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November 2005  - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal



KEEPING Harvesting Happening

BC logging contractor Gary Collins was dealing with a lot of muddy ground this past summer, but keeping the harvesting process happening is an experienced crew who have nailed the operation of their equipment, even if it means operating the iron in the equivalent of loonshit.

By Jim Stirling

Gary Collins parked his pick-up truck off the logging road and poured himself another coffee. Alongside, an unloaded logging truck was trying to make a mild grade to a curve from a dead stop. Its wheels struggled for traction in the rainslicked mud. The best reportable description of the ground was loonshit. And it was an all too common occurrence around the Quesnel region of the British Columbia Interior during the summer that wasn’t of ‘05. The problem with constantly muddy ground for logging contractors like Collins, of course, is its impact on getting the job done. It slows things down: cycle times, production, energy levels. And it comes at a time for the log harvesting sector when costs are higher, margins tighter and rates are lower. At least the wet weather helps reduce the wildfire risk in a forest already devastated by the mountain pine beetle epidemic. Putting the best face to circumstances over which you have no control and developing methods to mitigate the situations created are traits born of experience and necessity.

Gary Collins (right) has a deceptively simple attitude towards purchasing logging equipment: “It depends on how we’re getting treated by the dealer.”

Gary Collins Logging harvests about 200,000 cubic metres annually for West Fraser Timber Co Ltd. Collins was a Weldwood of Canada contractor for 15 years until its recent acquisition by West Fraser. He runs a highly mechanized, cutto- length operation involving falling, processing in the bush and forwarding to roadside for loading and truck hauling. The equipment he marshals today represents a quantum leap from the day in 1968 when Collins moved to Quesnel from the southern Cariboo to drive a logging truck for his dad, Ray. Parking the truck, he bought a used Clark 666 line skidder in 1971 for $9,500. He spent a couple of years sub-contracting with it. That was followed by a Cat and a loader. And that has led him, oft times circuitously, to the soggy summer of 2005 and a 230 hectare chunk of red and needle-less lodgepole pine trees northwest of Quesnel. About 90 per cent of the timber was lodgepole pine, running a piece size of 0.2 to 0.3 cubic metres/stem. The balance was Douglas fir.

Two bunchers, a Timbco 425 and a Valmet 455 equipped with 22-inch Quadco heads, handled the falling. Collins says the logs aren’t bunched on the ground but rather laid in rows with butts close together and trees straight to facilitate processing.

Valmet machine operator, Richard Brown, has the process down to a rhythmic art form. “We call him King Richard around here,” says Collins. The 360 degree rotation of the Quadco head enhances the falling procedure by reducing machine movements, he adds. Collins uses dangler style processing heads. He’s gone to four Link-Belt carriers, two fitted with LogMax 9000 processing heads and the others with LogMax 7000 units.

Two Rottne Rapid forwarders transport the processed wood to roadside for attention from either a Link-Belt 2900 Logmaster butt ‘n top or a larger 4300 model with about 30 per cent more grapple capacity. Collins also runs 10 logging trucks, primarily Kenworths. He bought out three trucks from his dad a few years ago.

Gary Collins Logging builds all its claim roads, about 10 kilometres in the first three quarters of 2005. Average amounts depend on the mills’ requirements. Performing the roadbuilding tasks are two Cat D7s and a Link-Belt excavator with a hoe chucking blade. Collins’ attitude toward purchasing logging equipment is deceptively simple: “It depends on how we’re getting treated.” It speaks volumes, therefore, that he’s been dealing with the Parker Pacific Inland Kenworth dealer in Quesnel for 30 years. Collins tries to keep the same operators on each machine. When the equipment runs 24/7, as it was at this site, that means aiming for compatibility of machine handling techniques between the am and pm operators, he explains.

Once the logs are at roadside, they are handled by either a Link-Belt 2900 Logmaster butt ‘n top loader or a larger 4300 model with about 30 per cent more grapple capacity.

Regular servicing of equipment occurs at shift changes as required. Some maintenance
work has to wait until weekends. Collins says the company’s mechanic maintains a detailed log on all the machines and the company has a large and fully equipped shop in Quesnel.

Detailed roadside sorting of logs is a fact of operating life for interior BC logging contractors. At this operation, there were three sorts in Douglas fir plus another for 24-inch diameter and better, plus at least another six in whitewood.

Typically, West Fraser’s preferred lengths are 16 foot. But in the postappurtenancy days of the BC Interior, where logs no longer necessarily go to the nearest sawmill for processing, the log profile requirements change regularly. For example, West Fraser was trading logs from the Collins operation to a Canfor sawmill which had its own log specifications. It keeps everyone on their toes, but the process also takes time.

Collins has assembled a solid core of experienced machine operators. Phil Watt has been working with Collins Logging for 19 years while Kary Phillips, Ray Watts and Bill Webster have all chalked up 18 years with the company.

One of the younger members of the crew is Danny Watts, Ray’s son. He’s been around logging equipment and learned how to operate it from his dad.

Two Rottne Rapid forwarders move processed wood to roadside for Gary Collins Logging. The company harvests about 200,000 cubic metres annually for West Fraser Timber.

Danny is a proud owner of a new Freightliner logging truck that rides better than a pick-up. He’s 27 years old, with a wife and a couple of young children. But he’s the only one of his graduating class to be working in the logging sector. And we’re talking about Quesnel, a forestryreliant city. Danny says a lot of his buddies think he’s crazy, working long, long hours under frequently difficult and dangerous conditions. So does he, at times. But he says he enjoys the work and the lifestyle that goes with it. But as
Danny’s peers indicate, it’s a moot point from where the loggers of the future will be recruited. “There’s not the people out there. There’s a shortage of every operator there is,” confirms Collins. And if the wood’s going to keep moving, it’s a problem for the entire industry to address—and soon.


Logging contractor Gary Collins rescues local hockey team

One might be excused for believing that running a successful log contracting business is sufficiently demanding of time and money. After all, days still come in 24 hour packages. But Gary Collins and his wife, Kit, also made a priceless gift to their community by rescuing and resuscitating the local junior hockey team.

The Quesnel Millionaires, now a British Columbia Hockey League franchise, was in deep trouble. During a 12-year tenure at the Mill’s helm, the Collins’ were key to putting the not-for-profit society run team back on its financial feet. They galvanized the help of enthusiastic volunteers, sponsors and supporters and resurrected entertaining junior hockey into Quesnel’s sporting culture. Kit’s passage from volunteer mum to team president happened almost by default.

Gary says their son, Mike, a player with the Mills, was involved in a playoff game in Fort St John. Gary figured to go up on the team bus and cheer the boys on for a couple of games.

“While getting ready at the rink, some of the guys came back into the dressing room. They’d been sent off the ice because they didn’t have hockey sticks. I went out to Canadian Tire and bought a bunch of sticks.” That gesture was the first of hundreds made to bail the team out. Pressures and constraints on the logging business side have forced the Collins to re-assess their involvement with the Millionaires. And, as Gary notes, after 12 years it’s someone else’s turn to operate the team’s daily business. But, the Collins’ still own the franchise.


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