March 2007 - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal
aDDED VALUE MANUFACTURING
FROM THROWING ROCKS TO MILLING TIMBER
Entrepreneur Shilo Freer has set up a highend timber operation in what used to be the curling rink of Greenwood, BC, and is intent on seeing the wood from his family’s woodlot—and other woodlots—put to higher use.
By Paul MacDonald
Sitting in what used to be the local curling club in Greenwood, British Columbia, entrepreneur Shilo Freer talks about what could be a part of the future forest industry in the province.
“To me, what we are setting up is what the future of the forest industry should be,” says Freer, from a stool at the curling club’s bar, which hasn’t seen a beer cross its path in six years.
“Rather than having one big sawmill that might employ a hundred people and produce commodity lumber, we should have 10 operations like Pride Timberworks that could employ 10 people each and turn out value-added products.”
That vision has started to happen in the curling rink, which has been closed for the last half-dozen years. Where curling rocks once used to be thrown down sheets of ice, the timber frame manufacturing operation of Pride Timberworks is starting to come together in this Kootenay town in south central BC.
A few miles down the Crowsnest Highway is the other part of the Pride Timberworks plan, in the form of the 600-hectare private woodlot and Son Ranch Timber Company operated by Shilo’s parents, Ross and Jan Freer. The plan is to use wood harvested from the Son Ranch woodlot—and other area woodlots—to manufacture the fine, high-end timber which the company will be marketing world-wide, for use in high-end home construction.
Shilo led an interesting life before entering the forest products business. He competed at a world class level in mountain biking for several years. He also went to Peru to film a mountain bike video. After competing in and filming both mountain biking and snowboarding, Shilo managed a snow/skate board shop in Fernie, BC. But having pretty much been “born in a logging truck,” as he puts it, Shilo decided to return home and start a forest products-based business.
Backstopping Shilo in the Pride Timberworks venture is the timber frame production course he took at College of the Rockies and several years’ experience with a regional timber frame builder. That experience also includes arranging the crew that built a 12,000 squarefoot, timber frame home in Hawaii for an American real estate developer. This developer was looking for a capable crew to handle the high-end timber framing work, and Shilo’s name came up from previous projects.
Being in the timber frame business is a good fit for Shilo personally. “It’s a beautiful way of building and I’m kind of a perfectionist. Timber frame construction is one of those things where it’s high value, where you can take your time and do it right. There’s a lot of satisfaction in the work.”
Joining him in the business is Paul Dixon, who also has extensive construction experience, and handles the extremely detailed computer work that goes into producing timber frames. “We work directly with the home owner so we can create a custom design that suits both the owner and the site on which it’s built.”
Shilo’s parents, Ross and Jan Freer, have operated their woodlot since 1997, hand-falling the trees and bringing the timber in with a venerable John Deere 440 line skidder. Turning the harvested wood into timber and other products is a 1940s era circular saw. When accuracy counts, they take the clean cant to the trusty Wood-Mizer LT 40 band mill. Rounding out the operation, mobile equipment-wise, is a Kenworth selfloading logging truck.
The rough timbers for Pride Timberworks are produced here and then transported to a radio frequency kiln for drying. The dried timbers are then brought to the manufacturing facility in Greenwood—the former curling rink— where the timbers are cut, fitted and finished.
The Freer family is looking at going beyond timber frames and wants to put together more complete home packages. Under the experienced hand of sawyer Bob Attrill, the sawmill also produces a steady stream of lumber for its flooring and moulding operation. This wood is dried in a homemade kiln set up in a semi-trailer, with Wood-Mizer drying equipment, all of which is overseen by Jan. The kiln can hold two lifts of wood.
In a small shop at the adjacent ranch, the industrious Jan works with a recently acquired Logosol four-sided planer to produce tongue-in-groove flooring and moldings. One of their marketing slogans is they can take wood “from the forest floor to the living room floor.” In fact, with this set-up they can literally fall a tree and have the wood cut and in the kiln the same day.
