New Zealand Logger - - Contents - Story: Rob Maet­zig

Taranaki con­trac­tor, Tom Val­in­tine, has set an en­vi­able record dur­ing his 51 years in the bush – he’s never lost a day’s work to in­jury. We could learn a lot from his ex­pe­ri­ences.

AT A TIME OF HEAVY ME­DIA COV­ER­AGE OF THE PER­CEIVED haz­ards of work­ing in the forestry in­dus­try, veteran Taranaki log­ger Tom Val­in­tine is a shin­ing light – he’s gone 51 years in the game with­out suf­fer­ing a sin­gle lost-time in­jury.

“It’s im­por­tant to keep what I call a wide eye on things,” the In­gle­wood man ex­plains of his im­pres­sive safety record.

“Af­ter a while you de­velop a sort of sixth sense. So when­ever there’s a sit­u­a­tion that doesn’t feel quite right, I’ll stop and roll a smoke and think about it.”

This sim­ple method of keep­ing him­self and his staff safe has worked nu­mer­ous times, says Tom, who owns Val­in­tine Log­ging with his wife, Mar­ian.

“One time I was track­ing with a bull­dozer, but I didn’t feel com­fort­able about it and backed up. Then as I was fig­ur­ing out what to do, the ground in front of me slipped into the val­ley be­low.

“An­other time, for some rea­son I wasn’t happy about the look of a big Ra­di­ata we were go­ing to fell, so we stepped away to con­sider what to do. Sud­denly a great big limb came crash­ing down where we had been stand­ing.

“I don’t know why I didn’t feel com­fort­able about these sit­u­a­tions. I just did. But we needed to step back and think about it – and we were right.”

This sim­ple method of en­sur­ing work­place safety re­mains just as im­por­tant to­day, de­spite an in­creas­ing amount of pa­per­work

re­quired un­der mod­ern-day health and safety reg­u­la­tions, says Tom.

“You have to re­mem­ber that in the tim­ber in­dus­try there are a lot of work­ers who are bright, but who aren’t too lit­er­ate. Some of them have trou­ble writ­ing, so it is re­ally im­por­tant that the safety mes­sages are com­mu­ni­cated in all ways.

“For this rea­son I’m a great be­liever that work­ers should start their train­ing right at the ba­sic level, so they can learn ev­ery­thing. Bush­men shouldn’t be treated as all brawn and no brain – they should be val­ued and prop­erly trained in all ways.”

The in­dus­try it­self has made good use of Tom’s knowl­edge. In the 1970s he was asked to con­trib­ute to the writ­ing of the first For­est Code of Prac­tice, which re­quired fre­quent trips to Ro­torua for meet­ings.

And back in Taranaki, Val­in­tine Log­ging was among the first to write its own H&S Man­age­ment Plan and wear com­pany-branded hi-vis cloth­ing – which be­came so pop­u­lar that even the truck­ies wanted the tee-shirts!

That’s a ma­jor change from when Tom first en­tered the log­ging work­force in 1967, leav­ing school at age 18 to start full-time with his fa­ther’s firm, Val­in­tine Sawmilling. Up un­til then, he’d been cross­cut­ting dur­ing the school hol­i­days from age 15.

“I was taken out into the bush and told here’s a chain­saw, there’s some trees – now go cut­ting,” says Tom.

“If I did some­thing wrong I’d get my butt kicked. I can’t re­mem­ber

things be­ing par­tic­u­larly tough, but it was a no-non­sense learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, that’s for sure.”

The tim­ber in­dus­try was al­ways go­ing to be in Tom’s blood. Or medicine.

His grand­fa­ther was a doc­tor (the first Direc­tor Gen­eral of Health NZ) but it was Tom’s great un­cle who first took the first steps in forestry and for whom his fa­ther Bill worked. Bill was among those to take the very first tim­ber out of Kian­garoa For­est in the 1930s and then spent six years over­seas with the Forestry Cor­po­ra­tion, cut­ting tim­ber for use in air­craft man­u­fac­ture dur­ing World War 2, be­fore re­turn­ing to New Zealand and set­ting up Val­in­tine Sawmilling in In­gle­wood.

