By George Fullerton
On cut-to-length operations, the contractor most often handles both the harvesting and forwarding of the wood, to ensure timber gets to roadside promptly so it can get to mills—and generate cash flow for contractors.
Relying on a separate forwarding contractor can sometimes upset the flow of wood when machines are down, operators are not on shift or wood on the ground is buried by freak snow storms or unexpected thaws, and other extreme weather events.
Harvesting contractors who rely on contracted forwarding have to build a deep trust relationship, in order to ensure the overall operation runs smoothly and timely. And, of course, the reciprocal of that practice is true as well: the forwarding contractor must rely on the harvesting side to have wood on the ground so that forwarders are productive, and cash flow is consistent and reliable.
While not an official business entity, Eric Boissonneault and Marcel Coutoure are a very productive and complimentary team.
Boissonneault owns three John Deere harvesters with Ponsse H8 heads and Coutoure operates two Ponsse Elephant King forwarders, in the Abitibi-Témiscaminque region in northwestern Quebec. The pair have been operating as a team, but maintaining separate businesses, for more than 10 years.
While the forest industry is well established in the region now, development of the Abitibi-Témiscaminque region accelerated in the 1930s with the discovery of gold. And as mineral exploitation got underway, agricultural and forest industries followed.
The forest wood basket is dominated by spruce-pine-fir and aspen, with scattered white birch. While the region is in northern latitudes, (bumping up against James Bay and the northern Ontario border), tree growth is generous. For example, it’s common to see aspen achieving butt diameters in excess of 20 inches.
The terrain is generally flat, and the region is intersected by roads that connect a sparse rural population with mining and forest operations, and the main population centres of Val-d’Or, Amos and Rouyn-Noranda.
The region hosts a large number of large scale sawmills, as well as panelboard and other manufactured wood industries. The main population centres have a wide variety of high tech businesses, which provide mechanical and other support to the heavy industries that drive the local economy.
Boissonneault and Coutoure are young, ambitious and dedicated entrepreneurs who embrace new technologies and organize a talented crew of operators—and are productive harvesting contractors.
Typically, Boissonneault with his three harvesters and Coutoure with his two forwarders work on the same blocks. Each operation maintains two remote camp trailers for their crews, when they are on regular operations. Through the harvest season, logging operations will take their crews up to three or four hours from their homes.
Both Boissonneault and Couture each own two, 8 x 32 foot trailers to house operators. Operators work a twelve-hour day shift, 4 a.m.to 4 p.m., for two weeks, and then rotate to two weeks on night shift, 4 p.m. to 4 a.m.
Even in the spring, when Boissonneault assigns harvesters individually on smaller blocks close to his base in Val-d’Or, a Coutoure forwarder will land on the operation to move the wood to roadside.
Through the spring mud season, the operators become daily commuters to work sites, rather than living in remote camps.
The initial visit to the Boissonneault-Coutoure operation began with meeting the two men at the end of a muddy road, and, they shared their ATV’s to bring this writer and Trionex sales rep Samuel Dennis-LaRocque into the work site.
Trionex is a well-established machine and fabrication shop based in Amos, Quebec which in recent years has become a sub-dealer for Ponsse dealer Hydromec, which is based in Lac St. Jean.
Boissoneault’s John Deere 953 was harvesting a mature aspen stand which shadowed a spruce-fir understory. The largest aspen easily exceeded 20 inch at the butt, and the Deere—with an H8 Ponsse head—easily managed the big stems, occasionally employing the top saw to handle troublesome limbs or top the final block from the stem.
The timber supplied by this particular harvesting/forwarder operation includes aspen going to Forex LVL in Amos and Uniboard Val-d’Or, while the softwood was directed to Scierie Landrienne in Landrienne.
Boissonneault pointed out that the large diameter aspen on harvest operations is why he continues to rely on big John Deere tracked harvesters and the H8 heads. His harvester team consists of a 903, a 953 and 2145 Deere models.
“The harvesters have great stability for operating in the large trees,” he explained. “We also see up to six feet of snow in the winter and the track harvesters can move through it very well.”
Boissonneault added that in just about every type of snow condition, his harvesters continue to operate effectively, while it is not uncommon for the forwarders to struggle for traction in bad snow, even as they work on the trail created by the harvesters.
Prior to purchasing the H8 heads, Boissonneault had began his association with Ponsse dealer Trionex through the purchase of a couple of used LogMax 7000 heads.
That connection to Trionex made him acutely aware of the Ponsse brand and Trionex’s commitment to customer service. The Trionex shop in Amos is only 50 kilometres from Boissonneault’s home in Barrute, which provides an important logistic advantage.
Eventually, he tested an H8 head with top saw on his harvester and the test turned into a deal to purchase the head. Impressed with the performance of the H8, Boissonneault then made a deal to purchase a Ponsse H7 HD. However, the H7 did not meet the performance marks of the H8, and as a consequence, the H7 was traded in on a new H8. Still later, Boissonneault made a deal on a third H8, and equipped all three John Deere harvesters with H8 heads.
Boissonneault allowed that he considers the Ponsse H8 head to be very well designed—it comfortably handles the large trees he encounters, and still has speed to quickly and accurately handle small diameter trees.
He added that having the same model heads on his Deere harvesters rationalizes his parts inventories.
“And I’m convinced that Ponsse provides more reliability and performance than other manufacturers,” he says. “And the parts and service provided by Trionex makes Ponsse the best choice of harvesting head for my operation.”
Marcel Coutoure lives in Amos, and owns a service shop nearby in La Sarre. His career in harvesting got underway in 1989 when he began full time employment in his father’s contract forwarding operation.
