside of Powell River, B.C.
Previously, the company had a fabric-covered building where maintenance had been done.
“I was looking to make some changes, and always wanted to have this kind of shop,” says Tilt Contracting’s Russ Parsons. “We’ve worked out in the cold and rain, and it’s hard to run a proper equipment maintenance program like that.” So Parsons bought some property to the south of Powell River, and built a 2,700 square foot, two-bay shop.
“We now have a place where we can do all our own maintenance, and it is clean, efficient and organized,” says Parsons. “When you have skilled tradespeople, you want to treat them right, and have a proper shop facility.”
He noted they’ve had their share of being out in the mud and wet weather, changing rollers on equipment in the middle of winter.
Like all loggers, they’ve had situations where the repairs were done only when needed. Sometimes the thought is you fix something when it is broken—you don’t want to bring the machine into the shop, and lose production time.
But that can result in having to rip out the rollers on a machine or an engine failure, out in the woods, in winter.
“At times, we’ve been there and done that,” says Parsons. “But it was time for us to invest more in our facilities, and show that we are serious players. When we are negotiating logging rates, we are basing it on that we are a company with a proper maintenance program, and a proper health and safety program—and we stick by that.
“We bring the equipment in and do the things that need to be done, and have it in the shop for a week or two. When it goes back out there, it only requires minimal maintenance,” says Parsons.
“The guys have everything they need in the shop, they are not having to go back and forth from the bush to grab parts—they can thoroughly go over a piece of equipment, fix it properly, and we send it back out.”
Every one of their 16 pieces of equipment has its service file, with detailed information on maintenance and repairs.
“Every machine has a check-off sheet that the mechanics go through, to make sure we are doing what the manufacturer requires.”
Parsons says that while their maintenance records are paper-based, it is still a very efficient system. At some point, they will make the move to a computerized system. “What we have now works just fine,” he says.
They share the maintenance shop with KLG Timber, who is one of their hauling contractors as well as a fabricating company.
“Eric Gaudreau with KLG Timber is an amazing fabricator, and I wanted to build something for him so we could rebuild our equipment, such as our log loaders and processing heads.”
In fact, they are now looking at rebuilding Waratah processing heads as a side business and have rebuilt two heads already for Tilt’s P1 and P4 machines. “KLG Timber also has three logging trucks and shared ownership between myself and Eric,” says Parsons.
On the Cover:
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