CT Firm Rounds Out Operation With 5600 Track Wood Hog

Mon September 27, 2004 - Northeast Edition
Construction Equipment Guide

When it recently undertook a project to clear and excavate for a driveway up a steep hillside, Saugatuck Tree & Logging found the grinding facet of the job one of the most challenging.

The lot, owned by the CEO of a major Internet travel site, featured large trees — many in excess of 60 in. (152.4 cm) in diameter —which had to first be downsized, then hauled down the hillside to a waiting Morbark model 20 chipper for processing. That project, and others like it, coupled with Saugatuck’s desire to increase versatility throughout the operation, led it to purchase a model 5600 Track Wood Hog from Morbark Inc., Winn, MI. Today, the company cites improved performance in both its logging and recycling operations and attributes that improvement to the addition of the track-mounted unit.

Humble Beginnings

As is the case with many of New England’s successful logging firms, Redding, CT-based Saugatuck Tree & Logging has its roots in a small startup operation. According to Derek Smith, who along with his brother, Dwight, owns and runs the company, theirs was perhaps even smaller and more modest than most.

“We started out in 1983 as a tree pruning operation and, armed with only a hand-fed chipper, a 1965 dump truck and a whole lot of ambition, worked hard to make the company succeed,” began Derek. “After only a short while, we saw the potential in growing the business into other areas. So in 1985 we purchased a Morbark Whole Tree Chipper and made the move from tree pruners to specialists in mechanized landclearing and logging. Today we are actively involved in a range of projects including clearing for golf courses, condominiums, horse farms, roads, subdivisions, and so on.”

Over the past few years, Derek Smith and his brother were faced with two realities. They were spending more and more money disposing of their wood waste. That same material they were discarding had a measurable value to it.

“Coming to grips with those two facts led to the establishment of the recycling portion of our business,” Smith said. “We now stockpile our wood debris at a two-acre site in Monroe, CT, and grind it on a regular basis for production of high-quality mulch and compost.”

Smith said he is both amazed at how far they’ve come in that relatively short 20 years, and pleased with the direction he and Dwight have taken the company. “There’s no denying we’ve worked hard for every gain we’ve made, but a good deal of the success we’ve enjoyed can be attributed to the skilled, committed people we’ve been fortunate enough to have had join the company, and to the solid level of performance we’ve gotten from the equipment we’ve purchased along the way.”

Service Tilts the Scale

Saugatuck currently employs approximately 10 people in both its logging and recycling operations and uses no fewer than 25 major pieces of equipment to help those operations run smoothly. While virtually every tool is invaluable, Smith said the recent addition of the Morbark Track Wood Hog to its fleet has already made an impact and will continue doing so in the future.

“We’ve been a believer in Morbark’s equipment since we bought our first Whole Tree Chipper, a model 20. We currently own that unit plus a model 27RXL Whole Tree Chipper and a Morbark Wolverine, and they’ve never let us down in terms of performance or maintenance. This helped cement our decision to go with the model 5600.”

Going Horizontal

According to Smith, the search for a horizontal grinder — particularly a track-mounted unit — was contingent upon increasing production in the newly established recycling facet of the business and enhancing the capabilities in the logging end.

“We saw the advances that had been made in the development of track-mounted units and saw the value they could have in our operation. The benefit of using it in the recycling yard was obvious: we could up production by going with a more powerful grinder than the horizontal unit we had in place, and we could improve efficiency by utilizing the mobility of a track-mounted grinder. Without knowing a wood waste recycling operation, one would be amazed to see how many times a grinder has to be moved during the course of a day’s processing — particularly in a small acreage yard such as ours,” Smith said.

Both benefits have produced immediate and positive results in Saugatuck’s recycling operation. With the Track Wood Hog, the company has gone from a 525-hp (391 kW) unit to an 860-hp (641 kW) grinder yet it has almost doubled production. Smith attributed this upturn to a combination of the added power and the on-site mobility.

“Now we are able to move the Track Wood Hog right up to the top of a pile and grind off a specific area. Or we can walk it up to one of our mulch storage bins and grind a specific mulch directly into the bin, thereby eliminating an additional movement step with a loader. And, at the end of the day, cleanup around the machine — a job which used to be a major undertaking after a full day’s processing — is now simple. The maneuverability of the grinder is something we didn’t know we were missing but now is something we couldn’t do without.”

A Look at the Hog

The Track Wood Hog, which weighs 90,000 lbs. (40,823 kg) is a track-mounted version of the company’s model 5600 Wood Hog and provides all of the same features but with the added mobility.

“The nature of our business is such that we frequently change grates to create different product sizes. That changeout used to be something of a major undertaking, but the 5600 makes it a snap. A hydraulic hinged door allows easy access to the screens and, because the screen is a three-piece design, changes can be done by one person rather than by two—and still get done in half the time,” Smith said.

Other features include a heavy-duty undercarriage; a full breakaway torque limiter, which prevents damage to the drivetrain in the event of a hammermill jam; and a separate reversible fan for blowing fines out of the radiator.

However, when pressed for the single overriding feature the Track Wood Hog brings to Saugatuck’s operation, Smith again comes back to the mobility.

“We just can’t say enough about the fact that the unit is fully maneuverable and fully operational from a remote position,” he said. “For us that has been a big plus because now we are able to have the excavator operator — who is feeding the grinder with a grapple — also have control over its movement. In the past, a simple movement of the grinder to either clear the discharge pile or reposition the grinder meant a halt in production while a truck or loader was hooked up to make the move. And, if the situation warrants it, we can still have one man feeding the Wood Hog with the excavator while another handles the remote control unit of the grinder either from another piece of machinery or from the ground.”

Making Tracks for the Woods

Saugatuck has field-tested the Track Wood Hog in its recycling yard but has big plans for it to become an integral part of the forestry and logging operation as well.

“We do a lot of municipal work such as clearing for ball fields, new schools and so on, as well as commercial development, so the Track Wood Hog will definitely streamline the grinding part of such jobs. However, we also have contracts to clear for several golf courses in the area and the fact that the grinder is track-mounted will allow us to take it almost anywhere to grind — that’s a luxury we’ve simply never had.”

Saugatuck Tree & Logging is a year-round operation, but, according to Smith, in winter the conditions can often be far from ideal. “To be able to drive that grinder virtually anywhere on a job site that we need to grind — regardless of terrain — will save us vast amounts of time and man-hours.”

Growing With the Flow

Derek and Dwight Smith have seen Saugatuck Tree & Logging grow at a pace even they never anticipated. The logging portion of the business generates more than 1.3 million bd. ft. of hard wood and 300,000 bd. ft. of soft wood annually. On the recycling side, this year alone they will be providing more than 75,000 tons (67,500 t) of mulch to more than 350 area landscapers, nurseries, golf courses and residential customers. With all that in place, the brothers are poised to take the company to the next level.

“We have really outgrown our site at Monroe and are getting ready to move to a much larger site — 40 acres versus our current two acres — not far from here. That additional acreage will allow us to do some things we are currently unable to do such as additional custom-blending of mulch, custom-coloring material for added customer selection, and so on. We have also looked into the possibility of bagging some of our product to make it more commercially available. These are things which are just in the planning stages right now but are definitely realistic goals for us to reach. We believe in what we do, we have the people to make it happen, and we use equipment which helps us get the jobs done right and done on time. The latest addition to our arsenal — the Track Wood Hog — will only make us that much better.”