Talent on Tap – Big Timber Brings Us All Beachcombing in Season II

When I was younger, I had role models on TV that had incredible strength, they were the hero in a story or they were someone that possessed leadership skills with a knack for problem solving. We didn’t have unscripted TV, so they were all actors. These days, we do have unscripted TV and some of those role models are now represented by real people. For example, the show that most of us cannot get enough of, is Big Timber on History Canada. The second season had its premiere on Oct. 14th and it looks spectacular! The dynamic couple and partnership of Kevin Wenstob and Sarah Fleming, along with their son Eric and extended family Coleman and the crew, have busted their backs, popped blisters, taken bruises, gotten in fights and pulled some slivers… and that was just getting to the jobsite. It’s not an easy career, but if you love working outside with your hands, have balance like a cat and smart work habits, working with Big Timber is for you.


Season 1 was extraordinary, because of authenticity, loveable characters, the problem solving and the camera crew! I am always so impressed with the incredible shots, angles, access and cinematography by the talented operators. Good imagery certainly helps to better appreciate the story and the landscapes/canvas.


I recently had the very distinct pleasure of speaking with Kevin and Sarah about the new revolutions in the second season and some of the surprises. It is a game changer and forward thinking that will inspire you to root for the underdog… every time. They were incredible guests and absolutely – genuinely humble, roll the tape!          


HNMAG “This season on Big Timber opens a new chapter in resourcing logs. You’ve turned to Beachcombing, hauling logs off beaches. Have you done this in the past?”

KEVIN “Yes, I used to do a lot of this with my brother.  He had a tugboat and we had smaller boats for getting to shore and yarding logs. We used to have some yard salvagers that would come by every season (Fall and Spring) and they’d log salvage up a barge load or two of wood that would get hauled to Sawmills that specialized in Beachcombed logs for the purpose of making lumber. I’m quite familiar with log salvaging and the equipment necessary to make this work.”


HNMAG “Is there a different process, cutting beachcombed logs from logs found in the forest?”

KEVIN “One of the problems with beachcombed wood, is that you can get a lot of gravel and rocks in the cracks, along with the sand from being circulated in the water from the surf breaks. It will cause a concentration of sand in the cracks. Now if you look at the savaged trees at the Alberni Inlet, they’re quite clean because they don’t have the sandy beaches to roll around on, like Barkley Sound. We have to adjust our sawmill, which we’re doing now, in order to process more of it, because it’s pretty lucrative.”      


HNMAG “Are you able to get the same capacity of logs as you would, plucking them from the forest ground?”

KEVIN “It’s like going fishing when you’re beachcombing. The wood comes from all over the place – they’re not all from booms or harvested logs, you’ll also get wood that comes down from rivers. Just last year, there was a huge landslide at Bute Inlet and the valley got wiped out. The Inlet got chalked full of wood and was washed out. Luke, one of the cast members has a cabin up there and was home when it happened. All of that wood shot out into the inlet and was dispersed within the week. That is a super large amount that is naturally occurring, but there are times when you can’t find much wood, then there’s times when there’s so much wood – it’s ridiculous.”


HNMAG “Now Sarah, is it your department that takes care of the permits and regulations?”

SARAH “It is my job and we do up all the applications for all the correct permits. There are 2 different kinds of wood that comes off the beach – there’s beachcombed and there’s a root buck. The root buck still has its roots on it and those have different rules and regulations than the beachcombed logs do. With a root buck, Kevin would have to locate it on a GPS and then forward pictures to the forestry department and they’d have to ok us, to take the logs off the beach. The beach-combed logs don’t have any of that but they’re all scaled then processed and then we’ll pay a stumpage.”


HNMAG “From what I’ve read, the cost of paying for beachcombed logs is 10 percent the cost of the fallen logs. Is that true?”

KEVIN “There’s a varying scale of stumpage and beachcombed wood (wood previously harvested), which has cut ends on it with no stamp. There’s not a high percentage of wood that gets stamped anymore with a timber mark. The beachcombed wood that has been harvested through the logging system is only 70 cents per cubic meter, which is really inexpensive versus the root buck, at 7.00. Even at 10 times the cost of beachcombed, it’s still marginal in comparison to our regular stumpage fee.”

SARAH “It is like fishing though, like Kevin had mentioned. You can go out searching around and spend a lot on fuel, time and wages on logs that you might not find. He’s combed the beaches pretty good and the oceans are going to bring in more bounty, but he can still go out there and get nothing.”        


HNMAG “Is the beachcombing an all-in deal or do you still continue logging inland as well?”

KEVIN “It was one or the other sort of deal. The reason we were beachcombing was because we were restricted from logging due to the snow and then the heat. It’s pretty stable on the ocean – the snow and the heat aren’t going to upset our operations.”


HNMAG “The weather must still factor in, if it gets windy and the water gets choppy?”

KEVIN “Sure, in the summer you do get large inflowing winds that cause a constant chopping action. In the winter, you get these storms that can be really aggressive. You have to work with the weather and not against it because when you’re fighting it, you’re not going to win (laughing).”


HNMAG “You’re beachcombing through the winter as well?”

KEVIN “No, we’re only doing it in the spring and the summertime and we’re still going to continue log salvaging. We’re currently mid-logging, but as soon as the snow hits we’ll be shut out again and back to getting wood from the ocean. We’re also in the midst of upgrading our mill, because this log salvaging is going to work well in the operation.”    


HNMAG “Has turning to beachcombing been a saving grace in saving the mill?”

