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Maass in Mass.: Downed Trees Mean Big Business for Contractor

A freak mid-autumn snow storm causes chaos - and opportunity.

Sun August 11, 2013 - Northeast Edition
Construction Equipment Guide

When a freak mid-autumn snowstorm was bearing down on New England last year, predictions of the havoc it would wreak — power outages, disrupted air travel, closed schools and offices, etc. — were widespread. For tree care specialist Dan Maass, a look around at all the trees, still bearing full leaves, meant only one thing: widespread damage from downed trees and a phone that would probably not stop ringing for weeks. He was right on both counts. Calls for his services skyrocketed to such a degree that, for better than six months, he literally had no time to tend to his regular client base and their demands. Through it all, Maass said his chipper, a six-year-old Morbark Tornado, provided a level of “day-in day-out” service that never ceased to impress him as he worked to stay ahead of the calls. Today, that chipper has been retired, and, in what can only be seen as the ultimate vote of confidence and satisfaction, it’s been replaced by an identical Morbark Beever M15R. Apparently the expression “don’t mess with success” never rings truer than it does in central Massachusetts.

Roots in Clearing

Started as a combination land-clearing company and firewood provider, Maass’ operation has evolved into a full-scale tree service company serving customers within a 50-mi. radius of its Charlton, Mass., home.

“I started with a focus on clearing house lots, mostly as a means to get material for the firewood part of the business,” he said. “However, I found out quickly that, unless you have a ton of guaranteed work and a lot of big equipment, it’s tough to make it in land clearing. So I decided that I might as well get paid for my efforts in getting the firewood; I shifted gears and started to focus more on residential tree work.”

Maass first started with a smaller chipper, a Morbark 290, which served him well during the early days when he was developing the tree service part of the business. After a few years and with a decent clientele in place, he decided an upgrade was called for and purchased the Tornado chipper.

“That was in 2005 or so, and it was driven a bit by ’chipper envy,’” he said. “I had a friend who was also in the tree service business and was running the Morbark Tornado. After seeing what his chipper could do, I knew I also had to have one, so I contacted the local Morbark dealer at the time and placed the order. Looking back, I don’t think I’ve ever made a better decision. I don’t care where I go or what I’m faced with; I know I can get the job done. Whether I’m taking my loader and stuffing the whole top of a tree in there or winching in large tree sections, that chipper will handle it. It is just a powerhouse.”

Success in the Trees

Utilizing a bucket truck, a chainsaw and an obvious love for his trade, Maass makes strategic cuts and, working in concert with his ground crew, uses ropes to carefully lower tops and huge tree segments to the ground for subsequent downsizing and chipping.

“In addition to the chipper, my bucket truck is another key piece of this operation,” he said. “It is an older model GMC with a Hi-Ranger XT-55 boom and bucket that I picked up at auction. It gives me a working height of about 60 feet, which has served me very well over the years. It’s older and has seen a lot of action in its life, but for me that’s a good thing. We do huge cuts over the truck every day and, if a limb drops onto the crash cage or the back of the box, it’s no big deal.”

On jobs in which either the terrain or physical boundaries make access to the work area impossible, Maass said that he relies on a Genie TZ 34/20 lift, a tow-behind unit that gives him 40 ft. (12 m) of vertical reach.

“More important than the reach, however, is its ability to get into tight spaces,” he said. “If, for example, a back yard is not accessible, even with the truck’s long reach, the Genie is small enough to get in there and set up, then give us the access we need. It’s been a nice addition to the operation and has saved us on a number of occasions.”

Good Gets Better

Once material has been cut and lowered to the ground, Maass’ crew makes whatever further cuts are needed to get it ready to feed into the chipper. In most cases, said Maass, little prep is needed.

“The machine is powered by a 140 hp John Deere engine and takes all the hardwood we can feed it without a problem,” he said. “But pine trees just scream through this unit — the auto-feed doesn’t even have to kick in. Although this is essentially the same model as my previous machine, Morbark made a good thing even better by doubling the number of knives in the drum from two to four on the newer machine. And we keep those knives as sharp as possible to cut down on wear and improve productivity.”

He added that the winch, which comes as an option on the chipper, should be on every tree person’s list of must-haves, citing instances in which it has made the job a whole lot easier.

“On larger pieces like the ones we rope down from above, the winch is a back-saver for my crew in getting it to the machine — that’s a given,” he said. “But it is also great when we are cutting trees with vines tangled through them. If we make our cuts and see that vines are holding the piece to another tree, the winch will settle that argument — no problem. It is a very powerful and very useful tool for us.”

After Effects

In most regards, a look around central Massachusetts shows that things have quieted down and returned to normal since the snowstorm of last year. For Maass, however, word of mouth from the cleanup work he did was so significant that he is still seeing its residual effects today.

“I don’t do any advertising at all; my work comes only from referrals and repeat business,” he said. “And a lot of people saw the work I did after the storm and became new customers, so my client base just exploded. Unfortunately, a big part of this job involves having to go out and do estimates for all the new work. So, after being in the trees all day, my evenings are spent doing that; it’s like having two full-time jobs.”

He added that, despite those challenges, he truly loves what he does now and is grateful to have good people and reliable equipment to make the work easier.

“At the end of the day, I can look at what we’ve done and feel good about it,” he said. “And at the center of every job is our Beever M15R, which I feel is the best chipper working today. In fact, if anything ever happened to this one, I wouldn’t even think twice about it; I’d go right down to Schmidt Equipment in Oxford and purchase another identical unit. After all, it’s been really good to me; why would I change a thing?”

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