By George Fullerton
New Brunswick logger Jeff Cook is optimistic about his contracting business—and he has reason for the optimism.
Jeff is seeing a lot stronger demand for wood from mills. He is also very happy to have his son, Nick, fitting into the family business, and taking on operator and mechanical challenges.
Jeff says that an improvement in market demand for timber on both sides of the New Brunswick-Maine border has prompted him to invest in more mechanized equipment for his operation.
Over the past several years, he has invested in a mechanical harvester, a slasher and a couple of skidders. Jeff says straight up: “I simply would not be making those kinds of investments in the business without Nick being involved.”
Jeff shared that Nick is interested in the forest industry, and is certainly contributing to the success of the business.
The Cook family business is based in Bailey, just a few minutes outside of the town of St. Stephen. The town sits on the international border, in the southwest corner of New Brunswick.
Jeff has lived in the area all his life and has worked in the woods since he was a youth, initially with his father Morris. Morris Cook contracted with chainsaws and cable skidders, cutting stumpage on private woodlots and also on Georgia-Pacific operations, which fed their mills at Woodland, Maine, and McAdam in New Brunswick.
After Morris became ill in 1982, the skidders were sold and Jeff found a job driving truck for FM Carson, one of the major contractors in the region, with large harvesting, chipping and trucking operations.
After a time, Jeff climbed out of the truck and bought a Tree Farmer C5 cable skidder, and began stumpage contracting. Two years later, he bought a 1989 Western Star with a centre mount loader so he could move his wood to markets.
Jeff’s operation advanced from chainsaw felling and limbing in the woods, skidding with cable skidder and chainsaw bucking in the yard, to chainsaw felling, two skidders skidding full tree to road where delimbing was completed with a Denis 3000 delimber on a John Deere 200 carrier.
“One guy with a chainsaw could comfortably fell enough wood to occupy the two cable skidders,” he says. “The system consistently produced six loads per week. We were able to generate a respectable amount of wood with that system. But what a mess all that slash made at roadside. At the time, our only option to handle the slash was to bulldoze it a ways back into the cut. It was not attractive.”
Despite his reservation with the full tree system, Jeff continued with it until his son Nick returned from a sojourn to the western provinces, and they invested in a harvester.
Nick graduated from high school in 2014, and like lots of young New Brunswickers, headed west to work the oil industry as a roughneck.
After a period, he decided to head home, but on the way out answered an advertisement looking for forestry equipment operators. The company responded while he was at home. The company was interested in his application—but were confused that as an eighteen-year-old, he had referenced four years’ equipment operating experience. While Nick insisted that he had that experience, the interviewer was not convinced until he was passed on to Jeff, who confirmed that Nick had indeed operated delimbers and skidders and did some truck moving for significant hours, over the past four years.
The interview resulted in Nick climbing on another airplane and going to work on a right-of-way clearing project in Alberta.
After a period working in the western operation, Nick and Jeff began a conversation, discussing the idea of buying a harvester, and Nick returning home, joining the family business as the harvester operator.
The telephone conversation between father and son led to the purchase of a Case CX210 excavator conversion with a Quadco Ultimate 5300 head. The harvester was used with 15,000 hours on it, but generally in pretty good shape. When Nick arrived back home in New Brunswick, he immediately began to operate the harvester.
The Ultimate head is a fixed mount and a good system for producing tree length and tree section wood, for which the Cooks have a number of Maine-based sawmill and pulp mill markets.
Jeff likes the harvester, and that it leaves slash at the stump. “I really like seeing the trees delimbed in the woods. All the slash is left at the stump where those nutrients can feed the next crop of trees.”
The addition of a harvester led to an upgraded skidder, a Timberjack 450 grapple skidder, and subsequently another used skidder, this time a John Deere 648H grapple.
While the harvester worked especially well for long-length wood, there was still a need to slash a good portion of the daily production into logs and studwood for certain mills in both the U.S. and Canada.
A shopping trip to Paul Equipment in Balmoral, in the northwest corner of the province, secured a Serco 270 slasher.
The Cook’s also operate a 2007 Western Star hauling a Manac six-foot spread triaxle cluster forestry trailer. The trailer configuration allows them to haul maximum gross weight in Maine
The harvest operation also counts a Prentice 160 loader on a Kenworth tractor, for loading wood some distance from the slasher.
The Cook’s production target is eight loads per week, necessitating Jeff rising in the early a.m. hours to make deliveries before returning to woods operation to run the slasher, making another load, and sorting other products.
Large spruce stems are shipped tree length to Pleasant River Lumber in Dover-Foxcroft, Maine, a distance of 130 miles. Smaller spruce and balsam fir tree length (studwood) is hauled 150 miles to the Maibec sawmill in Ashland, Maine. Mixed hardwoods (tree sections) go to Woodland, Maine, about 30 miles from their home base. The Cooks also have a limited volume, two loads per week, of softwood pulp wood (tree length) that goes to Woodland Pulp.
