From Farming to Forestry

The Lusted Family started out in farming, but made the transition to logging back in 1995, and has grown significantly since then—these days it has upwards of 20 pieces of equipment to do harvesting work in B.C.’s southern interior.

By Paul MacDonald

The small B.C. Interior town of Cawston is mostly known for its agriculture—the sign heading into Cawston, on the Crowsnest Highway, says that the community is the organic farm capital of Canada, a title that has been well-earned by the many farms in the region.

One of the town’s businesses, Lusted Logging, has also seen similar well-earned growth over many years, starting out with a single vintage John Deere 450 cable skidder in the 1990s, and operating these days with upwards of 20 pieces of equipment, and taking on increasing wood volumes along the way.

Dave Lusted actually worked in the tree fruit industry before he started Lusted Logging, back in 1995.

“A friend had some property, and wanted me to log some aspen and fir on it,” Dave explained. “I logged about 40 truckloads of wood there, with the Deere 450, working by myself.”

From there, he moved to harvesting some mountain pine beetle wood, under special permits for the B.C. Ministry of Forests.

“We did that for quite a few years, and then it came to an end,” he says. “I came to the realization that we had to get bigger—or quit the business.”

It’s quite possible the next generation of Lusted Family loggers could be in the works. Sometimes, Tom Lusted’s 13-year-old son, Aiden, joins him in the bush to see how the work is done.

Fortunately for his son, Tom, who now heads up the business, and the company’s 12 employees, Dave opted to get bigger.

“We started bidding on Timber Sales, and we won one for Gorman Bros. Lumber, and it worked out pretty well—and we’re still working for them, 24 years later.”

Founded in the 1950s, family-owned Gorman Bros. is a major forest industry player in the Southern Interior of B.C., with a sawmill in West Kelowna, and other operations and extensive forestry tenures in the region.

Dave noted that when Lusted Logging started working for Gorman Bros., Gorman’s total log purchase program at the time—around 90,000 cubic metres—was less than what Lusted Logging harvests for them now, underlining the growth in volume over the years.

The Lusted Family has also set up T.L. Timber, a Cawston-based producer of milled log homes, log cabins and custom cut timbers and cants. Dave’s other son, Clayton, runs T.L. Timber. (Note: a feature story on T.L. Timber will be in a future issue of Logging and Sawmilling Journal).

“I’ve been very fortunate with Tom and Clayton,” says Dave. “I’m proud that they both have done so well.

“I don’t agree with them all the time—but sometimes you need to take a step back,” added Dave. “They need to make their own decisions.”

Getting into the family logging business in the B.C. Interior seemed like a natural move for Tom Lusted.

He started out operating equipment while still in his teens, and he had—and has—a natural aptitude for working on equipment.

Dave Lusted (above, left) started out Lusted Logging with a single John Deere 450 cable skidder in the 1990s, and these days Dave’s son, Tom, oversees upwards of 20 pieces of equipment, with the important support of their 12 employees.

“I’ve never been afraid to take something apart, to see what makes it tick,” says Tom. And when he’s working on a piece of logging equipment, you can bet it ticks a lot better when he’s finished with it.

Tom noted that when he was growing up, there was lots of equipment on the family orchard, so having machines around was a natural.

“There were tractors on the farm, and when we started logging, I went out and helped where I could, and learned as I went along. You pick things up as you see other people working—you can always learn something if you’re watching and listening,” he says.

Tom is operating logging equipment every day now—a recent day saw him in the cab of their John Deere 2154D log loader.

“I can run any of the machines or do low-bed, so I can move around and fill in, if an operator has to take a day off.” Tom has operated all the equipment they have, from loaders to bunchers to processors. These days, his father Dave mostly builds road, though he’s also spent many hours operating buncher.

Tom readily admits he likes the challenge of running a logging operation, and resolving the sometimes knotty day-to-day problems.

“There always seem to be challenges, and you have to figure out how to get around them, how to problem solve—and figure out new ways of doing things,” says Tom.

It’s all about figuring how to adapt and change, and keep the logging operation going. “Usually there is some hurdle or obstacle—or something.”

