By George Fullerton
One of the highlights of the Canadian Woodlands Forum (CWF)Spring Meeting is the selection of the Outstanding Logging Contractor of the Year. The CWF has been recognizing an outstanding contractor since 2000.
Peter Robichaud, Executive Director of the CWF, was delighted to have some nine nominations for the 2018 Contractor of the Year. New Brunswick’s Jack McMillan, owner and manager of Guthrie Enterprises, took away the award this year, rising to the top through the extensive evaluation process.
The award is open to any contractor harvesting, handling, processing or forwarding more than 5,000 metres of wood to roadside. Nominations are evaluated and judged by a team of forest industry reps and CWF personnel. The winner receives an engraved plaque, prizes, a membership to CWF—and a brand new peavey.
Guthrie Enterprises operates two flail chippers and one tub grinder, contracted to J.D. Irving Woodlands, and works primarily in the Sussex District, although their machines can get assigned, from time to time, to other districts in New Brunswick or on special projects in Nova Scotia.
McMillan was a successful owner-operator hauling petroleum and chemical products for RST Transport when his son, Steven, fresh out of high school, expressed interest in driving truck. In 1996, McMillan put a driver on his RST truck and bought a logging tractor trailer with a centre mount loader, and began double shifting with his son.
The log trucking soon expanded to three tractor trailers, each with centre mount loaders, hauling for J.D. Irving. When J.D. Irving suggested that he might be interested in becoming a forwarder contractor, McMillan took on the challenge in 1998, purchasing a Valmet forwarder.
With his success in trucking and forwarding, Irving soon came forward with another proposal for McMillan to consider: becoming a chip contractor. In 2001, he gained financing for a new Morbark 2755 flail chipper and five tractor trailer chip vans.
“Operating a chipper was an entirely new experience for me,” says McMillan. “I hired a couple of crews and we started chipping. We met—and overcame—a lot of challenges.
“We spent a lot of long hours on the chipper and we learned what breaks, and how to fix it. We learned how to operate the chipper to make both quality and production.”
Encouraged with their success with the chipper, McMillan added a second Morbark 2755 flail chipper in 2004.
With the addition of the second chipper and a new dispatch system for chip trucks, he decided to get out of the trucking side in 2007, and focus on chipping alone.
McMillan came to the realization that he required exceptional machine shop services and dedicated mechanical support. This requirement eventually led to purchasing J&J Machine Shop in 2005.
When it came to staffing J&J, he looked over his chipper crew and was happy to have his brother, Mike, and Richard Blizzard agree to work in the shop, and also provide mobile service to the chipper.
The machine shop came with a complete assembly of machining equipment, to which McMillan added hydraulic hose inventory and tools, and knife grinding equipment. J&J Machine Shop also provides both shop and mobile service to other contractors, undertaking any repair or rebuild challenge. The machine shop also provides services to sawmills, agriculture and other industries.
Along the way, McMillan encouraged his son Steven to become an owner-operator, and sold him his first truck in 2008.
“I suggested that if he was going to be in the trucking business, then he might as well own it,” he says.
Steven possesses an entrepreneurial spirit, and has since greatly expanded, to 17 trucks, and a CBI horizontal grinder, under the business name MCM Bio.
In 2009, McMillan added a tub grinder to his own operation.
“I found a deal on a Morbark grinder with 250 hours on it,” he explained. “I thought I might get into grinding and making compost. The grinder would be complimentary to the chippers, cleaning up the debris and material left over in the wood yards and around the chipper pads.”
McMillan’s Morbark equipment has been purchased from the Cardinal Equipment branch in Dieppe, New Brunswick.
As it turned out, J.D. Irving had a similar idea, and they contracted Guthrie Enterprises to grind debris around yards and mills for biomass, to supply the Irving Pulp and Paper mill in Saint John.
The tub grinder has also been assigned to grind bark from Irving mills, and the material is incorporated into a landscaping compost product.
“The grinder works very well and makes a uniform product,” said McMillan.
Since the grinder has gone to work, skidders have been used to push debris and bark piles to within reach of the grinder’s loader. McMillan explained he had made inquires to a number of equipment dealers to source an excavator equipped with a root rake and thumb to replace the skidder’s task.
“When we push with the skidders, sometimes we roll up rocks into the debris,” he says. “The grinder does not like rocks at all. So we figure an excavator can mine out the piles and feed the grinder as well. The grinder operates by remote control, so it will work from the excavator cab as well as it does from the grinder’s cab. The excavator operator has a good view of the root rake and can avoid the rocks.”
In 2017, McMillan added a processor: a Cat 320 with LogMax head.
Explaining his rationale for the processor, McMillan said: “It allows them to high grade saw material out of the full tree wood headed to the chippers. If we own the machine, we can count on it working when we need it. We don’t have to rely on another contractor. We know the wood is processed as required and it smoothes out our operation.”
Guthrie Enterprises’ grapple skidder fleet to feed the chippers and grinder consists of three 545 Cats, along with a 555 Cat, a Tigercat 630 and a Morgan six-wheel drive SX 706 machine.
