The evolution of the Interior’s forest industry

Tie Hackers and Timber Harvesters, by Ken Druska reviews ways the industry has tried to cope with the volatile prices of lumber and chips.

In his book Tie Hackers and Timber Harvesters, Ken Druska reviews the ways that the industry has tried to cope with the volatile prices of lumber and chips.

This is a good resource for anyone interested in the history of logging in the Interior of this province. In the introduction, Druska mentions how the history of the Interior differs from the Coast. The Interior developed through local entrepreneurs and family owned business.

The author takes us from axes and cross cut saws to sophisticated and expensive harvesters and milling operations which produce lumber at an astonishing rate but apparently puts us in a less competitive position in the global market.

I will compress the information to help us understand how the present system evolved and hopefully assist in trying to understand how we have arrived at the sorry state that we are in according to Druska.

The author starts in the 1800s with steam-powered mills producing lumber for the railroads, early settlements and the mining industry.  In the early 1900s logs were being moved by rivers and wood flumes.  Gas-powered crawler tractors replaced horses for long skidding distances and trucks were used for hauling logs and lumber.

The strength and resourcefulness of the railroad tie makers was legendary and was an important job for many locals.

At the end of the Second World War chain saws started replacing axes and cross cut saws, forklifts, and some surplus war vehicles along with larger capacity logging trucks were replacing the older systems. As the timber was being used near the local mills, portable bush mills were showing up all over the Interior.

The rough cut lumber was transported to the planer mills located in the larger towns. Many families that became major tenure holders started with these portable bush mills.

The 1960s saw the government come up with a new form of tenure, “Pulp Harvesting Agreement,” which provided the assurance of a timber supply for the financing of the new pulp mills. Handling the increasing amount of logs necessitated the development of new specialized equipment including rubber tired skidders, huge lifters to quickly unload logging trucks and load trains. Mechanized shears and feller bunchers started replacing the chain saws.

The 1970s saw even more technological transformations with the development of the “chip-n- saws” which were able to quickly process the ever increasing smaller diameter logs.

The logs had to be debarked before they were turned into square cants which were easily sawn into lumber by thin curf blades. In this way the sawdust was reduced by 25 per cent and 60 to 79 per cent of the logs ended up as lumber and the remainder was turned into high quality chips for the pulp mills.

The processing improved the sawing of logs from 20 feet per minute to over 300 feet per minute with some of the later models. These saws were so successful that most mills changed over to chip-n-saws and the saying goes that owners could become millionaires in five months with the introduction of these upgrades.

The logging had to also modernize with the ever increasing demand for logs.

As a result the chain saw and line skidder were replaced with feller bunchers, grapple skidders and log processors.

Small independent owners of logging equipment were replaced by multiphase owners who often had logging trucks, modern skidders or forwarders and loaders, processors etc. that totalled in the millions of dollars.

These new operators could produce and deliver over 25 loads per day compared to five loads with the old equipment.

The mill owners preferred the large logging operators since they could reduce the number of contractors to deal with plus a greater likelihood of getting the quality and quantity of logs they needed.

Unfortunately many jobs were lost and the jobs pre cubic meter of logs moved was reduced considerably.

While many of the old jobs were very demanding and physical with high turnovers it also meant older workers could not compete with the younger less experienced who where more suited to the computerized and complex operating systems.

Jim Hilton is a professional agrologist and forester who has lived and worked in the Cariboo Chilcotin for the past 40 years. Now retired, Hilton still volunteers his skills with local community forests organizations.