KEVIN “You have to set up for it, which is quite an investment to get all your equipment working right. You’ve got the two different logging techniques with the beachcombing and the equipment required for that, as well as all your equipment for logging on the hillside and accessing wood through that direction. The sword itself crosses over for both. Hook Bay is great because it gives us access to the ocean for log salvaging. We’re able to utilize that and we’re also using the trucks for hauling wood and the tugboat and barges that help everything flow. Keeping all those avenues open allows us to have consistency in our wood supply. Most mills do suffer from winter or summer shutdowns. You need to keep a large inventory of logs and we usually keep as much as possible and what we can afford on an inventory basis. Being able to access wood from both sources is really helpful.”


HNMAG “Is this primarily red cedar you’re looking for when you’re beachcombing?”       

KEVIN “Yes, red cedar is what we were searching for and that’s what we’ve got in this season’s episode, but there’s tons of other great products out there on the beachcomb front. There’s Fir, Hemlock and others, but it was the cedar we were lacking.”

HNMAG “Who would you say is your biggest cedar customer?”

SARAH “Our biggest customer is our local resident. We sell a lot to the local area and don’t ship much for export. Our loyalty really is to the local Vancouver Island market.”


HNMAG “It must be so much harder to accommodate a camera crew on a boat?”

KEVIN “It was a bit of a challenge.”

SARAH “They have to be pretty athletic (laughing).”


HNMAG “Kevin, are you a pretty good swimmer?”

KEVIN “One of the best, but you can’t count on that.”

SARAH “He has a size 13 flipper at the end of his leg.”


HNMAG “What did your crew/team say, when you told them you were switching gears and going beachcombing?”

SARAH “They’re always up for adventure (laughing).”

KEVIN “They’re adventure people, so this is right down their alley. From my perspective, this is old hat and isn’t something new, it’s just that the environment we work in is semi-urban in Sooke and you’re utilizing the timber that’s available and we’ll travel further when we’re looking for more. The unutilized areas from my younger years have been the beachcombing. It’s been sitting there and nobody’s been organized on that front, so it’s a perfect opportunity to get more wood at a reasonable price.”

SARAH “I think the crew were looking for an adventure, it can get a little humdrum doing the same thing, day in and day out. They’re a great bunch of young guys and you can tell when you watch the episode, they’re having lots of fun.”


HNMAG “You have a nephew that’s been beachcombing to supply wood to his own mill?”

KEVIN “Yeah, he’s grown up around that area. He’s 31 now and has grown up out there his entire life. It’s second nature to him and nothing new. Now Eric, Jack and Coleman, this is brand new ground for them and they’re figuring out how to set it up, rig and walk and climb around on the beaches – it’s a totally different atmosphere.”

SARAH “They definitely look toward Kevin for the expertise on how to do it and Jake is a good wealth of knowledge as well.”


HNMAG “This is such a contrast from working on land then on water. Do you still get to see much wildlife in the ocean, such as seals or orcas?”

KEVIN “Oh yeah, there’s the whales, there’s the jumping salmon, all the birds are there and it’s a full array of wildlife that lives in the ocean – it’s all there… but we’re there trying to work and get things done. We’re not watching birds!”


Kevin is a character and he loves to talk about his operation because he also loves what he does. He’s also very fond of his crew, it definitely shows.


SARAH “He even saw some pirates out there. 

KEVIN “Modern day pirates though. (Pirate voice) You gotta relate and you gotta hold your own.”


HNMAG “Considering the hot summer we had, it must’ve forced more loggers to turn to beachcombing?”

SARAH “That’ll come up in one of the future episodes, so you’ll have to stay tuned to find out (laughing).”


HNMAG “Has accessing different areas by boat allowed you to become more familiar with different locations?”

KEVIN “I was already quite familiar with most of the areas but where we did work and what’s available, is just a speck. There is so much zone available for beachcombing and log salvaging. It just goes on and on, it’s a never-ending shoreline.”  


HNMAG “Will the beach-combing continue into the next season?”

KEVIN “I’m not sure how it’s going to play out, but it definitely gives us the wood that we need. It’s about opening doors to do what we have to do, to make success happen and that’s going to continue to happen.”


Kevin says, if it’s the end of the day and you still haven’t gotten your answers, sleep on it. Tomorrow you’ll have a fresh set of eyes and away you go again.”  


HNMAG “What would you say to younger folks looking to start their own mill?”

KEVIN “I’d say, start off small. Work your way through it and really realize who you are. That’s the best thing to do. Everybody has potentially endless resources but it depends on who you personally are and if you’re happy with your achievements. I believe that’s what it comes down to. You have to be realistic and be able to weigh what it’s going to cost you to do those things. Don’t try to say no to yourself but don’t try to overindulge either – moderation.”


HNMAG “One last serious question. Kevin, how old is your hat?”

KEVIN “(Laughing) I think it’s probably 4 years old.  It says Wood Miser in the corner and it went in the washer last night but came out dirty. What’s going on here? (laughing)”


Kevin and Sarah have true grit and know the value of tough work, red cedar, team building, laughter and tenacity. Please watch Big Timber – Thursday’s on History Canada network, you will be inspired, intrigued and a little flabbergasted.


2 thoughts on “Talent on Tap – Big Timber Brings Us All Beachcombing in Season II

  1. Hi Sarah hi Kevin .My name is Ernest White .I just started recovering logs from the beach. So fun so hard very dangerous I love it. Anyhow I would like to harvest Sechelt Inlet. Did you get the drug boat going I would like you all to come with your boat for a week or two and help me. If you wonder what I am about you can watch my you tube channel Wood Rush episode 4 we get first log. I got I big one today. I look forward to hearing from you all.
    Ernest White 6048856363

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