By Paul MacDonald
On an ongoing basis, three generations of the Carter Family, Herb, Cal and Lee, are on site at part of the BC Institute of Technology (BCIT), but the work they are doing does not involve taking any classes—though they could certainly give classes on how to log.
Instead the trio, who make up the crew at C & H Forest Products in British Columbia’s Fraser Valley, are harvesting timber on BCIT’s woodlot in Maple Ridge, B.C.
Woodlot 0007 is Crown forest land that is managed by the BCIT Forest Society. The society has managed the land since 1985, and its mandate is to practice and demonstrate sustainable forest management on the woodlot, for the benefit of BCIT Resource Management students and the public at large.
At the 275-hectare woodlot, students take part in a variety of forest management operations including planning, vegetation inventory, wildlife inventory, block layout, and silviculture. And it’s one of the woodlots that C & H Forest Products, a family-owned and operated logging operation, harvests on a sustainable basis.
The C & H in the company’s name is for Cal and Herb (son and father). And they may need to soon add another letter, with the full-time addition of Cal’s son, Lee, to the logging crew. Lee’s skills definitely come in handy, both operating equipment, and being a Red Seal welder.
Lee represents the fourth generation of the Carter family to be in the forest industry. Herb’s father (Lee’s great-grandfather) started out horse logging in Saskatchewan, before moving the family to B.C. in the 1940s. Herb himself had an early start in the industry, doing falling.
Herb’s son, Cal, started out running dozer when he was still a youngster, before he was promoted by his Dad to the loader. Cal has been involved in industry for more than three decades, though he’s got a ways to go to match his Dad’s track record of being in the industry for more than 50 years.
In the work they have done in the Fraser Valley, Herb and Cal have developed an extensive knowledge of the region—and its forests. And they have carried out harvesting operations professionally, with safety and sustainability top of mind. Clearly, they take pride in the work they do.
C & H Forest Products is a modest-sized operation, with a handful of equipment—and that is just the way Cal and Herb like it. They have no interest in ramping up their equipment fleet, and having to compete with other loggers for what seems like an extremely limited number of experienced equipment operators in B.C.
Not only are B.C. logging contractors competing with each other for operators—they also have to compete with major mega construction projects in the province, such as the $40 billion pipeline and liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant at Kitimat, and the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline, from Alberta through to the Coast.
Most of the work now for C & H Forest Products is on woodlots in the Fraser Valley area, including their own woodlot, and BCIT’s woodlot.
Herb, who recently turned 80 and still gets out as needed to operate their John Deere 648 GIII skidder, started out working for the major forest companies on the Coast, and at one time had upwards of 10 men, and plenty of equipment, including cable yarders. Herb recalls it was tough finding good equipment guys back then, too.
“Even when we were doing a lot of work with yarding through the 1980s and 1990s, it was still hard to get good men. That was the biggest problem,” says Herb.
So, as the saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same—at least in terms of finding good, reliable hard-working people. Fortunately, all three generations of the Carter Family have a tremendous work ethic, that keeps them moving forward.
Prior to setting up C & H, Herb and his brother operated up and down the coast, doing falling work for the then-major companies, MacMillan Bloedel, Canfor, and Weldwood in the 1960s. “They were mostly good to work for, and there was plenty of work,” he says.
When Herb set up business in the Fraser Valley, he was operating almost the full year around Sumas Mountain. And deals were often done on a handshake. “It was a situation of when do you need the logs by?”
Herb notes that they invested some major money in equipment back then. But he is quick to add that although there were busy times, they were still very subject to sudden swings in the market. “You can be up and then the market can go south. It can be like a toss of the dice.”
And as all loggers know only too well, the payments meter on equipment continues to run, whether you are operating or not.
These days, C&H has a modest-size equipment line-up, and that helps to keep things manageable.
C & H has upgraded equipment, whenever they could. And they have been resourceful. They pretty much make use out of every piece of iron they have, and nothing is wasted.
C & H Forest Products now has only what it needs, equipment-wise, with their major machines being a Volvo 290B excavator, that they use for hoe chucking, a John Deere 2554 machine that does processing (equipped with a Keto head), a Tigercat L870 tilting buncher, a Volvo A25 rock truck, and the Deere 648 GIII skidder.
Pretty much all of their equipment was purchased used. The buncher has come in particularly handy. “We’ve had a harder time getting fallers as the wood has gotten smaller, and there has been less wood to harvest,” says Cal. The operation had a good equipment operator who showed Cal the ropes on the Tigercat. “He was great—he trained me on the buncher, and showed me all the tricks, so I now do the bunching. And it’s helped to be able to do the processing by machine, with the Deere/Keto combination. “Before we got the Deere, we were still limbing and processing by hand, and we were working like crazy to keep up,” explains Cal.
While their equipment has required some work, their used iron approach has been helpful at keeping their costs down. “We own everything we have,” says Cal. In total, he says they now have about 10 pieces of equipment. Not all of that equipment, some of it in their yard, is used all the time, he adds. But used equipment can sure come in handy—and the price can be right, at auctions.
“We do whatever we can to save money,” Cal adds. “You have to do that, to survive these days.”
It’s a solid business approach that works very well for C&H. “We’re going to carry on the way we are, keeping our equipment in good shape, and buying equipment when we can that has low operating hours, that will do the job for us.”
And since most of the equipment is older, it means less in the way of technology to go wrong.