If customers want, they can even stay at a 60-year-old cabin on the property that is solar and propane powered. Shilo and Ross could take them out to the woodlot, so the customers can choose the exact tree they’d like their beams cut from, and then be able to watch as the beams are turned into rough timbers on the Wood-Mizer.
The woodlot itself contains a unique mix of species, the predominant being cedar, pine, aspen, fir and larch. “We’ve got just about everything, but the fir/larch is what we’re after for the beams,” says Shilo.
Pride Timberworks practises what Shilo calls “full circle forestry,” in that they are going from seedling to harvesting to building and back to seedling. “We’re committed to managing the resource from start to finish,” Shilo says.
The family woodlot is going to be one source of supply for their timber, but there will be others, and they will be small, emphasizes Shilo. “One of our strong marketing points is that we only support small scale forestry in BC—we don’t want to support any big companies. I like the fact that the small operations generally care about this sensitive environment.”
They are going to need to source larger logs for the large timbers needed to manufacture timber frame homes, and are planning to pay good prices for those logs. Shilo notes that Pride Timberworks is going to be shooting for the top end of the housing market for their end product— and they are going to work to direct a fair portion of that top end dollar itself to woodlot owners, rather than buying the timber from sortyards.
“We’d like to see the money going into paying for the wood and into the value of the labour going into the timbers,” he says.
If things go well, they are hoping, in effect, to pay for timber that remains standing, at least for a while. “If one of the woodlots has some nice larch, for example, I’d like to be able to pay them a premium over what the local sortyard might be paying, with the understanding that we will come and get the wood when we need it,” explains Shilo. That might be six months down the road.
Pride Timberworks is also hoping to tie things together, the woodlot, the manufacturing, and another special feature, into a tourist attraction for timber home buyers and non buyers alike.
People would be able to see the harvested timber brought into the small sortyard at the woodlot, cut to size there, with the building in Greenwood serving as a showcase for timber finishing. “You’ll be able to sit up here where are now (in the former bar) and see the timber spread out and being worked on all over the floor.”
The special feature in this tourism package comes in the form of a logging equipment museum that includes part of Ross’ staggering collection of more than 300 antique chainsaws. Curious chainsaws from the early part of the century through to an extensive collection of McCulloch chainsaws, and other associated pieces of logging equipment, are on display at the original homesteader’s barn on the ranch.
And a note to any mechanical types reading this: Being a confirmed collector, Ross is still looking for additional equipment, especially chainsaws, and would be happy to talk about possible acquisitions. They’re also looking at acquiring a turn-of-the-century steam sawmill from just across the line, in Washington.
The family-owned 350-acre Son Ranch itself comes with plenty of history. Its original homesteader, KP Donsdale, was one of the first loggers in the area to use oxen to skid timber. “KP Donsdale used to go out and mark trees he was going to harvest three years in advance,” says Shilo. “He was selective logging in the 1920s and here we are, more than 80 years later, doing the same thing on the same land. This just proves how productive and valuable it can be to log responsibly.”
They’re looking to put together a DVD on the history of Son Ranch, what Pride Timberworks is all about, and its stake in the local community. From his days of competitive mountain biking and running a board shop, Shilo has developed a keen sense of marketing and is talking about approaching everyone from Ford to Makita Tools for corporate support and
Having worked in the timber frame business for a while, Shilo does not underestimate the task of setting up business at the upper end of a fairly crowded marketplace. But he believes they have a unique story to tell.
“We’re coming in as the new guy, and we want to set ourselves up at the high end. And if our customers want to see why and how we work, they can come out to meet the woodlot owners we are buying wood from, they can meet my parents and see our woodlot operation. They can take a look through the chainsaw museum and then walk over to the mill and watch their beams being cut. It’s all there.”
While Shilo sees Pride Timberworks as being a business started by Paul Dixon and himself, he also views it as the final step in what his parents started with their woodlot. “They’ve had to work really hard, and their knowledge and experience are a crucial and valuable part of the operation. I’m just continuing what they started.”
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Monday, August 06, 2007