Reaching the Summit

John Deere equipment helps Vancouver Island logger achieve peak performance

959ML Shovel Logger hauls a felled log up the side of a mountain

Andrew Johnson, owner of A&K Timber Company, estimates 50 to 60 percent of his company's cutting on Vancouver Island is done on steep slopes today.

When asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest, George Mallory famously replied, “Because it’s there.” At the time, no one had reached the summit of the highest mountain in the world. To Mallory and other mountaineers, its very existence posed a challenge to be gloriously overcome.

Logger Andrew Johnson, owner of A&K Timber Company, Courtenay, Vancouver Island, logs in difficult, steep terrain because of economic opportunity and mill demands. But he loves the challenge, too. “It’s a tough environment but very rewarding,” he explains. “To me it’s not as much about the money as it is about the challenge. I’m always looking for some way to do something better.”


More and more logging on Vancouver Island is done on steep slopes. “Five years ago, probably five percent of our cutting was done on steep slopes,” says Johnson. “Today, 50 to 60 percent is. If you look out at the mountain behind us, there are not a lot of flat areas. And that’s where we’re headed. It only gets higher and steeper.”

To make it a bit easier to harvest logs in areas once thought impassable, A&K Timber recently added a new John Deere 959ML Shovel Logger. “We’re fortunate to work with a very large landowner who owns most of the private land on Vancouver Island,” says Johnson. “They’re very hands on and into technology. They want us to bring new ideas to the table, like the 959ML Shovel Logger with a tilting cab. We even work with them in designing the layout of roads and cut blocks to suit the equipment we have.”

Courtenay is located about halfway up the east coast of Vancouver Island. A&K Timber operates as far north as Port Hardy and as far south as Nanaimo. The company harvests 500,000 cubic meters (653,975 cubic yards) of wood annually, mainly logs that will be exported through the Port of Vancouver to over 100 countries around the world.

Vancouver Island is home to some of the largest and oldest trees in the world, including Douglas fir. A&K Timber harvests predominantly second-growth Douglas fir as well as hemlock and western red cedar. “It’s satisfying to come back to a place I logged 20 years ago and see 30- to 40-foot-tall second-growth Douglas fir,” says Johnson. “I’m an avid fisherman, so when I come out here and see the rivers and scenery, it feels like home.”

Eighty percent of the wood the company harvests is smaller-diameter, second-growth timber, although it also cuts old-growth hemlock balsam. “It’s old and decaying, so we’re trying to harvest it to get some young trees growing there and create a healthier forest,” says Johnson. “We are also responsible for keeping the ditches clean, the water flowing, and the creeks free of sediment that would affect the fish. We take pride in being a steward of the forest.”

I'm always amazed by the [959ML Shovel Logger] machine's ability to reach down into ravines and grab timber.

Andrew Johnson, Owner, A&K Timber Company
Andrew Johnson
Owner, A&K Timber Company


Johnson started A&K Timber shortly after getting out of high school in 1994. Trained as a mechanic, he began logging instead. His two uncles were nearing retirement, and they rented their machines to him. Johnson approached private landowners and slowly built his business while learning to hand-fell and skid wood. Before long he had more work than he could handle, so he hired a second employee and used contractors for mechanical harvesting.

“After a while, I thought, ‘I’m spending all this money to hire someone to run a processor and feller buncher — why don’t I just buy my own machines?’” remembers Johnson. “It can’t be that complicated. The next thing you know I’m buying a processor and feller buncher, and then a skidder and log loader, and we’re doing it all — felling, yarding, processing, and loading.”

Today A&K Timber employs 80 people and runs 60 pieces of forestry equipment, including John Deere G-Series Swing Machines configured for processing, log loading, and roadbuilding, as well as an 859M Tracked Feller Buncher. The company’s new 959ML Shovel Logger is factory configured to handle steep-slope applications. Deere’s patented leveling technology on the 959ML delivers exceptional stability, while a live heel improves log positioning. An industry-leading slope-monitoring system measures the actual ground-slope angle the machine is working on and displays it on the in-cab monitor, for more confident operation on steep slopes.

“The 959ML has been a game changer for us,” says Johnson. “It is extremely maneuverable on steep slopes. We work in a lot of creeks and steep ravines, and I’m always amazed by the machine’s ability to reach down into ravines and grab timber. It gives us the flexibility to not have to go all the way down. That’s a strong feature.”

A major reason Johnson purchased the 959ML was the impressive track record of durability on the company’s other Deere machines. “We’ve been very sold on the Deere processors — they have been very good to us. The reliability and dealer support have been outstanding, which is why we decided to give the 959ML a try. We’ve been really happy with the 959ML — it is exactly what we were hoping for in terms of uptime and performance.”

A&K Timber has received service and support from its John Deere dealer, Brandt Tractor, for 15 years. Brandt has two locations on Vancouver Island, in Nanaimo and Campbell River. “We’re typically running eight to 10 logging sites and four to six roadbuilding sites,” says Johnson. “Between the two locations, Brandt keeps us well covered in terms of parts and support.”

Johnson appreciates how JDLink™ telematics allows Brandt to track his machines, diagnose issues, and rapidly respond, to help maximize uptime and productivity. “The ability to remotely and accurately troubleshoot is a huge asset. As much as I’m impressed by Deere’s steep-slope technology, John Deere ForestSight™ technology solutions really stand out.”

Keeping his machines up and running is just another challenge Johnson gladly accepts. And he’d rather be out at the logging site than cooped up in an office. “It’s so gratifying to put your boots on and spend a day out here hiking in the woods, seeing these machines and what they can do, and helping your guys with anything they need. You come back wet and tired, but you look back and it feels good.”

A&K Timber Company is serviced by Brandt Tractor Ltd., Nanaimo and Campbell River, British Columbia.