They have a good supply of parts on hand to keep things moving, and try to do most of the maintenance work themselves; they hire a local heavy duty mechanic when it’s major work, like an engine rebuild or major hydraulics work.
“We look after our equipment—it’s important to spend the money on maintenance,” says Cal. “A major component can be the third of the value of a machine, so if you need a couple of major components replaced, your machine can be done.”
Their focus is on value, rather than volume, with the timber they harvest. “We’re fortunate in that where we work, the wood is good, with a lot of different grades. We specialize in peelers, pilings and poles.
“We do a lot of poles—they take time out of your day, and they can be hard to work with, but they are a high value commodity,” he notes.
The pole wood is handled carefully, from the woods on out. “Some of the 100-footers, they can be hard to get out of the bush,” explains Lee. “You might have to spin them around a bit when you are hoe chucking, but you want to keep them whole.
“They are valuable, so they are worth the extra effort,” he says.
In addition to hoe chucking, Lee also loads the logging trucks, and handles the logs carefully throughout.
Their Keto processing head also handles the logs carefully, helping to add value, and that’s crucial, says Cal.
“If a tree were to get hung up as it’s going through a head, the head can cut the fibre too deep, then it’s not a pole any more, it’s a sawlog,” notes Cal. “And it can lose three-quarters of its value right there.”
A lot of their wood goes to Andersen Pacific Forest Products, a specialty wood products mill in Maple Ridge, in the Fraser Valley.
C & H is dealing with fewer customers these days, a reflection of what has gone on in the industry. Land values alone in B.C.’s Lower Mainland and the Fraser Valley have done their share of setting things askew. Areas along the Fraser River that were once home to massive sawmills are now home to condominiums.
“It’s a vastly different industry—the land that a sawmill is on can be worth more than a mill that is running,” says Herb.
The major companies have moved out of the Fraser Valley region over the years. The players, and the business, have changed a lot, he says.
In addition to skidding, Herb also operates their dozer and grader, helping out building road, as required. They also used to have rock drills, to help out. “But now we hire a guy with his own drill to pop a few holes for us, when we need that,” says Herb.
Herb’s a big fan of the technology on equipment these days—at least to a point. “The computer systems are wonderful—when they are running, they are amazing. They are deadly accurate, and make a nice log.”
Herb has seen a lifetime of change, especially in terms of technology, since he started logging. “With grapple yarders, we had a tool box made up of a crescent wrench, a three-pound hammer, a pry bar—and a roll of haywire,” he says. Equipment was mechanical, rather than high tech, he notes, and could often be repaired quickly, cheaply—and with a little elbow grease. Getting a flashing red light on the dash of the equipment these days can mean some pretty expensive trouble.
The nature of the work has changed, too. Herb looks with wonder at the current crop of tethered steep slope equipment being used now, and their big prices.
Herb seems happy as a clam to be in seat of the skidder these days. He tried retiring at one point, and bought a motor home. “We did a lot of travelling,” he explains. “One time we were going through Oregon, coming back from Arizona.” A truckload of logs went by—and he decided to become un-retired. “So I went back into the bush—it’s in your blood.”
And proudly runs in the family, with son, Cal, and grandson, Lee.
On the Cover:
From mill loaders to trucks to logging equipment, it will all be featured at the upcoming Canada North Resources Expo, taking place May 24 to 25 in Prince George, B.C. Read all about the show, and who is going to be there, beginning on page 30 of this issue of Logging and Sawmilling Journal, the Official Show Guide (Cover photo of Tolko mill operation by Paul MacDonald).
Strategic sanitation logging—from the air
A targeted sanitation logging program—including heli-logging—of beetle-infected Douglas fir is underway in the B.C. Interior, and it looks like it’s having an impact on controlling the rate of spread of the beetle.
There is a heckuva large log salvage project going on in B.C., but it’s got nothing to do with beetle salvage or fire-salvage—this kind of salvage involves logging green merchantable timber as part of building the massive $10 billion Site C dam in northeastern B.C.
First Nations bridge building—with wildfire wood
A First Nations-owned company in the B.C. Interior, Cariboo Aboriginal Forest Enterprises, is building bridges—and soon will be building homes—with lumber they’re producing from wood burned in a 2017 wildfire.
Protecting a community (forestry) asset
The Williams Lake Community Forest in the B.C. Interior is working to both manage an expanding Douglas fir beetle infestation and put in place wildfire mitigation strategies to protect and enhance what has become a valued and well-used asset.
Pellet plant delivering polished performance
Bringing new manufacturing plants online can be a challenge, but the Smithers Pellet plant in the B.C. Interior is clicking right along, thanks to a team effort on its start-up in late-2018.
Jack of all trades logger
David Craig is truly a jack of all trades when it comes to equipment and logging, doing everything from timber harvesting to log clean-up at a lake for one of B.C’s largest dams.
Finding their logging niche…
Family-owned C&H Logging has found their logging niche in B.C.’s Fraser Valley, and these days three generations of the Carter Family are carrying on operations, with safety and sustainability top of mind.
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.
Official Show Guide — Canada North Resources Expo
As the Official Show Guide, Logging and Sawmilling Journal has the full scoop on the Canada North Resources Expo—coming up May 24 to 25 in Prince George, B.C.—from feature editorial to a site map to the full listing of exhibitors at this great resource industry show.
The Last Word
Columnist Jim Stirling asks the question: Will the forest policy review for the B.C. Interior yield a new vision for the forest industry?