July August 2004
BC contractor Timberline Enterprises expanded far afield earlier this year when it took on timber clean-up work for Weyerhaeuser in North Carolina in the wake of Hurricane Isabelle.
By Paul MacDonald
Vancouver Island logger Scott Krieger had quite a commute for a logging project he was working on earlier this year. It involved getting on a plane in Vancouver, flying three hours to Minneapolis, changing planes, flying another three hours to Norfolk, Virginia, and then driving a couple of hours to North Carolina. Thankfully, the commute had to be made only a few times. But Krieger may be doing more traveling state-side in the future as he expands his contracting operation. Krieger, and his crew, were selected by Weyerhaeuser’s North Carolina operation to engage in part of the massive clean-up of blowdown caused last fall by Hurricane Isabelle. On the Outer Banks of North Carolina, winds were as high as 105 miles an hour during the hurricane and accompanying storms. The hurricane left a large clean-up job for Weyerhaeuser, which is the largest private landholder in North Carolina.
The company had 18,000 acres of blowdown timber to handle. And it had to be moved—quickly. As the weather gets warm in this part of the US, it gets humid and muggy, and the wood starts to stain quickly. Weyerhaeuser North Carolina contacted Lyle McMurdo of Weyerhaeuser’s British Columbia operation to get a lead on a heli-logging outfit, as they were thinking of using helicopters to help clean up the blowdown. That turned out to be not economically feasible, but McMurdo suggested that Scott Krieger and his contract outfit, Timberline Enterprises, might be able to help out. Weyerhaeuser was looking for a “go-to” contractor that could get in there, work hard and move the wood.
The rest fell into place fairly quickly. Krieger, who was then overseeing harvesting operations near Fort Nelson for the Canfor (formerly Slocan) OSB plant and Tackama Forest Products, went down to North Carolina to take a look at what he might have to deal with. And it was a “go” from there. “I was contacted the second week of February, I was down in North Carolina the third week of February and we were logging by mid-March.” Krieger admits he was a bit hesitant in taking on a project so far from his base of operations in BC. But he had already carried out some work in the US—with an American crew—the previous year, for Simpson Timber in California, and Longview Fibre in Washington State.
They’re using knuckleboom loaders, and pull-through delimbers with no measuring. But it all works for them. They work 10 months of the year and they get the wood out.” The ground may have been wet, but since they were working in plantation wood, the going was good—they just had a lot of timber to move. The timber, most of it loblolly pine, is in straight rows—at least it is when it is standing timber. Weyerhaeuser harvests it in three stages. A thinning is done at 10 years, a second thinning is done at 20 years, and a clearcut is done at 30 years. At that point, the timber is a good size, about 22 inches at the butt, and 75 feet tall. Krieger describes the timber as “real limby and knotty.” “It grows quick and it grows tall, but it’s not real nice wood. A lot of it goes straight to pulp, with maybe 50 per cent going to the sawmill.” Krieger uses pretty much all Timberking equipment, through dealer Finning, in British Columbia.
He was looking to rent some yellow iron down in North Carolina for the three-month contract. But Cat, while it has strength in the forestry market, is not a player in this region in forestry. The big players are John Deere, Timberjack, Tigercat and Prentice. And no one usually rents equipment—it’s all purchased. “We went to the Cat dealer, Pioneer Equipment, and told them this was a good opportunity for them to get their equipment out in the bush, and they’d get good money for it,” says Krieger. They came to an agreement to rent the equipment from Pioneer for three months, with an option to buy. The iron: a TK711 buncher equipped with a Cat HF181 sawhead and a Gilbert rotator that Krieger says is a must working in the blowdown, and a Cat 320C for hoe chucking, equipped with a Hultdins 56–inch grapple saw.
From the start, the Timberline crew delivered on its promise to Weyerhaeuser to move the wood. They essentially went in, harvested/moved the wood with the TK711/Cat 320C combo, and set it up for the contractors’ skidders. The skidders moved it to landings. And in an area of the US where logging is usually done on a single-shift basis, five days a week, Krieger and the crew were harvesting and moving wood virtually 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Krieger noted that Pioneer Equipment—used to the five-day-a-week operations of its customers—had to really step up to the plate to service Timberline’s equipment. “There were times when I was on the phone with them three or four times a day.
