Taking the Bull by the Horns
By Bill Tice
Walk through the door of the Stones Bay Holdings Ltd. office in Fort St. James, B.C. and you immediately see the passion local logger and company owner Kim Lodge has for hockey. It’s like entering a smaller version of the Hockey Hall of Fame as framed memorabilia of NHL players and events adorn almost every wall in the building. At the end of the boardroom is a Bobby Orr autographed hockey stick along with a copy of one of the most famous photos in sports history – Orr flying through the air at the Boston Garden in 1970 after slotting the puck behind St. Louis Blues goalkeeper Glenn Hall to give the Bruins a Stanley Cup win in overtime. “Yeah, Bobby Orr is definitely one of my favourites,” Lodge explains. “But I’m also a big fan of Wayne Gretzky,” he adds, glancing over the many photos of “the Great One” around the office. “I’ve played hockey all my life and I’m just a real hockey fan who grew up watching these guys. I even had the opportunity to meet Gretzky when he was with the L.A. Kings through long-term friend and the current Calgary Flames associate coach, Jim Playfair.”
By Bill Tice
Lodge brings that same passion he has for hockey to almost everything he does in life. “Sorry I couldn’t meet you earlier but I’ve just been delivering calves,” he explains as he bursts through the office door for this interview. For Lodge, a small herd that a hobby farmer may raise in his spare time isn’t in the cards. He has 250 head of award-winning Black and Red Angus on his farm that is 5 kilometres from town. He also has a love of cooking and will be heading to Memphis, Tenn. in mid-May to compete on a team in the World Championship Barbeque Cooking Contest. “We’ve done this for a number of years and it’s just a great time,” he says while sharing photos of his prized barbeque.
One Big Family
When it comes to logging, Lodge’s enthusiasm doesn’t falter, even in today’s tough climate for the forest industry. He loves his equipment, is extremely proud of his company and what they have accomplished, and credits his employees for much of the success they have achieved. “We are just like a big family,” he says of the 25 regular employees and approximately 15 sub-contractors that work for him. “I can go out to the block and point out guys who have worked for us for 14 years, 22 years, 25 years. We pride ourselves in doing a really good job and for consistently being on target for volume and grade. We have a very good working crew with a lot of good people.”
The 55-year old father of four grew up in Fort St. James and followed in the footsteps of his Dad, Quentin, who was also a logger. “I worked for my Dad after school and in the summers and that was my first taste of logging,” he explains. “I realized pretty quickly that I could earn a good living in this business, so after spending some time at Cariboo College and playing hockey, I took over the skidder side of my Dad’s show and then bought him out when he retired.”
Lodge’s skidder work was for Takla Forest Products, which later became the Fort St. James division of Canadian Forest Products Ltd. (Canfor). The mill was sold to Pope and Talbot in 2005 and was then purchased by Conifex Inc. in August 2008 for $12.8 million. Conifex started up the mill in March of this year following an 18-month closure. Even though Canfor no longer has a presence in Fort St. James, working for the Vancouver-based
company proved to be a good move for Lodge as today the major licensee’s mills in and around Prince George, which is less than a two hour drive south east of Fort St. James, are his biggest customer at about 300,000 cubic metres annually. Through his Canfor contract, he also does poles for Stella-Jones in Prince George and he was doing about 100,000 cubic metres of tree length logs for the local mill in Fort St. James when it was under Pope and Talbot’s ownership. He hopes to ramp up again for Conifex and says he already did about 40,000 metres for the new owners this winter as they boosted log inventory in anticipation of the mill’s start-up. “They really have to get into two shifts in the sawmill at Conifex for us to see a substantial amount of additional work,” Lodge says. That’s a real possibility as the mill went to two shifts in the planer in mid-April and is looking to start a second shift in the sawmill in the near future.
Lodge says he is very fortunate to be working for Canfor, especially with the economy the way it is at present. “In this area, if you are not working for Canfor or West Fraser, you’re probably not doing much right now,” he explains. Many of the smaller mills in the area are temporarily or permanently shuttered, which has the trickle down effect of idling the loggers that work for them. “We have had to diversify to keep up with the changes at the mills,” he notes. “We were a conventional logger, but now we have B-trains for hauling the cut-to-length, highway trucks for hauling the poles, and off-highway trucks for tree length logs that go to Canfor’s Polar mill. We are running three different configurations of trucks and then all of the different sorts for each mill. That’s a lot of work.”
On the trucking side, Stones Bay has four Western Star trucks, but during the summer months Lodge converts two of them to dump trucks for his road building projects, which amounted to about 30 kilometres last year. “We contract about 75 per cent of our trucking, so converting two of our own trucks in the summer allows us keep two more contract trucks working year round, which means these guys are still available to us in the winter when our volume is higher,” he says.
