It’s really all about timing.
Jordie Wiens is gambling that his reading of today’s forest industry will strike a chord of potential with forest companies and logging contractors in British Columbia. He’s introducing a small—but proven—forwarder and a harvesting head honed by experience into the B.C. market, a forum traditionally steeped with the doctrine that big machines are the best machines.
But with all that’s changed in the industry—and continues to do so—Wiens reckons the niche is growing for harvesting machines designed for the management of younger forest stands through techniques like thinning, selective harvesting and wildfire mitigation strategies. He is hoping his company, Westlake Contracting Ltd, can provide some new solutions for loggers from the company’s base at Tappen, near Salmon Arm, in B.C.’s southern interior. The machines are an Alstor 840 Pro forwarder from Sweden and a Kesla 16RH harvester head pioneered in Finland.
The forest industry has always been part of Wiens’ family culture. For example, his grandfather and other relatives parlayed Blue Mountain Sawmills near Vanderhoof in central B.C. into what is today Canfor’s Plateau Mills Division.
Wiens was about 12-years-old when he was allowed his own chain saw. A few years later, he’d graduated into running his own business as a self-employed truck logger. The first logging truck he owned was a 1989 Peterbilt with a tri-axle trailer. He had a regular job for the truck to begin with, but earned extra revenue by hauling for other contractors. “You have to squeeze money out of logging. It doesn’t come easy,” he quickly learned.
Wiens followed the work opportunities into the Cariboo region of B.C., often working for private landowners and gradually increasing the number of logging trucks he owned along the way.
“Then along came the pine beetle and that created a whole lot of changes,” he remembers.
The major change for Wiens was propelling him further into the world of the larger scale logging contractor.
It was tough to acquire quota until he joined forces to create a joint venture. The agreement was forged with Rahn Bros Logging Ltd and Eagle Creek Logging. Together as Terra Timber Holdings Inc., the joint venture partners acquired two forest licences to log for West Fraser Timber in 100 Mile House, B.C. After the partners acquired a 200,000 cubic metre replaceable contract, he says, they were off and logging.
“In our biggest year, we logged about 365,000 cubic metres.”
Everything was ticking along well for Wiens until 2015 when fate intervened. It happened while Wiens was doing something else he enjoyed. “I’ve always loved to fly. One day I was flying my biplane when I guess I zigged instead of zagged.” Wiens plane hit the ground at high speed.
Much of the next two years was spent in recovery mode. The period extended into “playing Mr. Mom” and keeping the entrepreneurial spark glowing. This involved running a liquor store, operating a gas station and car wash, and becoming a landlord.
But fate had another trick up its sleeve for Wiens. It came innocuously enough in the form of a video. It featured small forest harvesting machines with a range of capabilities outstripping their size. Wiens was intrigued by the possibilities presented by the video. He ended up visiting Scandinavia to learn more. He returned to B.C. with the Alstor forwarder and the Kesla head to match the direction forestry here is taking today.
“After extended research and planning, an idea was devised to use new, more specialized equipment to fill a niche in the province of British Columbia between an arborist and a large scale logging company,” outlines Wiens. The machines can be used to thin stands on private land and in commercial forests. Wiens adds that the machines improve the aesthetics, and reduce forest fire hazards. “The machines help create healthier forests and create revenue,” he adds.
The Alstor 840 Pro is a combination forwarder/harvester and is the result of more than 25 years of development and experience in Swedish forests and in other countries. One of the appealing features of the Alstor 840 for Wiens is the machine’s versatility. He says the machine is fuel efficient and well suited to thinning applications on a variety of terrains.
“It has good stability and the 2.6 ton machine can pack more than three tons.” Wiens likes the fact that the Alstor exerts very low ground pressure while working. Its manoeuvrability makes it a good fit in the often tight operating quarters of thinning assignments. Wiens says many of the stands the forwarder will be working in are in the 45-year-old class, where the machine’s ability for not having to operate in straight lines is an added benefit.
The Alstor’s size is also an advantage. “One of the biggest advantages is its mobility. No lowbeds are needed to move it around.” Frequently, thinning sites are small in size and geographically scattered.
The Alstor 840 has a hydrostatic transmission and lockable differentials to help it work more efficiently. And Wiens reports the 840 was maintaining its productivity in more than two-feet of snow.
Operator training is important to getting the best availability and production from small equipment like the Alstor, reminds Wiens. “Operators have to understand it’s a different machine,” he says and one requiring a corresponding approach to operating it successfully.
The second Scandinavian-developed log harvesting piece of equipment Wiens is introducing is the Kesla 16RH harvesting head. It has four delimbing knives, a multi-stem accumulating ability and weighs about 445 kilograms. Wiens says the head comes with a very accurate measuring system he describes as “state of the art.”
Kesla Oy was established in Finland in 1960 and its forest equipment lines also include cranes and grapples. It has developed its heads with the help of operators in the field.
Wiens has developed his own carrier for the Kesla head. He’s modified a Link-Belt 75 excavator including the additions of catwalks and guarding. The Link-Belt/Kesla head combination has worked out fine, he reports.
Wiens is well aware having an efficient parts and service back-up support capability is vital to the successful launching of new equipment into the market. Alstor and Kesla are being represented by Axis Forestry Inc., in Kamloops, B.C. Wiens and Axis are building up an inventory of parts they feel might be most in demand. Axis Forestry has also fitted the Kesla head with a Cypress Gen 6.0 control system. “In my opinion, it is head and shoulders above anything else in the industry and will soon become the new standard,” Wiens predicts.
Wiens says this new-equipment-to-B.C. could also be beneficial in creating additional jobs. He believes the industry can create twice as many jobs with the same amount of fibre in certain stands—compared to equipment normally used in the province—without increasing cost by any great degree, due to the lower purchase price and operating costs of this equipment.
“It was a big gamble to bring these machines into B.C.,” concedes Wiens, but he’s cautiously optimistic about the ultimate outcome of the venture.
“So far, I’m pleasantly surprised. There’s been plenty of interest shown.” But he knows loggers are going to want to see for themselves how the equipment stands up over time in B.C., despite having been proven in Scandinavia. Meanwhile Wiens has been enjoying the ride. He says he’s energized by the challenge he’s undertaken—and happy to be involved again in the industry closest to his heart and history.