Both Tom and Dave noted logging can be all about managing change—whether it is changing weather conditions, changing terrain, or changing timber sizes. Their timber size is much smaller, for example, than it used to be, when they started out 20-plus years ago.

“When I was farming, I thought then that the weather often does not treat you well,” says Dave. “But as a logger, you learn that bad weather can really mess things up, too.”

There is no status quo in logging, they noted. It can be all about how to manage changes—and managing those changes quickly.

Incorporating new, more efficient, logging equipment can bring its own challenges, too, says Tom.

“With bringing on a new piece of equipment, it might improve some efficiencies at one spot, but it might create a bottleneck somewhere else—and we have to deal with those.”

A large part of their success as a logging operation is due to their employees, say Dave and Tom. “It’s very important to have a good crew,” says Tom. “A few years back, when the oil patch was booming, we were having trouble getting good people—it was quite a struggle. We didn’t have a hope in hell of competing with the oil patch, and its wages.”

But things have cooled off in the oil patch since then—and perhaps the appeal of working in beautiful southern B.C. vs. barren northern Alberta could have something to do with attracting people.

“We have great people now, and it makes a huge difference,” says Tom.

The industry faces the challenge of an aging workforce, but Lusted Logging is fortunate that some of their employees are younger—as young as 25-years-old. “We have some younger guys that are good, and they’re eager to learn,” says Tom. “Logging is not easy work, but it’s an opportunity to make a good living.”

A good part of the equipment line-up for Lusted Logging is John Deere, from dealer, the Brandt Group. Both Tom and Dave Lusted value the great equipment they get from Deere, and the high level service they get from the Brandt Group.

A good part of the equipment line-up for Lusted Logging is John Deere, from dealer, the Brandt Group. Both Tom and Dave Lusted value the great equipment they get from Deere, and the high level service they get from the Brandt Group.

Both Tom and Dave say the industry has to do more to promote working in the woods as a career choice for women. They are very capable, and can actually be easier on equipment than guys, they say.

And in terms of equipment, while it has some other brands of equipment, Lusted Logging pretty much relies on John Deere equipment, and B.C. dealer the Brandt Group, and Waratah processing heads.

Waratah has used Lusted Logging to test out improvements to processing heads—and they are getting some top of the line operating talent, says Dave.

“Tom is one heck of a processor operator,” Dave says, with pride. “Waratah has come up with updated computer processing systems, and they’ve asked Tom to run them, on a pilot basis.” Tom ran Waratah’s TimberRite measuring system through the paces. He said it was great to have direct input into changes to the system.

The company’s connection to Waratah goes back quite a few years.

“Our first Waratah head was in June 2001—it was a used head and I mounted it and wired it on the machine myself,” recalls Tom. “It came with a new computer system—and I did not know what to do with it. But I phoned Dean Middleton at Waratah, and he helped me out over the phone.

“I had to drive out to where the cell phone would work, call Dean, and write it all down, and then go back to where we were logging. But we were able to get the head up and running. I couldn’t believe how they took the time to talk me though things, even though I had bought the head used.”

There have been, of course, new Waratah head purchases since then, and they have received the same top level service. “Anytime I have had problems, they have helped us out,” says Tom.

Sometimes, he notes, they are able to offer some practical suggestions that don’t involve having to spend money—such as swapping coils, to determine where a problem might be.

So just how reliable are Waratah heads? Well, Lusted Logging has a 622B Waratah head, serial number 001, which has 14,000 hours on it. They purchased it used, with about 6,000 hours on it, in 2009. It’s on a Deere 2154D now, and serves as a back-up, for training. It’s done about 3,000 hours on the 2154D.

Their main production equipment includes a Deere 959K and a 909K buncher, a Deere 2154G with Waratah 622C head, a Deere 2154D with 622C head and a Deere 2154D log loader. They also have a Link-Belt 240LX log loader stacker, a Link-Belt 210LX2 road builder, a Cat D5HTSK skidder, a Cat D7H road builder, and a Deere 772CH grader.

Dave added that the margins are so slim in logging these days that contractors have to go with the suppliers who are going offer them top notch service, and keep them going. And the Brandt Group and Deere equipment do exactly that, say Dave and Tom.