Early in 2018, Pleasant River Lumber made a deal with Woodland Pulp to pile down tree length sawlogs in their yard, and efficiently transport backhaul after hardwood delivery. However, Jeff sees a better return to haul the load the extra miles directly to the Dover-Foxcroft mill.
Through much of 2018, the Cooks were operating on a 270 acre woodlot. The owner, Barry Gregory—in his own right a very astute forest manager—contracted them to carry out harvesting because the balsam fir, which was the largest species component, had become over-mature and was beginning to decline in a major way. Additionally, the hardwood component was rather low quality, with a high percentage of shorter lived intolerant species including white birch.
Gregory owns a number of woodlots in the region, and has been recognized by the York-Sunbury-Charlotte Forest Products Marketing Board for his intensive stand management on some of his woodlots, and on woodlots where he had contracted partial cut harvests.
In recent years, his ability to work in the woods has been compromised by a severe health condition. Despite this, Gregory is very engaged with woodlots, but limits his physical work.
“I am very concerned about climate change and the impact it is having on our forests,” he explained. “In our region around St. Stephen, we have seen annual mean temperatures rise by two degrees, and I am convinced it is having a severe detrimental effect on the health of the balsam fir in particular. The impact is distinct enough for me to reduce the balsam fir content, on all my woodlots.”
Gregory’s theory is supported by forestry researchers who predict the decline of balsam fir across New Brunswick, as the climate continues to warm.
Both Barry Gregory and Jeff Cook concur that a mechanical harvester is necessary to handle a large volume of relatively small diameter trees. They agree that contractors can’t afford to operate in small diameter wood with chainsaws in the current economic environment.
At the age of 22, Nick Cook is enthused by the opportunity to be in the woods, and be part of his family’s business.
“I guess I really like working in the woods,” he says. “When I was young, I went along with my father when he was hauling wood or on harvesting operations. I mostly operated skidder and delimber; I never had a lot of experience with chainsaws.
“Working in the woods is what I want to do, for now anyway,” adds Nick. “The days are long with hard hours, but with lots of challenges. There is something different going on every day. There is always something new to learn.
“The harvester is old, so there are things to fix,” he says. “We learn more about it every day. Our skidder operator, Gordon Stewart, and I work together to figure out problems. Together, we have learned a whole lot of mechanics and electronics over the past three years.”
Right now, the U.S. demand is good for all round wood products. “We can move everything we cut,” says Jeff. “Everyone complains about Trump, but we keep feeding those markets and their products are going into construction and other consumer products, so we have to allow Trump some credit for the strong economy.”
Jeff concluded by sharing that as the market demand remains strong, they are able to find woodlots, make deals for direct purchase or stumpage and market the wood. The Cooks plan to continue to grow their business based on good business and family values—now including a younger generation of the family, with Nick in the picture.
On the Cover:
Ben Hokum Lumber has completed a major upgrade at their sawmill, located at Killaloe, west of Ottawa. The mill directly employs more than 100 people and produces white pine, red pine and aspen lumber. With a view to improving efficiency, the company looked at various options to upgrade the entire milling operation—and decided the best strategy would be to replace the small logline with a ‘small to medium’ saw line. Read all about the details of the upgrade beginning on page 12 of this issue of LSJ.
B.C.s silviculture sector rising to the challenge...
B.C.’s forests—hit by beetles and two successive big wildfire seasons—are in need of rehabilitation, and the province’s silviculture sector is rising to the challenge, ramping up to meet the need for seedlings.
Ontario’s Manitou Forest Products has recently added to their mill production facilities with equipment that will help increase production, and create more jobs—and it’s been a game-changer for the company
Increasing production—and flexibility
A big capital investment by Ontario’s Ben Hokum Lumber will increase their lumber production—and the flexibility of the sawmill to meet the needs of its customers.
Things are cooking for New Brunswick logger
Bolstered by demand for wood from both sides of the border—and his son entering the business—New Brunswick’s Jeff Cook is optimistic about the industry, which has prompted him to carry out some equipment upgrades.
Site prep success
A project by an Alberta silviculture site prep contractor to mount a Swedish Bracke mounder on a John Deere skidder has met with success—with the equipment combo delivering solid results in the number of hectares prepared.
Included in this edition of The Edge, Canada’s leading publication on research in the forest industry, are stories from Alberta Innovates and Canadian Wood Fibre Centre (CWFC).
The Last Word
The B.C. forest industry is starting to look at, and carry out, commercial thinning, by necessity, notes Jim Stirling.