Black Pines Contract Hauling


Apr 27, 2012

“Komatsu is all about fuel economy, performance and reliability.”

Black Pines Contract Hauling has made a name for itself as a reliable contract hauler in the Fort McMurray area, but there were certainly no guarantees that would be the case. Doug Ramsey started the company in the small town of Black Pines, BC (near Kamloops), in 1997 with a partner (Tom Christopher, who has since passed away) and just one truck.

“Tom and I were both heavy equipment mechanics by trade,” Ramsey recalled. “We knew we wanted our own business. In 1997, we started hauling gravel and logs in Kamloops, B.C. In 2000, a friend urged us to come up to Fort McMurray to do some logging. That turned out to be the best decision we would ever make.”

Black Pines has had numerous small and large hauling contracts since that time, including ice road hauling from Fort Chipewyan; hauling out of the Susan Lake gravel pit; hauling limestone for Hammerstone Corporation; and hauling for large road and building jobs in the region.

“Now we own four trucks, but I contract with dozens of other truck owners and operators to handle large hauling jobs,” said Ramsey. “I hope to buy a half dozen or so more trucks in the not-too-distant future. There’s lots of hauling work up here and we hope to continue to get our share of it.”

In recent years, Black Pines has expanded its offerings beyond just hauling. Today, the company also does excavation, grading and site work.

“We weren’t necessarily looking to get into earthwork activities, but in 2007, Sureway Construction, a large civil contractor from Edmonton, Alberta, won a job to build an industrial park in the Fort McMurray area,” Ramsey noted. “We had done some hauling for Sureway so they knew who we were. They wanted to sub out some of the earthmoving and invited us to bid the job, which involved moving 300,000 cubic metres of material. We won the bid, so we had to get some equipment and some people, which we did. We completed the job on time and on budget and discovered we liked excavation-related work.”

Quality jobs and quality employees

Black Pines has grown its construction-related work since then. Today, excavation, grading, load-and-haul and similar activities make up about 30 percent of the company’s work load.

“Compared to the large companies that are out here doing work, we’re a very small company,” said Ramsey. “We stick with what I call infrastructure work inside of Fort McMurray. The larger companies like Sureway, Flatiron Construction and South Rock are good about helping local contractors like me stay busy by hiring us to do their smaller, in-town jobs. At Black Pines, we appreciate that and always try to make sure they’re happy with what we do for them.”

Ramsey says one of the most difficult things about running a construction company in a go-go mining town like Fort McMurray is finding and keeping operators and labourers.

“We have about 20 construction employees and we’ve got some really good guys. Corey Parker is a superintendent on the construction side. Eugene Cunningham has been with me for five years. Greg Thomas has been around a while and is a very good hand. My son Tyler is a foreman and my son Dylan, a third-year apprentice heavy-duty mechanic, also helps out. We’re very big on family. My wife, Trina, used to run the office and she’s still very supportive. Tyler’s girlfriend, Kristin Hrapchak, works in the office.”

Komatsu machines and SMS service

When Black Pines began needing construction equipment, it turned largely to Komatsu machines from SMS Equipment.

“I’m a heavy-duty mechanic by trade and before starting Black Pines, I was employed by one of the largest equipment dealerships in the world,” Ramsey explained. “That company didn’t carry Komatsu, but I was very familiar with the brand and had worked on some of the first Komatsu machines that arrived in Canada in the late 1970s.

“The Komatsu product was good back then but they didn’t have much of a support system,” he recalled. “They’ve come a long way. Today, the machines are fantastic and SMS is a world-class distributorship.”

Black Pines has three Komatsu excavators (two PC350LC-8s and a PC300LC-8), three Komatsu dozers (two D65PX-16s and a D61PX-15), a WA320 wheel loader and an HM350-2 articulated haul truck.

“The dozers are very quiet and operator-friendly,” said Ramsey. “It’s the same with the excavators — the hydraulics are outstanding. Komatsu is all about fuel economy, performance and reliability. We haven’t had anything major go wrong with any of our Komatsu machines and the fuel efficiency is unreal compared to the top competitor out there. We can save as much as 100 litres a day with Komatsu; that’s big dollars.”

Also important to Ramsey is the support he gets from SMS Equipment.

“Everybody knows how devastating downtime is to a contractor, but it’s my experience that only SMS actually treats the little guy with a level of urgency similar to what the large oilfield customers receive. For example, the other day I lost an O-ring in an excavator. SMS was out here within 40 minutes, took care of it and had me back up and operating in no time. That’s a big difference compared to how other dealers treat customers, and it means the world to me.

“Everyone at SMS — from my Sales Rep Ivan Magdic and PSSR Mike Patterson — I know they’re all on my team and will do whatever they can to help me out,” he added. “I can call anytime of the day or night and they have answers for me. They’ve even sent work my way. They know I’m always looking to rent out my machines when I’m not using them and they’ve hooked me up with guys who were looking to rent or lease a piece. Bottom line, SMS has been an excellent partner for Black Pines.”

Growth with Fort McMurray

In the future, Ramsey will also count on a new partner — a new business partner, that is — Bob Gill.

“Bob has a strong business background. He’s worked as Finance Manager for Northwest Arena, which owns the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks. Bob will handle most of the office duties at Black Pines, freeing me to be more involved with day-to-day activities out in the field.”

Ramsey credits all the people around him for the success Black Pines has experienced.

“The local owner/operators who contract with us, the large construction companies that have taken us under their wing and given us an opportunity, our employees who work hard and are determined to do a good job — those are the reasons we’ve been able to move forward.

“Our goal is to grow gradually in the years to come, and we believe we can accomplish that by maintaining an excellent reputation with customers. We pride ourselves on not just giving our customers what they want, but going the extra mile for them. If we can maintain that attitude and that work ethic, I think we’ll continue to be in demand and continue to grow, right along with Fort McMurray.”