Price and equipment features play into what equipment contractors purchase, but the biggest consideration is service. If a contractor bought a machine from a dealer because they got a good price, or good financing, any benefit would quickly disappear if that was not backed up with service.

“Generally, the equipment being manufactured these days is great and highly productive—but eventually all equipment breaks down, and even brand new stuff can have problems,” says Tom. But they want supplier partners who will go the extra mile to get them back and working.

“Brandt are really good about getting on things right away. If we need a replacement while they are dealing with our equipment, they don’t hesitate to supply us with something to keep us going. That’s why we are so loyal to them.”

Lusted Logging does not have a scheduled replacement program for its equipment.

This past spring, they had a fire with one of their skidders, an 848L machine, and replaced that, with a 948LII skidder.

There is long term financing available for equipment, but they try to avoid that, says Dave.

“There are loan schedules going out six or seven years, but we don’t want to go there,” he says. “You could get into a situation where you have repairs before the equipment is fully paid for. If you have to replace an engine for $50,000, and you still have payments, you can dig yourself a big hole.”

They pick up the odd piece of used equipment—their Link-Belt machines were purchased used, as was a grader.

“But our main core group of production equipment was bought new,” says Tom. “We try to buy production equipment brand new, and then upgrade as we go along.”

And Lusted Logging, like all logging contractors, wants to be able to work when the work is available. With falling lumber markets, and high stumpage prices, a number of B.C. mills were shut down over the past summer, and that had a cascading effect on loggers. A phone call from the mill can shut down logging for weeks. So when contractors are able to log, they want to log as much—and for as long as they can.

Essentially, they want to give ‘er, whenever they can.

As part of that effort, equipment maintenance is done in the bush, wherever possible.

“We try to do a lot of the work ourselves, and the crew pitches in and does quite a bit, doing oil changes, and helping me out with the bigger jobs,” says Tom. “We’ve done wrists on our buncher heads, and saw blades and arbours.”

They bought the tracks and pads to do the undercarriages on two machines in their shop, during break-up and fire season, and crew members helped out with that. “We want to keep our crew working.”

Aside from the dealers, they also look to Loewen Equipment Manufacturing in Kamloops, to help them out with parts.

In terms of the challenging situation the past year in B.C., Dave said that it’s ridiculous that stumpage prices lag the market so much. The high stumpage rates are being based on sky-high, year-ago lumber prices.

The mill shutdowns, while they may be temporary, create a lot of uncertainty, he added. Dave says he was at a recent auction and a guy there wanted to buy another logging truck for his operation—but he decided not to, because of what’s going on in the industry.

“I mean, maybe it’s good that the provincial government is making a pile of money these days from high stumpage rates, but if it puts people out of work, how good is that?

“If you have the stumpage cost, the logging costs and trucking costs equaling the selling price of lumber before you have even milled it, the mills are pickled,” he added.

The mills may take losses for a while, but at some point they curtail operations, as they have in B.C.—or even shut mills down completely.

Dave added that logging contractors have been hit hard by an increase in the cost of equipment over the last eight or so years. And while their rates have increased somewhat, they don’t reflect costs.

“Logging rates don’t reflect the input cost for equipment and labor costs,” he says. “Rates have gone up, but not to the same degree as costs.” He said that Gorman Bros. have been good to work with, but added that it was important that the industry as a whole needs to have a healthy contractor sector.

“The mills and forest companies need to make money—we get that. But we need to make money, too, or we can’t update our equipment and stay in business. It’s very frustrating.”

Tom noted that over the time they’ve been in business, they’ve added equipment and built the business. “There was enough profit to roll it back into the business and buy additional equipment. But now, we’re at the point where we are just trying to stay where we are—there is no extra money to put down on a new piece of machine.”

All that said, it’s quite possible the next generation of Lusted Family loggers could be in the works. Sometimes, Tom’s 13-year-old son, Aiden, will join him in the cab, to see how the work is done. So, in a few years’ time, a new generation could take controls at the equipment. Also helping out is Tom’s 17-year-old daughter, Kailey, who assists him in preparing Lusted Logging’s SAFE company audits.