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With steady investments in equipment upgrades, Gaetan and Rheal Roussel have developed a rock-solid reputation for high production and consistent harvesting in the New Brunswick woods.
By George Fullerton
Brothers Gaetan and Rheal Roussel have been contracting since 1985 and have built an enviable reputation for high production and consistent performance.
In 2010, G & R Roussel made a major investment, taking delivery of two new John Deere 2154 machines equipped with Pro Pac 453 delimbers. The delimbers joined a pair of new Deere 748G grapple skidders. A Tigercat 870 feller buncher rounds out their full tree harvesting operation, which operates primarily in New Brunswick’s Tobique watershed for Acadian Timber, the wood supplier to Twin Rivers Paper Company (formerly Fraser Papers).
The new equipment helps them maintain their reputation and secure their place as one of the top producers for Acadian Timber.
Gaetan and Rheal’s partnership began in 1985 when they bought out a third brother’s Timberjack 240 line skidder and began working for Fraser Papers, with Rheal running the skidder, while Gaetan worked as chainsaw hand.
The pair soon upgraded to a Timberjack 450 and added a Donaren scarifier and double shifted on scarification work for Fraser in the summer, and worked it as a line skidder through the autumn and winter months.
In 1995, a Timberjack 2618 feller buncher became the stepping stone into full-on mechanical harvesting. An upgrade to a Timberjack 850 buncher preceded the current Tigercat 870 model.
In 2003, two delimbers, a Deere 200 and Deere 270 with ProPac delimbers, were added. In 2004 grapple skidders came into the equipment line up, moving them into full mechanical harvesting.
While the brothers are the principals in G & R Roussel, each has a son working in the business. Gaeten’s son David operates the buncher on the opposite shifts from Rheal. Rheal’s son Timmy is a mechanic working along side Gaetan, and fills in as spare operator on all machines if an operator is away from work.
Gaetan had positive comments about the two new John Deere 2154D machines with Pro Pac 453 delimbers. “They are a real forestry machine, they run a lot less hot and simply work a lot better in the forest environment. They have hydraulic fans and in very hot weather we see the fuel consumption increase some. But overall, they provide us with a lot better fuel economy.”
Gaetan also points to an improved track system and larger centre swing bearing as two more improvements that promise longer life and better performance from the equipment.
Both carriers were delivered directly to the Pro Pac factory in Beauce, Quebec to have the delimbers installed.
Gaetan figures the Pro Pac product is the best performing delimber for the type of wood they work in.
The Pro Pac 453’s have a boom length of forty-two feet, with a working stroke length of thirty-one feet and handle up to a twenty-seven inch diameter stem. Both delimbers came with forty-two inch circular topping saws that have a fourteen inch cut capacity.
“We are very familiar with the Pro Pac equipment and the machines went right to work without any problem,” said Gaetan.
Gaetan explained that their first delimbers, a Pro Pac 453 with a bar topping saw and a 743 (“the beast”) had circular topping saws, which was a good way to compare topping saw technologies and influenced their decision to stick with circular saws.
“We have circular topping saws on both of the new delimber machines. They function a lot better for the type of wood we work with, they require a lot less maintenance, and they have a lot less downtime.
“The circular saws cost more to buy, but they perform better and they pay back very quickly,” he added. “As far as we see, they are worth the upfront investment.”
Two new Deere 748H grapple skidders replaced a pair of 748 G III machines, although one of the G models is still on the job as a back-up machine and to add yarding capacity when the trails get very long.
Gaetan said that the H series has a number of upgrades and improvements over the G series, including more power and improved fuel economy.
“The biggest change we saw right from the start was fuel use was down twenty-five litres per day with the new skidders, which means a significant saving on the bottom line,” said Gaetan, adding that the increased horsepower provides improved skidding performance.
The Roussel’s operate both on both Acadian Timber freehold and Crown allocation. The entire softwood production is trucked as tree length to the Twin Rivers mill at Plaster Rock.