In 2002, Coutoure bought out his father and continued forwarding. From 2007 to 2012, he added two harvesters to the operation and increased that eventually to four forwarders, working them primarily in northern Ontario.
Coutoure established his relationship with Ponsse when he traded in a John Deere 1410 forwarder to Trionex for a Ponsse Elephant King forwarder in 2016.
Coutoure was impressed with the service that Trionex provided, and he added a second Elephant King machine in 2018.
Coutoure points out that the reliability of the Elephant King has made him a committed Ponsse customer. He also notes the large comfortable cab and good visibility make the machine great to work with.
“The cab is very roomy and comfortable and it lets me bring my children to the woods, so they can see how we work,” says Coutoure.
Taking a ride in the cab with Coutoure in the operator’s seat soon shows his competence as an operator. The big double-bogie 20 tonne machine smooths out the travelling, and with Coutoure’s skills, the loads are piled on quickly. His loading speed also shares a good deal of credit with the harvester operator, who puts the wood in neat, separate product piles.
Coutoure’s Elephant Kings are equipped with K100 cranes and Hultdins SuperGrip 360 grapples. The forwarders are equipped with a back rack, custom fabricated by Hydromec.
Coutoure explained the back rack is especially useful when loading slippery (loose bark) aspen. He says that operators can easily align the back pile of eight-foot wood against the back rack, and load very rapidly. When they get to roadside to unload, the back piles are still aligned, allowing for rapid handling.
Coutoure operates with Olofsfors tracks on the double bogie Elephant Kings, all year round.
He said that because they may see operations where they are forwarding up to 2,000 feet, the 20 tonne payload ensures there is a good load to compensate for the long travel distance.
While a harvester contractor and forwarder contractor have to develop a deep trust arrangement, each of them also have to ensure they have a solid business relationship with the service and repair suppliers. They need to have the confidence that providers have productive technology and back-up for prompt service and parts supplies.
Both Boissonneault and Coutoure have built reliable relationships with a variety of suppliers in their community. One of their most important supporting businesses is Trionex, which provides a machine shop/hydraulic service in addition to supplying Ponsse forestry products.
Trionex, based in Amos, was founded by Michel Drapeau and a couple of partners in 1976. It was originally established as a hydraulic and machine shop, serving the mining, and milling industries.
At the beginning, they served the mining industries in northwest Quebec and northwest Ontario. Trionex provided sales and service for hydraulics, pneumatics as well as mechanical and machining service. As time went on, their expertise also supported forestry and manufacturing industries.
Trionex became a sub-dealer for Hydromec, the Quebec Ponsse dealer, in 2013. Their large shop employs certified welders and welding inspectors, CNC technicians, and an engineer, in addition to administration and sales staff.
As well as employing well-trained service and repair technicians, Trionex also offers rental bay space to contractors who wish to handle their own mechanical work.
Samuel Dennis-LaRocque is a Design and Manufacturing Engineer with Trionex, and dedicates a good deal of his energies to representing Ponsse to clients.
“Since we have become a Ponsse dealer in western Quebec, contractors have embraced the Ponsse technology, and we sell machines very quickly,” he says.
Dennis-LaRocque says that at times, it’s not unusual for Trionex not to have a Ponsse machine on their premises—customers are looking for the machines, and they sell quickly. He explained that they tried very hard to keep a new harvester head on display inside their front door, but the heads sold very soon after arriving. Trionex compromised by displaying a 2004 H73 Ponsse head, one of the very first Ponsse heads to come to Quebec. “The harvesting head has many thousands of hours on it and it still looks pretty good,” Dennis-LaRocque explained. “It serves our purposes well, representing the engineering and performance expertise that Ponsse provides to its customers.”
On the Cover:
The forest industry, from equipment dealers to loggers to sawmills, have new protocols to deal with related to COVID-19. With the forest industry having been declared an essential industry, loggers continue to provide mills with much-needed timber at a time when lumber is in high demand, hitting record prices. In this issue of Logging and Sawmilling Journal, we take a look at how equipment dealers are making sure their customers, the loggers, get the service they need safely, and efficiently. (Cover photo courtesy of Lusted Logging, Cawston, B.C.)
Traction for Yukon’s forest industry
The Yukon Territory’s forest industry is getting some traction these days thanks to a government plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, giving a push to the move to wood-based biomass heat and energy production.
Big-time B.C. added value—with Mass Timber
A new $35 million production facility is nearing completion in B.C.’s West Kootenay region, a project that will take family-owned Kalesnikoff Lumber into a brand new—and exciting—market: Mass Timber.
Quebec’s Fortin Family: a forestry legacy
Although there are now multiple generations of the Fortin Family involved in the family business—Y.P.C. Contracting—company founder Paul-Henri Fortin is still engaged in the operation, at the age of 78.
Cutting for canoes …
Gerard Ostroskie’s small sawmill operation in Ontario has a strong focus on increasing grade and value, and has developed an interesting niche market: producing cedar cuts specifically for canoe builders.
Team logging approach pays off
The harvesting/forwarding team approach of Eric Boissonneault and Marcel Coutoure works very well, resulting in a very productive flow of wood in Quebec’s Abitibi-Témiscaminque region—and backed up by solid equipment support.
Equipment dealers dealing with COVID-19
It’s shaping up to be a challenging year for the forest industry, with the COVID-19 situation affecting all sectors, from the sawmills through to the forest, and logging operations. We asked several major equipment dealers how they are working with the current COVID-19 situation—and what they have in the works for new logging equipment for loggers.
Included in this edition of The Edge, Canada’s leading publication on research in the forest industry, are stories the from Canadian Wood Fibre Centre (CWFC) and FPInnovations.
The Last Word
The forest industry has addressed systemic racism for decades with some success, but more work is needed, says Tony Kryzanowski.