PRINCE GEORGE, B.C. – The forest service roads that wind deep into the backwoods of B.C. have staked a claim to being some of the most treacherous routes in the country.
Narrow passes, uneven terrain, unpaved surfaces, forest debris and grades comparable to those on a rollercoaster track, create an adventuresome ride for a professional log hauler.
But perhaps the dangerous reputation of the forest roads is an opinion formed from the outside looking in.
“If you’re in the business and know what you’re doing, it’s safe. If you haven’t been trained, then it’s dangerous,” noted Earl Purdon, general manager of Burke Purdon Enterprises. “Driver etiquette is a lot of it like going the speed limit, staying on your side of the road, putting your chains on; basically don’t be a hazard.”
Log haulers have to be prepared to not only accommodate fellow truckers, but also keep aware of the general public that may happen to cross their narrow and steep paths. But for the most part, Purdon insists it does not create a host of added problems and is just another part of the job.
“It’s not really a problem, but lots of people use them because they are public roads; Fridays and Mondays are usually the worst,” explained Purdon. “They don’t have radios, well some do but they don’t know how to use them.”
Growing up in the log hauling business, Purdon comes across his knowledge through generations of experience. The 31-year-old has been around his father’s operation since he was a young man and spent time toiling in the shop before heading out on the forest roads.
“I’ve had a monkey wrench in my hand since I was 13,” Purdon told Truck West. “I’m a third generation trucker on both my mom and dad’s side of the family.”
Purdon’s father, Burke, established the company in 1979 and after moving to Prince George, B.C., the operation was expanded into a fleet in 1983. The enterprise has maintained its family roots as Purdon’s sister, Roxanne Fatum, runs the administration side of the business.
At one time Burke Purdon Enterprises also operated a lowbed hauling company in Target Transport. In 1994, the elder Purdon sold out of the lowbed operation and the company has been exclusively log haulers ever since.
The company’s fleet of 29 tri-drive trucks spends a lot of time in the bush and has been manufactured to withstand the extreme conditions accompanied with not running on paved routes.
“They’re built heavier and the fuel tanks and air tanks all have to be elevated,” said Purdon, while examining one of his Freightliner tractors. “A highway tractor will have a smaller profile tire with a less aggressive tread. But the suspension is mostly the same, we use air-ride in all our trucks.”
Purdon also explained that the gear ratio is configured a bit differently on his logging trucks and generally will hit 100 km/h at 1,600 RPM. With the fleet of trucks spec’d for the logging business, hauling timber out of the bush is pretty much the only work the trucks can do.
“Because we run a tri-drive truck, there are not a lot of trailers you can pull,” stated Purdon.
On occasion, during the slower times of the year, Purdon will get a few highway runs for his drivers to transport logs from a sort yard to the mill.
Sort yards act as a middleman between the loggers and the mills. By sorting the different grades of timber that arrive in the sort yard they are able to ship only certain grades that a mill will request.
These deliveries are only in the interest of getting drivers behind the wheel, as it’s not economically feasible to run a logging truck on highway trips.
“We can not compete with people who run on the highway,” explained Purdon. “If we can break even on these trips, we can do it to keep the drivers; as long as I have them when it comes time to make money.”
Purdon has also taken a vested interest in helping the entire family of log haulers earn a bit more money. He currently sits on the board of directors for the Prince George Trucking Association, which formed in the interest of negotiating with the mills as a larger entity.
“It’s a group of log haulers who got together and about five years ago facilitated a work stoppage among the haulers to get a rate increase,” explained Purdon. “It wasn’t for a long time, but it gave them an idea what it would be like without any drivers.”
Although the business and politics of the log hauling business are necessary to earn a living, at times it makes Purdon wish for the days of the treacherous terrain of the forest service roads.
“Driving was a lot more relaxing than this business stuff,” he said.
Top 10 rules of the road:
1. Use your radio as an aid to prevent accidents, but do not depend on it to save lives – nearly all forest roads are radio-assisted not radio-controlled, so not all road users have a radio.
2. All loaded vehicles call (2 km intervals) and empties listen, unless you are positive the vehicle in front of you is calling for you. Loaded vehicles should announce any stoppages and the duration, as well as subsequent starts.
3. Call empty when entering a new road, when there is a posted call sign or when you are unsure of the exact location of oncoming traffic. Wide loaded low-beds call odd, empty kilometres and identify “wide load.”
4. All traffic must drive on the right side of the road.
5. Switch channels only when you can see the road frequency change sign.
6. Observe proper radio use protocols – absolutely no visiting/chatter or foul language tolerated on the road channel.
7. Empty vehicles use designated pullouts to clear loads and allow time to sit if necessary.
8. Use headlights at all times, but point them away from oncoming traffic in the dark when in a pullout.
9. Always drive according to conditions, particularly hazardous ones such as dust, snow, soft subgrade or areas of high non-radio assisted traffic.
10. Expect and prepare for the unexpected – road conditions can change without warning.
– Source: B.C. Forest Safety Council, Forestry TruckSafe Action Plan