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Equipment Upgrade 

Without a great deal of money and with no special connections, aboriginal contractor Ivan Lavoie from Manitoba has worked hard to upgrade his operation from one line skidder to a complete all mechanized harvesting system.By 

by John Dietz

At minus 35 degrees Celsius, it was too cold to linger outside. But Ivan Lavoie, 31, and his crew had the logging equipment greased, oiled, fueled and idling before dawn. It would be another 12hour day. Another 100 cords of pine and spruce would be shipped to the Pine Falls Paper Company, about 120 kilometres southwest of the logging site. "Ivan is one of their youngest contractors," says his father Clifford. "He bought his contract off another native guy that wanted to get rid of it. It's been a rough go, with lots of hard work. But we completed our ninth winter of contracting earlier this year." Clifford Lavoie is still involved with the operation, working in Ivan's now all mechanized crew. Ivan operates the feller buncher; Clifford runs the Hood slasher. The crew includes eight other men. Except for weekends, they all stay at Ivan's camp for the four-month harvest season. As a boy, Ivan learned to operate a chainsaw in the bush with his father. 

Another important skill came from his grandparents, who lived on a farm. "Grease and oil is cheaper than parts" was a saying that Ivan learned on the farm and he remembers it today. "My grandfather pounded that into me," he says. "Now it's just natural to grease and service the machines properly." That attitude, in Ivan's view, is key to what he's achieved to date and to what he'd like to continue to accomplish in the future. "There's lots of guys that want to work in this business but they'll never be successful because they don't have the proper training. The number one thing that kills most reserve operations is that they don't know how to do their planning and protective maintenance. They figure, you just put in fuel and go," Ivan says. "I'd like to train upcoming guys the way I learned from my grandfather. He was a real grease monkey." As a teenager, Ivan's first fulltime job was at the Pine Falls pulp mill. He and his father worked there together for three years. He got his on the job training in hydraulics operating three-man slashers in the mill yard.

 During those years, Clifford and Ivan bought their first skidder-a 1969 Timberjack 230D machine that they still use occasionally. Ivan learned to weld. He built his own version of the Rotolimb, for delimbing with the skidder. Soon after leaving the pulp mill, the father son team found work for Manigotogan Development Ltd. They purchased a Clark cable skidder and a slasher, hired Ivan's uncle and took over the community contract to supply cordwood. During those few months in 1988, Ivan was involved in road building, cutting, skidding, slashing and hauling. "It was the first year that Manigotogan ever made money," he says. More piecemeal work followed. In Berens River, Manitoba, a subcontractor from Channel Area Loggers hired them to slash 12,000 cords with his Tanguay 125 slasher in the winter of 198889. The Lavoie crew finished the assignment in 12 weeks. That fall, Ivan won his first "real" contract. Palliser Furniture of Winnipeg tendered for someone to supply poplar logs and pulp. 

Ivan Lavoie (above) with the company's most recent purchase, a John Deere 653E feller buncher with Koehring S547 hotsaw. Lavoie said the choice came down to two types of bunchers and that, in the end, he preferred the Deere engine, based on previous experience with Deere engines in his buncher and slasher. 

"I was their first contractor," says Ivan. "I worked for them for 18 months in the Bird River district near Lac du Bonnet. I had two skidders. We bought a Hood slasher for sorting and about six months after that we lost the contract." But shortly after, Lavoie had another assignment. Every slasher available was needed near Kenora, Ontario, for recovery from a major blowdown. The Lavoies stayed till the early winter of 1991. They'd been slashing 24 hours a day, seven days a week for six months. Home for Christmas, Ivan found the opportunity he'd been hoping for. Another local operator on the Fort Alexander Indian Reserve wanted to sell his contract with the Pine Falls pulp mill. "You don't buy the contract," Ivan explains. "You buy the guy's equipment. 

All he had was one skidder." It was a "Reserve" contract, an agreement between the mill and the reserve for the supply of a certain number of cords. New contracts are rarely given out and the waiting list is long. Ivan made the purchase, finished that contract with his cable skidders early in 1992 and just kept going. "We've had a contract ever since," he says. Lavoie Logging has maintained or increased its contract size with Pine Falls every year since 1992. Ivan won't say how big his contract is today, but it ranks as second among more than 20 logging contractors for the pulp mill. He supplies about 90 to 100 cords a day with one shift, during the four to five month harvest season. 