We were paying good dollars for the equipment, and we’re under the gun from Weyerhaeuser. We signed a contract with Weyerhaeuser and we always fulfill our contracts to the customer’s satisfaction.” Having a solid crew is key to a productive operation, says Krieger. “If you don’t have a good crew, you are not going to make any money,” he says.
But supervision is also important—in the person of Krieger and his co-manager on the job, Rick Seidel, from Fort Nelson, BC. The two, who have set up a US-based company, R & T Ventures, alternated managing the North Carolina contract. “We told the crew that if you break down at two in the morning, you phone us. And we told Pioneer that we would be calling them at two in the morning if we needed parts—they could plan on that happening. And they had to open up and get us the parts we needed. Because any hours you lose, you never get back. And we wanted to lose as few hours as possible.”
With its operations in BC, Timberline usually has shop trucks to take care of any maintenance. But because of the short three-month duration of the North Carolina contract, they did not go to that length. But they still took good care of their equipment. Running 24/7, it was in their best interest to catch any potential problems. They carried common maintenance supplies—hoses, oil and filters—but the two local contractors they worked with, Louis White and Terry Leggatt, were also very helpful and offered parts support. “Those guys really look after their gear,” says Krieger. On the maintenance side, there was also some good timing at work here.
Rather than source saw bars locally, they arranged to have bars from Pacific Trail Manufacturing, based in Portland, Oregon, shipped to Pioneer. The cost savings were substantial—up to 50 per cent. Coincidentally, Timberline recently struck an agreement for distribution rights for Pacific Trail saw bars on the BC coast. “We tried them down in North Carolina and they’re working real well,” says Krieger. “They cost less and they’re lasting longer than the bars we had been using.” “While I was down there, I acquired a good US crew, and they’ve stuck with me and been with me for the last year and a half, and it was just a matter of moving things to North Carolina.”
It is, however, quite different from west coast logging, notes Krieger “They are using rubber-tired bunchers, and skidders with no chains. They can be up to their belly pans in mud. In spite of the sometimes acrimonious relations between Canada and the US in lumber—with companies from the US South leading the charge against exports of Canadian lumber—Krieger said he was treated well as a Canadian in North Carolina.
The Weyerhaeuser people were happy with the work they did. And as for the contractors they worked with, they were keen to work with someone who could move the timber. “They were happy because we were putting more wood in front of them, and keeping them busy. They are paid by the ton, so the more wood they can move, the better.” And the Americans might have picked up a few tips from this Canuck. Krieger showed how local contractors could move from rubber-tired machines to tracked equipment. “There were a few people down there who got rid of their rubber equipment and got tracked machines,” he says. “A lot of guys were coming around to see what we were doing.”
And the contractors they were working with looked at Timberline’s 24/7 operation, and might want to go beyond the one shift a day they now operate. They would certainly get better equipment utilization. Their challenge, however, as related to Krieger, is finding enough good people to operate equipment for one shift, let alone go to two shifts. As for Timberline, they might be doing more in the US in the future. Krieger notes that while he keeps his equipment busy at home in BC, and wants to maintain or grow the business there, it is increasingly competitive. Doing additional contract work in the US might be a good way to expand the business. “It’s been a good introduction to the area,” says Krieger. “We have an option to stay and contract for Weyerhaeuser. But whether we end up doing that, I’m not sure. “But we’ve shown them we can pick up at the drop of a hat, get the iron, and get in there and get the job done. We run good iron and we’ve got a good crew.
Weyerhaeuser is a big company, with lots of operations. Who knows where it will lead next?” But Krieger said there was one drawback to working in North Carolina: the snakes. Lying just above sea level, the land is wet, and there are lots of canals and ditches, so there were copperheads, moccasins, rattlers and even snapping turtles. “None of us is too keen on snakes,” says Krieger, undoubtedly an understatement.
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