Sean Storey, co-owner of S & S talks us through the New Brunswick timber industry, and his high volume, multiple-crew cut-to-length operations anchored by Tigercat harvesters and forwarders.
— Paul larocci
S & S owners, Sandra and Sean Storey.
S & S Logging Ltd is based in the village of Doaktown, approximately in the centre of the Canadian maritime province of New Brunswick. The company is owned by Sean and Sandra Storey. Sean runs the harvesting operations and Sandra manages accounting, payroll and administration.
The region has a rich logging industry history dating back to the Napoleonic Wars. In the early nineteenth century, Napoleon’s system of trade embargos strategically cut Britain off from its traditional Baltic wood sources. Britain, in turn, looked to North America as a viable alternative. The colony of New Brunswick had the geographic placement and all the required resources to supply Britain with quality shipbuilding timber. The network of rivers provided transportation for the towering white pine and red spruce that were intensively harvested, initially for masting and later for square timber.
Toward the second half of the century, as the big timber forests and demand for wooden shipbuilding materials waned, a more efficient sawmill industry developed and flourished. Resource depletion and increased infrastructure and transportation costs eventually crashed the lumber industry in the early twentieth century and the region’s forestry activities transitioned predominantly to pulp and paper production. Today, with ultra-efficient harvesting and sawmilling technology and optimization, New Brunswick once again is a lumber producer.
Sean’s 30-year career as a harvesting contractor came about somewhat accidentally. “I was involved at an early age as a kid just growing up around logging. I always worked for my father. He was a contractor for years,” says Sean. “I actually wasn’t going to go do this. I was going to go to forestry school. I had written the entrance exam and then my father took a heart attack. He was still running a small business, basically with skidders and hand cutters.” Sean decided to defer his plans for a year to help out with his father’s business. And as he puts it, “It’s been a long year – I’m still here.”
Derek Demone is piloting one of Sean’s eleven 855 series track harvesters operating in a dense mixed stand.
Sean’s father eventually sold off his equipment and exited the industry. By that time Sean had decided that he would start contracting himself. “The first skidder I bought was an old 518 Caterpillar line skidder in 1988. Then I went to work for J. D. Irving. We were cutting with chainsaws and skidding full tree to the road.”
Sean recalls that in the early nineties J. D. Irving made the decision to mechanize its operations and change to a short wood system. “They talked to some of the younger people to see what we were interested in. I decided I’d like to do some forwarding.”
Sean recalls that when he started in the eighties, there were no cut- to-length systems in the province that he had ever seen. “I remember the first one that came, and they weren’t what they are today. They weren’t much more than a glorified farm tractor and they weren’t made for this environment. They didn’t really catch on a lot, not until the North American manufacturers started to get involved.”
Soon after Sean switched to harvesting. Throughout the nineties, he rotated through the various harvester manufacturers of the day, acquiring more machines and more volume. As cut-to-length machinery began to mature, he shifted from European to North American built machines. Sean recognized that regardless of what brand of equipment he was running, it was machine downtime that most affected his production, and a lot of the downtime came from waiting for parts shipments. In the end it was proximity to parts that led Sean to look into Tigercat, a Canadian manufacturer, and he eventually purchased his first Tigercat machine in 2011.
“If it’s not well maintained, then they’re standing outside with the flies. Preventative Maintenance is the cheapest Maintenance you can do.”
— Sean Storey
The Acadian forests of New Brunswick are sandwiched between the northern hardwood forest ecosystem extending up from New England and the boreal forest to the north. Consequently, it retains the species and characteristics of both. Sean encounters a mix of SPF, as well as hemlock, cedar and many hardwood species. Much of the commercial forestry in the province takes place in managed forests on Crown land. Sean estimates that his company is working on Crown land 85% of the time and the remaining fifteen percent on private woodlots. While Sean used to do most of his work in unmanaged forests, he estimates that now it makes up about 25% of his work. S & S has a highly diversified customer base, delivering product to thirteen different mills.
The company currently owns eleven Tigercat 855 series track harvesters, and five forwarders. Of the five forwarders, three are 25-tonne 1085C models and two are 18-tonne machines from another manufacturer. It is a flexible fleet, allowing Sean to respond to challenging or suboptimal contracts by making adjustments to the system.
Depending on the contract, some of the machines work a single shift and some work double shifts because certain mills take deliveries around the clock and also prefer to manage as few machines as possible on a given licence. But Sean explains that in order to provide his employees with a good work-life balance, all operators and service personnel are on a five-day work week.
A 1085C forwarder operating in a private stand. Sean says that the higher capacity forwarders are a big advantage, often allowing Sean to get by with building fewer roads.
S & S produces approximately 500 000 cubic metres annually. I ask Sean what is the optimal amount of volume and machine count. “I tell people all the time. There’s no money in one.” Sean feels that the ability to source reliable equipment with high uptime rates has allowed him to increase the size of his business and total annual volume without necessarily having a proportional increase in overhead and headaches. “We run a skeleton crew here. I have a couple of full-time mechanics at the shop and a welder who works mostly for me. And I do a little bit of the on-call stuff. But with the amount of gear we have, if the machines weren’t steady, I would require twice the support staff,” says Sean. “Honestly, I’ve got some that I don’t see from oil change to oil change. They’re the same machine at 20,000 hours as they are at zero.”
For Sean, the dependability of the equipment makes growth-related business decisions easier. “I’m kind of a Tigercat addict. I like the product, and I like the advances in the technology, so I like to purchase them new. So, if there’s an opportunity that comes up, we’ll cut it.”