His company runs a day shift with a 10 man, all mechanized crew. It includes Ivan and a second operator for the buncher, Clifford on the Hood self-propelled slasher, one skidder operator, two rail delimber operators for daytime and a third delimber operator for a night shift. The company keeps three trucks operating, including a 1999 Ford Sterling truck and triaxle pulpwood trailer equipped with a Barko 45 picker. The trucks each make two loads a day to the mill. The contractor's first major piece of new equipment, purchased in 1995, was a John Deere 548E grapple skidder with an enclosed cab. Ivan traded in two older cable skidders for the new unit. It has made a big difference for the little company. "You can run that unit 24 hours a day. With line skidders, guys don't like to work at night. This way, one guy can easily skid as much as three line skidders," he says. Lavoie Logging took delivery of a new John Deere 653E feller buncher in January 1999. It replaced an older buncher equipped with a shear and 18inch sidepocket. Ivan purchased a Koehring S547 hotsaw, with a 20inch sidepocket, for the Deere. 


"You can accumulate more trees and make your bundles a lot bigger a lot quicker," he says. On a recent morning it was cutting from seven up to as many as 15 stems a minute. Volume was up by about 25 per cent over the shear. Most of the wood is six to eight inches in diameter and will produce four or five 8foot logs. For Ivan, it came down to a choice between two feller bunchers. He preferred the John Deere engine, based on previous "phenomenal" experience with Deere engines in his buncher and slasher. The dealer also offered a better trade-in for the old buncher and a price that was about $50,000 less than the competition. Ivan says he could justify purchasing the hotsaw, but not a processing head. "The work is mainly seasonal. You start in November and shut down in March. You don't have enough hours and enough cordage per hour to make the payments on a processing head for the year, and we can't extend the season." He tried a Fabtek processing head with a 643E on a rental purchase arrangement one season. 

Maximum production was three cords an hour, but the rental purchase arrangement was costing about $75 an hour, before fuel costs and wages. But he has also been planning ahead. By late 1998, there were strong indications that Pine Falls would be setting up a sawmill. When the mill expansion opens-possibly in 2002-Lavoie will be ready, with a hotsaw, to supply sawlogs. Meanwhile, he pays a higher operating cost for the hotsaw. A set of hotsaw teeth cost $500 or more and need to be replaced at least twice a month, while a $1,000 set of shears could serve for three seasons. Only two contractors in eastern Manitoba use rail delimbers. Lavoie Logging has operated a unit for five years, delimbing at the stump rather than at roadside. Their present delimber is a Komatsu PC200LC that's always parked in the cutting area rather than at roadside. Most contractors still delimb with the blade on a skidder. 

Manitoba regulations require contractors to distribute limbs in the bush. "They want it all spread out, back in the bush. It was more efficient for me to delimb in the bush, rather than at roadside and then try to haul it back," he says. "That's one reason we won an environmental award. We're doing it the way they want it." Pine Falls Paper Co issued its first Environmental Award in 1998 to Lavoie Logging, after introducing an audit system. "It was through our work habits," Ivan says. "The delimbing in the bush is what separated us from the other guys, and still does. It was nice to have the recognition." A year later, the First Nations contractor also earned the Pine Falls Safety Award. Planning is the number one priority for a good operation, Ivan says, followed by people skills. "If you've got good planning in your operation, a clean facility, men like to work for you. 

I've had one guy work for me for 10 years now. As long as the guys know what they're doing, and everything's planned ahead, everyone seems to work together." he says. "I walk my area, find out ahead of time where is the best place for our roads and skid trails. I do most of the Roadbuilding plus some road repairs. I make sure the guys are working. But I'll take over a job when a guy wants a day off and there's nobody else to fill in. It takes a lot of commitment and dedication to be successful." Like equipment, planning and people skills also involve protective maintenance. They don't need to take a lot of time, but they're critical to a successful operation. "It makes a big difference at the end of the line," Ivan says. "With protective maintenance, if you see something that's going to break, you fix it first. It's five minutes to repair something before it breaks. After it breaks, it can take five days." 

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