Delimbed hardwood is sorted into pulpwood grade and a second pile that has saw log potential. Slasher contractors follow the Roussel delimbers, slashing hardwood saw logs, which head to sawmills, and low grade wood destined for hardwood pulpwood customers.
The Roussel delimbers are also required to pile slash for biomass. Hardwood slash is hogged and shipped to the cogen installation at the Twin River mill in Edmunston, year round. During winter harvest operations, clean softwood slash is added to the biomass. When harvest conditions result in mud in the softwood slash, it is grappled and returned to the cut block. Slash is routinely returned to cut blocks, on an as needed basis, to mat wet spots on skid trails in order to minimize environmental impacts.
Acadian Timber was created in 2005 from Fraser Papers’ woodlands divisions, initially as in income fund and later as a corporation. Acadian’s primary customer was Fraser’s mills in Plaster Rock, Juniper and Edmunston, New Brunswick. Struggling with adverse market conditions Fraser filed for bankruptcy in 2009 and re-emerged as Twin River, operating the Plaster Rock sawmill and Edmunston pulp and paper mill.
“We were very concerned with the Fraser mill shutdowns and the bankruptcy,” said Gaetan. “It made us very nervous. But Acadian found other markets for wood and we kept working through that period. I have never seen it worse in the industry, but we keep working and holding on, looking forward to a more confident business environment.”
Acadian Timber harvesting supervisor Jody Jenkins corroborates the Roussel’s attitude toward productivity machine uptime.
Jenkins explained that Acadian runs eight tree length crews, and the Roussel crew are at the top with regards to consistency and production.
“They definitely have the best records for productive machine uptime,” said Jenkins, noting they virtually never shut down for repairs.
“If a machine breaks down at night, Gaetan gets the call and is on his way to get the machine operating. Other contractors might tell their operator to go home, if the shift is nearly over, and get their mechanics on the problem at first light. But if a Roussel machine breaks down, they are up and running again in a very short time,” explained Jenkins.
The Roussel’s maintain a meticulous service trailer with an extensive parts inventory, Jenkins added. “The operators know what parts are on hand and will make routine repairs themselves and get back to work. If it is a serious problem, Gaetan gets on the scene to make repairs and get equipment back in production.”
While the service trailer sticks close to the delimbers and skidders, the buncher becomes a bit isolated when it jumps ahead on the next cut block. To ensure productivity is maintained, Rheal and David carry tools and supplies for routine service and small repairs, but if there is a serious failure, Gaetan or Tim are called to help with repairs.
The Roussel’s have a well equipped shop at their home base in Grand Falls, which has additional parts and supplies.
“The entire Roussel crew is production focused, and they take pride in their uptime and productivity record,” explained Jenkins. “They exemplify team spirit and focus on success.”
Jenkins added that the Roussel operators are long time employees and are committed to maintaining their high productivity level. They understand that they have good equipment to work with, and that the high productivity in turn allows the operation to have good equipment.
Northwestern New Brunswick is noted for steep slopes and operating challenges. Jenkins explained that steep slopes are rarely an issue with the Roussel operation.
“I very seldom hear about slope from the Roussels. They can handle extreme slopes and sometimes I actually wonder how they managed to get certain spots done, but they have the skill and the equipment to handle it. They seem to be able work places others can’t.”
Looking to the future, Gaetan is encouraged to have a son and a nephew working in the business.
“They have experience from the oil patch and other work, but it did not give them the quality of life they were looking for. They both like the contracting business and they are not afraid of the hard work. I hope that the industry turns around, so we all have a more secure outlook.”
Speculating on the future opportunities for harvest contracting, Gaetan expects that with the current harvesting rate, Acadian Timber will soon rely more on plantations and thinned stands for their fibre demand. As a result, the demand for tree length harvest systems will drop off and much of their harvest capacity will switch to cut-to-length systems.
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