“Things just grew from there,” says Tom. “Dad went from op­er­at­ing por­ta­ble mills to es­tab­lish­ing yards on El­liot St and then James St. At one stage he had 30 staff and a lot of time was spent cut­ting na­tive tim­ber in places such as Pu­rangi and Tan­ga­hoe. He also cut a lot of con­struc­tion tim­ber and wood for use as rail­way sleep­ers.”

In more re­cent years Tom has dis­cov­ered he has other rel­a­tives heav­ily in­volved in the tim­ber in­dus­try in North Amer­ica and cousins who used to be log­gers in Zim­babwe.

When Bill re­tired and sold his busi­ness (the site is now Value Build­ing Sup­plies), Tom and Mar­ian de­cided to spe­cialise in the log­ging busi­ness and started Val­in­tine Log­ging in 1994.

These days the Val­in­tines have their son, Chris, as part of the com­pany, while an­other son, Blair, runs his own Strat­ford-based con­tract­ing com­pany. The two com­pa­nies have worked to­gether, build­ing a log bridge for truck ac­cess to a for­est Tom was log­ging near Te Wera, east of Strat­ford.

Tom, who is now 70, is con­stantly out on the job work­ing with his crew, while Mar­ian is re­spon­si­ble for the ad­min­is­tra­tive as­pects of their busi­ness. The com­pany har­vests around 1,000 tonnes of logs each month, al­most all of it in Taranaki.

Com­pany equip­ment in­cludes ex­ca­va­tors (mostly Hi­tachi), a static de-lim­ber for re­mov­ing limbs from the stems and a four-axle, eight-wheel drive John Deere for­warder that can trans­port up to 20

tonnes of logs at a time to a wait­ing truck. The for­warder can be a vi­tal piece of equip­ment, as truck and trailer units have been get­ting big­ger and un­able to drive on-site for some jobs – so in­stead of get­ting the trucks to the logs, the for­warder has al­lowed Val­in­tine Log­ging to get the logs to the trucks.

Val­in­tine Log­ging buys and sells wood­lots ei­ther di­rect or through a log bro­ker. It also spe­cialises in share for­est blocks, where farm­ers have sup­plied the land and Val­in­tines have planted and cared for the trees in 50:50 profit ar­range­ments. The com­pany is in­volved in 18 such shared forests in Taranaki.

These days, Tom and Mar­ian are deal­ing with se­cond and third gen­er­a­tions of farmer fam­i­lies as suc­ces­sive blocks of trees have been har­vested by Val­in­tines on the same prop­er­ties.

The Val­in­tine fam­ily also have their own forestry block at Huiroa, east of Strat­ford.

Tom Val­in­tine doesn’t know when he will re­tire. He’s fit and able, he loves his work, so doesn’t see any point in knock­ing off.

And, says Mar­ian: “Tom’s proud of our busi­ness and he’s very proud of the safety record we’ve achieved over all the years. I don’t think he’ll be re­tir­ing any time soon.”


A young Tom Val­in­tine work­ing for his fa­ther’s com­pany in 1971.

Above: Tom Val­in­tine safely low­ers a tree cut down from along­side a Taranaki dairy farm race – his mea­suredTop ap­proach left: Log­ging has kept con­trac­tor, him in­jury-free Kerry McCormick, for 51 years. gets to grips with Bdreolonwe :flTy­oin­mgVal­in­tine is ex­pert at build­ing wood bridges, in­clud­ing this struc­ture – note the ship­ping con­tainer un­der­neath, just as a pre­cau­tion!

Top left: Mar­ian Val­in­tine with the com­pany’s John Deere for­warder.Left: The for­warder has proved in­valu­able in tak­ing out logs to the trucks that have been un­able to get onto the skid sites.Above: The next gen­er­a­tion – Chris Val­in­tine chain­saw­ing a big Taranaki log.Op­po­site page: Mar­ian and Tom Val­in­tine, cel­e­brat­ing a quar­ter cen­tury of busi­ness suc­cess with their com­pany, Val­in­tine Log­ging

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