For his logging shows, Lodge is a big fan of Deere equipment, saying that John Deere and Volvo “pretty much define us.” He says there is some very good equipment out there and he only has good things to say about his other iron, including models from Caterpillar and Madill, but he grew up on Deere and has used it as his mainstay ever since. “My Dad ran John Deere and my first skidder was a Deere 740 grapple model that I bought from him for $40,000,” he says. “I actually bought a second 740 from him and then a year and a half later, I traded both of them in on a 740A, which was the Cadillac of skidders at the time.”
A Family Tradition
Working with Deere is starting to become a family tradition as Lodge’s son Michael sub contracts to Stones Bay with his own 2006 Deere 2554 with a Keto dangle processing head. Both Kim and Michael say it’s an excellent combination. “It’s a good reliable machine that is great on fuel,” says Michael. “I have over 5,000 hours on it and in these hard economic times it is important to have a machine that is both reliable and cost effective to operate.”
The other main contract machines working for Stones Bay include a Tigercat feller buncher, and a Caterpillar 300 and a Volvo 290, both equipped with Limmit 2600 stroke delimber/processors. Equipment owned directly by Stones Bay includes 903J and 953 Deere feller bunchers – one of each, three Deere skidders, including two 848H models and a 748G3, a Caterpillar 527 track skidder, a Madill 2850 log loader, three Volvo 290s, a smaller 700J crawler from Deere, a Caterpillar D7R for road building, a 624 Deere loader for loading gravel into the dump trucks, and two Deere graders – an 872 and a 772 that are used primarily for a road maintenance contract Stones Bay has with Canfor for over 300 kilometres of road. The Volvo 290s are multi-task machines due to their quick attachments feature. One is a dedicated butt-n-top style log loader, while the other two are switched off between log loading duties and working as hoes for road building.
Stones Bay occasionally has an extra piece of equipment around as they test prototype machines for Deere. This winter, it was an extra 848H skidder that was equipped with a new updated hydraulic pump. “We ran it for over two months and put 800 hours on it,” Lodge says. “It definitely does what Deere wants it to do. It’s faster and it has improved hydraulics. I hope they put this pump on all of their skidders.”
As for his mainstay 848H models, Lodge says if you park them side by side with the 748 series, they look the same but in the bush they have different characteristics. “As far as I’m concerned the 748G3 was the industry standard and is the most reliable skidder I have ever owned, but I like the additional horsepower offered by the 848 series. The 748 models are lighter, quicker and do well in sensitive areas and we can do about 600 cubic metres per day with them. The 848H models are bigger, heavier, and have more horsepower and a larger grapple capacity, allowing us to do upwards of 750 cubic metres per day. Both machines are equipped with the larger flotation tires, which makes them more productive in adverse and sensitive conditions.”
For operator training Lodge says it’s mainly “on the job” in terms of the equipment and in the office for other types of training programs. “Because we have such a low turnover rate for employees, we don’t have to do a lot of training on the machines. However, we do what we call ‘spring training’ every year and this is where we make sure everyone is up to speed on the latest policies, safety procedures, WHIMIS rules and other areas that we have to deal with on a daily basis. We do bring in young guys and train them from scratch, but most of our crew has been here for a while and that pays off for us. Training is expensive and we invest quite a bit in our employees so we want them to stay. The last thing we need is to train someone and then have them jump ship.”
Darren McQueen, office controller for Stones Bay looks after the company’s training and safety programs. “Our spring training program has really paid off for us,” he says. “We not only include our regular employees, but we also have our sub-contractors complete the program as well. We go through the manuals page by page as a group and then any new guys that come on stream after the spring training session have to go through a thorough orientation process to make sure they are familiar with all of the safety and environmental procedures.”
McQueen says the company was one of the first organizations in Fort St. James and one of Canfor’s first logging contractors to be certified through the BC Forest Safety Council program, which is an audited program. “I believe our commitment to training and in particular safety, have paid off for us. Not only in terms of reducing injuries, but we are also finding that with well trained employees, we have less damage to equipment.”
As McQueen wraps up his comments on training, Kim Lodge sticks his head back in the boardroom. “I’ve got to go back to calving,” he declares. A minute later, he’s back. “I almost forgot to tell you about one of the most important pieces of equipment we own,” he says beaming with the same enthusiasm he has for Bobby Orr’s winning goal. “It’s a Robinson R44 four seat helicopter. I got my pilots license 15 years ago and we use the helicopter to check out our logging operations. It’s great for looking at our inventory levels, flying parts to the bush and just seeing what’s going on. With two flights a week, I know more about where we are at in terms of logging than they do on the ground,” he adds as he heads off to help bring a few more calves into the world.