Established British Columbia harvesting company responds to industry and market uncertainty by diversifying into second market in Saskatchewan. Solid relationships with strong Tigercat dealers in both provinces aid in growth and expansion.
— Chris McMillan
The 880E logger equipped with the BT08 grapple loading timber near Fort St. James, British Columbia.
The village of Fort St. James in British Columbia shares its name with the historic fur trading post, located near the southern tip of Stuart Lake. The post was founded in the early 1800s by Simon Fraser and the North West Company on Nak’azdli Whut’en First Nation land, and was later operated by the Hudson’s Bay Company. It served as the chief trading post in north- central BC, and the administrative centre of the District of New Caledonia.
Today, forestry is the largest industry in the Fort St. James region, with Apollo Forest Products sawmill, and a bio-energy plant currently in operation. In addition, Oregon-based Hampton Lumber is currently building a new sawmill in Fort St. James.
Ubleis Logging Ltd. has deep roots in the community. Bob Ubleis started the company in 1954 and became the main logging contractor for Stuart Lake Lumber. Three generations later, Bob’s grandsons Rob Ubleis and Mike Gardner run the company and have harvesting contracts in BC and Saskatchewan. As Rob explains, it is a true family company. “My father Gordon, and Mike’s dad, Ted were integral in building the foundation of our business today.”
A new high flotation 630H ready to go to work in northern Saskatchewan.
Converting to Tigercat
Coming out of the 2009 recession, one of Rob and Mike’s main equipment suppliers had gone out of business. When they decided to look for a new feller buncher, they tried a Tigercat 870C as well as two other brands, and ended up purchasing the Tigercat. “The real reason for Tigercat was probably Inland,” Rob explains. “We believed in their team from the start, and they got behind my vision for the future growth of our company with unwavering support. We were a small company back then, maybe 200 000 metres a year and now we do approximately 800 000 cubic metres. Inland and Tigercat have treated us well since the first machine. Obviously one of the biggest factors for both Tigercat and Inland’s success I believe, is they listen to their customers.”
In September 2021, Ubleis Logging took delivery of a new 880E logger equipped with the Tigercat BT08 butt-n-top grapple at a site near Fort St. James. I tagged along with Steve Antonenko, Inland sales consultant, and Jochen Reiter, Tigercat factory support representative. We were all interested in the operator’s impressions, it being the first Tigercat butt-n-top in the region. After putting the new machine through its paces, operator Benoit Lessard commented, “I like the profile of the grapple tongs. They allow the wood to roll up just right.”
Rob strongly believes in the importance of a large stock of parts at the dealership to reduce unexpected downtime and counts Tigercat’s strong emphasis on parts commonality as an additional advantage in managing machine availability. “Inland has done a really good job with Tigercat, building an expanded parts warehouse in Prince George to help support the product. That is why we focused so heavily on Tigercat, and I’m glad that we did, because of the commonality of parts between machines.” When asked about how his operators like the Tigercat machines, he replies, “We are almost 100% Tigercat in our loading, bunching and skidding phases and for the most part, zero complaints. I would say if anything, it helps with recruiting and the retention of employees.”
East and west
Ubleis has strong and longstanding relationships with Dunkley Lumber and Canfor in BC, supplying sawlogs and pulpwood in varying lengths, from 5-19 m (16-62 ft). In 2019 Rob and Mike were looking to diversify due to volatility in the BC lumber market and stumpage rates. An opportunity arose in Saskatchewan to supply Edgewood Forest Products, which is owned by Dunkley Lumber.
Since expanding into Saskatchewan, the company has been supported by Redhead Equipment, the Tigercat dealer for the province. “We are building a very similar relationship to what we have with the Inland group,” says Rob.
Rob works with Chuck Miles, territory manager at Redhead. Chuck recalls, “When Rob was considering expanding into Saskatchewan, he had a very proactive approach. He visited our dealership, and met with the managers of each individual department and myself. He wanted to get a feel for how Redhead Equipment operates and to discuss the support he expected in order to be efficient in their operations.”
Logging in Saskatchewan, although mainly flat with typically smaller wood than BC, has its own unique set of challenges that became apparent to Rob during the first season working in the province. For instance, jack pine, which is typically found in sandy soils, is a big part of the harvest. Some of this sand can be very fine grained and is often referred to as sugar sand. “Sand is an issue, but the low-lying landscape and lack of gravel or rock also causes issues when road building, and for site access,” comments Rob.
880E operator Benoit Lessard.
Log trucks have difficulty driving on the sand to such an extent that contractors require a skidder to assist the trucks getting in and out. “In BC, when there are poor spots in the road we can reach into the mountain and grab some material. Here there’s nothing,” says Rob.
Initially, Rob brought a couple of 630D skidders from BC to Saskatchewan. Lately, the company has been purchasing additional equipment, replacing older machines that were acquired along with the purchase of the Saskatchewan operation.
During the first season Rob added an 855E buncher and a 630H skidder to the Saskatchewan fleet. The 630H was the first in the province and was only the third off the assembly line. “It was equipped with 44-inch-wide tires to increase the flotation needed for the soft areas, and the skidder performed flawlessly,” Chuck says. Another 855E and 630H combination was added to the fleet in the second season. The company currently operates nineteen Tigercat machines in BC, and nine in Saskatchewan.
Although the terrain and timber species in northern British Columbia is vastly different to that of eastern Saskatchewan, Rob says that as far as equipment goes, the two regions are not that far apart. “Instead of X870D bunchers, we use 855Es in Saskatchewan. In BC we have the 632H and 635H, where in Saskatchewan we have the 630H. The size of timber and the hilly terrain in BC is handled well with the larger machines, however the equipment we use in Saskatchewan would also do just fine in BC. We ran it here previously.”