New Brunswick’s segmented forests lend well to a CTL system. The harvesting sites range from just a few hectares to 100 hectares (1 ha is equivalent to 2.47 acres). The machines move often. The CTL model is much more agile for small tracts scattered around the province.
On unmanaged sites, it is common to have twelve to fifteen sorts. “We could have yellow birch, white birch, red maple, rock maple and oak. There are two or three different cedar products. The mill I’m cutting for on this job, we cut four different lengths of stud wood based on a price matrix, top size and length. We have spruce pulp and spruce logs, white pine logs, and white pine pulp sometimes. There is less resource available, and the wood is younger, and so it needs to be value optimized. “Basically, the mills are trying to find ways to get more saw material out of less wood.”
Sean explains that the pulpwood adds additional sorts because some mills only want a certain hardwood species. “One mill only wants pure maple. The next mill will only want pure birch. Another will take a mixture of beech and ash. And poplar, it always has to be separate.”
Sean cites additional advantages beyond the agility of the systems and the ability to produce and manage so many different products. “For me, environmentally, cut-to- length is a big deal because we leave all the brush in the woods, and it’s a lot less disturbing to the land. We’re not dragging full trees and taking the moss all off the ground. We can go into areas that maybe you couldn’t work with a conventional system.”
Everything gets forwarded to roadside right away and the products are hauled as needed to the different mills. S & S doesn’t do any trucking. “I have a truck contractor, TCU Transport out of Blackville, and basically, we are a team. He has over twenty trucks now. It’s a good system. He doesn’t cut. I don’t truck. He depends on me and I depend on him.”
(L-R) Tigercat district manager Chris Baldwin with Wajax sales specialist, Sandy Hodgson, Sean, and Kyle Donovan (forwarder operator).
More with less
The CTL system uses less labour and Sean points out that fuel prices are a big deal these days. “You’re running less machinery to do the same thing.” Speaking of the 1085C forwarders, Sean comments that they are better for longer distance forwarding. “They’ll hold more capacity, they’re more efficient and it allows us to build fewer roads.” Sean cites roadbuilding as a significant cost. And due to the short length and small piece size of much of the wood he encounters, skidders are just not efficient. “A skidder is limited to the size of wood. If the machine is in short wood, the operator cannot possibly achieve a full grapple. But with our big Tigercat forwarders, you can put a lot of wood on them.”
Sean retains a single Tigercat feller buncher that he uses strategically. “We do a lot of road work with it. If we have what we call a dirty block – with a lot of advanced regeneration or a lot of bushes, then we’ll use the feller buncher for that. Or if it is what we call a variable retention clear cut, meaning they just want to flatten and replant it, then you don’t have to protect the regen.” The buncher will be followed by one of the 855 harvesters. “We basically turn one of our harvesters into a processor for that application.” Sean says that the increased cost of adding a machine to the system is offset by the increased productivity of the feller buncher in these specific applications.
“We use the buncher for a lot of private land because it usually isn’t managed as intensively as the Crown land. So you get more poor blocks on private land than you do good ones. If you’re going to do private land work, you can’t go turning away all the poor blocks because you’re not going to be very busy. So you have to find a way to do it efficiently.”
In addition, out of an employee count that normally hovers around 35, Sean has three or four chainsaw operators to fell oversize trees. “I’ve got one guy that is 76 and he works every day. Very dependable. It’s a good healthy lifestyle – the people that like it really like to do it.”
“I’m kind of a tigercat addict. I like the product, and I like the advances in the technology, so I like to purchase them new. So, if there’s an opportunity that comes up, we’ll cut it.”
— Sean Storey
Living in a sparsely populated rural area, employee retention is very important to Sean. For his operators, the most important aspect of the machine is the seat. It has to be comfortable, adjustable and the operator has to be able to see properly. “They all know that if they’re given a good machine, the Rolls Royce of machines, then keep in good shape and look after it like it’s your own. You sit in this more than you sit on your couch at home. And I tell them all, if you call and tell me you had to take half an hour today to clean up the cab, I am good with that. I want to see it greased, and I want to see it well maintained and I have no issue paying for that. And it’s in their own interest because if it’s not well maintained, then they’re standing outside with the flies. Preventative maintenance is the cheapest maintenance you can do.” (I experienced the flies.
Definitely better to be in the cab.)
Sean says that he receives excellent support from Wajax in Moncton and his sales specialist, Sandy Hodgson. He also has high praise for Tigercat district manager Chris Baldwin. “Wajax has good support and the support from Tigercat is absolutely second to none. Chris takes the time, and he always wants to know if I have an issue. He wants feedback. He wants to know what I did, if it got fixed, and how it got fixed. And if you don’t call him back and tell him, he’ll call you. I’ve never had that before. There are other manufacturers that have support, but not to that degree.”
Sitting in the Storey’s kitchen with a coffee in the late afternoon, I listen to Sandra giving Sean a rough time about his Tigercat equipment addiction. She is an integral part of the business. Sandra tells me that she learned the bookkeeping from Sean’s mother. “She taught me – just on a smaller scale. Then once we got married, I started to take it over as she was getting older.” Their son Zachary is currently working as an operator as he finds his own footing. It feels like a small family business, even though Sean is one of the largest contractors in the province. And all jokes aside about Sean’s stress-inducing inability to say no to more volume and more machines, the pair seems truly content.
As Sean puts it, “I enjoy being a logger. When I started out with a chainsaw, I wasn’t going into the forestry business to make millions. I really had no high expectations of getting rich, so to speak, and I still don’t. I like what I do.”
Forwarder product manager, Rob Archibald takes us on a walk-around of the three forwarder models, covering the 1055C, 1075C, and 1085C. Watch to learn about the key benefits of owning a Tigercat forwarder.