“Building a good team is critical to our success,” explains McMillan, talking about the overall operation. “I have structured a bonus pay system based on production, safety, and quality, which can provide a $6 per hour bonus for my operators. In order for the team to make the bonus, we have to meet certain production and quality goals. To meet those goals everyone has to be focused and working hard.
“That means at shift change, the crew makes sure that the chipper has been maintained and serviced properly, so the next crew can fill the next truck that lands in the yard. For example, that means there are sharp knives and the flail chains are serviceable. That may mean that an operator might stay with the next crew for an extra hour to ensure the chipper is ready to produce.” He’s happy to pay for that extra hour if it helps achieve the production and quality they need.
“I can also use the bonus system to penalize an individual employee if, for example, an operator is out of the cab without a safety vest or hard hat. I can withhold the safety portion of their potential bonus.
“I interview applicants and I get a pretty good idea if they will fit in on a woods operation, and if they have some of the basic skills that we can build on to help them fit in and be productive,” he says.
When McMillan starts out a new guy, he will put him on day shift for the first week. The new employee will be expected to be on site with the chipper, initially just watching, staying safe and helping the operator or skidder operator when they need a hand.
“If he seems to have potential, in the second week he will ‘play’ with a skidder when they are waiting for a truck, for example,” explained McMillan. “They will continue to help out with service and repairs. Eventually, if they seem to have the talents for the job, they will fit into the production work on a skidder.”
All new hires to Guthrie Enterprises have a 90 day probationary period.
McMillan encourages all operators to gain experience in every aspect of the operation. He contends that working at a variety of tasks avoids monotony and boredom, which can impact production and, possibly, safety. Operator flexibility also helps ensure there is a qualified operator to fill a seat when another operator is off work for a shift.
“I want my operators to be able to run every piece of equipment, if they are comfortable with it. Most guys want to switch around, but then there are a few guys who only want to sit in one seat, and that is ok, too. Changing seats is refreshing for most people working on long shifts.
“I have had—and still have—exceptional team players who have helped make us successful. But when an operator expresses a desire to move on to a new position or challenge, I understand that and encourage them to take on the opportunity.”
A number of his top employees have gone on to become harvest and trucking contractors, and most of them have been very successful
Safety is always front and centre for Guthrie Enterprises. Spring shutdown provides the opportunity for training and safety meetings. All employees attend and gain SFI-certified training in logging practices, safety and first aid. McMillan ensures that operating procedures and safety alerts are posted in the service trucks, and at headquarters.
McMillan has incorporated a number of innovations into the flail chippers, and has co-opted manufacturers to produce some of his ideas.
He recognized that flail chains were wearing out at the end of the oval links, while the rest of the link had experienced hardly any wear. This observation led McMillan to suggest to Peerless that round links would provide better wear characteristics. MacMillan conceded that when he got the round link chains, it was not a complete success because the flail drum was designed for oval link chain, and the round links had seating issues. In an effort to utilize round link chains, McMillan lobbied Morbark to produce a flail drum which would better accommodate round link chain. Eventually, he got a new flail drum from Morbark. The result has been a 30 per cent increase in chain and drum life, and a bark content reduction of one per cent, overall.
McMillan was also one of the first to add grapple saws to the flail chipper loader.
“I don’t know how contractors make production targets without a grapple saw,” he says. “My operators can remedy wide crowns and crotches with the grapple saw and they can also shorten up severely crooked stems, so they will feed into and process in the chipper. In my mind, a grapple saw is a critical part of a flail chipper.”
McMillan’s insight and experience with chippers has also gained him employment as a consultant to other chipper contractors who are experiencing exceptional challenges in their operations.
And he’s glad to help out, though it takes extra time on his part.
“Over the years, I guess I have been late for supper a few times. But overall it has been pretty good fun.”
On the Cover:
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The numbers are revealing: the spruce bark beetle outbreak in the B.C. Interior has been growing at an alarming rate—and it’s gaining momentum.
Kiwi equipment cuts steep slope logging costs
The New Zealand-produced—and new to B.C.—Harvestline mobile cable yarder is proving to be a good solution to accessing extreme steep slope timber in the province’s tough geography.
Getting an edge on steep slope skidding
B.C. logger Creole Dufor is gaining an edge on skidding on steep slopes with help from the Timbermax quick-attach winch-assist unit.
Forest pays dividends—to the town
The B.C. town of Powell River has seen big-time benefits from its community forest, with a hot log market meaning significant investments in community projects—and work being created for local contractors.
Grinding it out is a team effort
The Canadian Woodlands Forum’s Outstanding Logging Contractor of the Year—New Brunswick’s Jack McMillan—started out in trucking, but now runs a major chipping and grinding operation, with a strong focus on employees working as a team.
Opening the door to further growth
An investment in a new cut line, featuring high performance scanning technology, is helping Quebec’s Milette Doors meet increasing demand for its products throughout North America.
Achieving contractor sustainability is just going to be plain tough
B.C. logging contractors are continuing to push for a viable business sustainability model, but there is some tough work ahead to achieve that goal.
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 and FPInnovations.
The Last Word
New logging technologies are good for both loggers—and the environment, says Tony Kryzanowski.