History Channel’s Big Timber debuts starring Canadian loggers

big timber history channel

A British Columbia-based tree-to-board logging company is the focus of History Channel’s new series Big Timber.

The new 10-episode series follows the work of logger Kevin Wenstob. Along with his life partner Sarah Fleming, Wenstob is the owner of Wenstob Timber Resources, one of the last independent sawmill and logging operations on Vancouver Island.

The first episode of Big Timber premiered on History Channel on October 8.

“You get to see yourself in a different light. Everybody’s excited about watching the show,” Wenstob told Equipment Journal. “It progresses into a pretty exciting story.”

Big Timber follows the crew at Wenstob Timber Resources as they tackle a remote timber claim in the steep, rugged slopes of Klitsa Mountain, deep in the heart of Vancouver Island.

The claim is home to some of the best wood in the world, with about 1,000 truckloads of mainly cedar and hemlock awaiting harvest.

Big Timber begins with Wenstob’s goal of harvesting 200 truckloads off the mountain before winter shuts him down.

“That was fairly steep and gnarly, it wasn’t a nice place at all,” Wenstob said. “It was a difficult job to work on that one. There’s other areas on the site that are nicer, but it had the best wood on it.”

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The first portion of the claim isn’t the last obstacle Wenstob and his crew face, as he finds out close to winter that he has to clear the entire claim as soon as he can get back up there in the spring. If they’re not successful, he’ll be stuck with millions of dollars in penalties.

While Wenstob is harvesting timber, Fleming oversees the sawmill and sales operations.

“Sara deals with the customers. She gets the requirement for certain products, then we head off to the forest and actually get that stuff,” Wenstob said, who has been in the logging business for 42 years. “We don’t just go logging crazy. We log and get stuff that we need to supply the mill for the products we have to make.”

Big Timber’s supporting roles

To tackle the timber claim, Wenstob uses an aging 27.4 metre Madill tower yarder.

“We end up getting a bigger and better machine later in the show. It’s a pretty nice machine, but I won’t talk about it right now,” he said. 

As well, the Big Timber crew uses a Hitachi 370 log loader that Wenstob purchased at auction in 2007.

“That one works really well. I think it still has the original tracks on it, so they’re just shot. All the bushings are gone on it,” Wenstob said. “The machine always starts. It doesn’t burn oil or leak. It’s a really reliable piece of equipment.”

The Hitachi 370 has logged about 20,000 hours, with about 6,000 hours added since it was acquired by Wenstob 13 years ago.

“We put new sprockets and batteries on it, that’s all we’ve done for that machine. It just keeps on clicking away,” he said. “I’m planning one day to clean it up so it looks as good as it works.”

Off camera,Wenstob has an extensive equipment fleet, including six excavators, five log loaders, three wheel loaders, eight forklifts, graders and 10 Western Star trucks for hauling logs.

“And then there’s a bunch of weird stuff,” Wenstob said. “We’re always adding to the collection because you need different things to do different stuff.”

For snow clearing, Wenstob also has a Cat D5 dozer.

“Where we log, we get usually 5 feet of snow, or even deeper than that,” he said. 

The bone yard

When a machine breaks down, or a different task requires a new piece of equipment, Wenstob turns to his company’s “bone yard,” a sizable lot of machines in various stages of repair.

“We have to have our backup supply, if something fails on a piece of equipment, you’ve got to have some stuff to fix the problem right now,” Wenstob said. “Some of the stuff in the boneyard is ready to go, but we don’t have a purpose for it, so we start parting it out.”

“Our inventory is pretty expansive,” Fleming added.

Wenstob and Fleming’s eldest son, Erik, who also stars in Big Timber, serves as the company’s heavy equipment technician. Drawing upon the bone yard inventory, Erik is credited with finding unique solutions to hard-to-solve problems.

“He brings them back from the dead sometimes, and he takes stuff that’s in great shape and keeps it that way,” Wenstob said. “It’s quality maintenance to keep things rolling, as well as inventing new bits and pieces of weird stuff we need to have to make our operation work efficiently.”

Equipment auction tips

The used equipment strategy is key to the company’s success. By buying old, broken equipment for pennies on the dollar and then fixing it up, Wenstob turns a profit where others would face a loss.

“Usually I pick it up pretty cheap, sometimes its hundreds of dollars for big pieces of equipment, sometimes it’s thousands of dollars, but you don’t want to pay too much, it might never get used,” Wenstob said.

The majority of the used machines are purchased at heavy equipment auctions, a part of the job that Wenstob particularly enjoys.  

“You get to meet all the old chums that are there buying stuff,” he said. “And I like to be in the limelight a bit. So, if there’s something there that I want, I’m going to jump in and start making a scene.”

For Wenstob, the auction process is kind of like a game, which requires strategy.

“If you’re not in it, you’re not there. You’ve got to get your foot in the door, you’ve got to get recognized by the auctioneer. Otherwise, they won’t be looking at you when you want to buy something,” he explained.

When bidding on a machine, Wenstob said it’s important to remember you’re playing against an opponent.

“You can’t play their game. You need to leave downtime and pauses in between your bids,” he said. “It’s good entertainment.”

Big Timber airs on History Channel on Thursday nights at 10 p.m. EST.