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Trails End Recovery -- a one stop shop for customers
By Roy C. Anderson
In 1922, Karl Larson immigrated to the Pacific Northwest from Sweden and settled on a dairy farm near Astoria, Ore. Eighty-eight years later, his grandson Dean is still in Astoria, but working with biomass instead of bovine.
Karl's son Dale worked as a longshoreman in Astoria, loading logs onto ships and designing the associated rigging equipment. He also started a shingle mill that he operated on evenings and weekends. It was in the shingle mill, helping his Dad and Grandpa, that Dean Larson (at the age of seven) got his first taste of sawdust.
It took a while for Dean's sawdust fever to ferment. That's because, rather than working in the woods or the shingle mill, Dean decided to follow the example set by his brothers and go into the excavating business. He named his business Custom Excavating and, in 1992, started out with a single backhoe.
Following a Trend
Dean's company grew over the years, and as he gained experience, Dean observed several trends that further sparked his entrepreneurial spirit. First, he noticed that, "A lot of the material produced by my excavating company was being hauled over 100 miles for disposal.That didn't make sense to me." He also observed that, "Air quality regulations kept tightening -- I figured that open burning would keep getting harder and harder."
In 2001, after several years of research, Dean purchased the property near Fort Clatsop and started his second business, Trails End Recovery, a Material Recovery and Recycling Facility, or MRRF (pronounced Merf).
The company initially focused on providing other contractors in the region with a cost- effective alternative to disposing of their waste products in landfills. Eventually, Trails End landed a contract to recycle Western Oregon Waste's yard waste (or biomass) and construction and demolition waste. Recycling those materials soon became the cornerstone of the business. Western Oregon Waste is the region's main disposal company.
Dean initially used a stationary grinder to process the 25,000 tons of materials handled by Trails End Recovery each year. The materials include wood, concrete, roofing, sheetrock, plastic, and metals, to name a few.According to Dean, more than three-quarters of the material is wood, which he sells as hog fuel to the nearby Georgia Pacific Wauna paper mill, as well as other paper mills in and around Longview, Wash.
In 2007, Dean was still operating Custom Excavating and Trails End Recovery, but he decided to expand his business again by purchasing a portable, track-mounted horizontal grinder. His idea was to use the portable grinder to convert unutilized logging slash (from the heavily timbered region around Astoria) into hog fuel.
The move has paid off -- Larson's crews have been grinding logging slash on timber sales for Hampton Tree Farm Inc., and they recently started a pilot program on Stimson Lumber Company's Northwestern Oregon tree farm.
Diversity Key to Longevity
In case you haven't noticed a pattern yet, Dean's business philosophy is that diversity is the key to longevity. Dean says, "Around here, there just isn't enough excavating work to really keep a business going, so I am always looking for ways to diversify and provide more services to my customers."
A perfect example is an experimental thinning job they are completing on 25-acres of the Nature Conservancy's 7,600 acre Ellsworth Creek Preserve that overlooks Willapa Bay in the Southwestern corner of Washington. On the day TimberWest visited, Dean's crew was pre-commercial thinning, forwarding, grinding, and chipping trees rather than just grinding the logging slash that usually accumulates on landings as part of a commercial harvest. This is a pilot project designed to help restore some of the Ellsworth Preserve back to an "Old Growth" forest.
Dean's crew was using Barney, a beautiful purple Komatsu PC128 UU Excavator mounted with a custom-made shear to thin the 5 to 7-inch diameter and 50-foot tall hemlock trees to a 14-foot spacing between trees.
According to Dean, the excavator was designed for construction work in Japan where buildings are only 8 feet apart. The machine is so compact, it can fully rotate within an 8-foot circle, so it is perfect for the tight quarters of the commercial thinning operation. And Dean says it's heavy enough that handling the small diameter trees is not a problem. "The primary objective with any thinning operation is being able to perform the work with minimal disturbance to the surrounding area, and Barney helps us do that."
Another part of The Nature Conservancy project being completed by Larson was reclaiming some overgrown forest roads. The operations were being conducted on former industrially owned timberlands, so there was an existing, but heavily overgrown road system. Dean's crew opened up selected roads and then used the excavator to thin the forest out to about 35 feet from the roadside.
One Stop Shop
There's that diversity thing again. As Dean describes it, "I want to be a one-stop-shop for my customers. We can do it all -- from road building, timber harvest, slash grinding, scarification to road decommissioning."
On loan from John Deere was a 1710D forwarder that was bringing the tree length stems from the forest to a large centralized landing area. Dean said that the machine had been shipped all the way from Maine. "John Deere has been just excellent to work with. And they're so supportive of biomass."
Before the arrival of the forwarder, Dean's crew had been bringing material to the centralized landing area with a modified Volvo A25 off-road dump truck. A removable deck and log stakes mounted over the cab allowed the tree butts to be placed in the bed of the dump truck with the tops hanging out over the cab.
Once the material got out to the landing, a Hitachi EX225USR excavator with a loader attachment was feeding the stems to a 4710B Peterson Pacific horizontal grinder. Larson says that productivity generally averages about one truckload per hour but, at times, can be much higher.
Some portions of the stand contain trees large enough for a whole tree chipping operation that is producing pulp chips. Dean admits that grinding the smaller trees for the hog fuel aspect of this project is a bit of an experiment. "We're keeping very close track of our hours, costs, and production, so that we can really understand what it costs to do this kind of work. We're hoping that the higher value of the chipped material offsets the cost of the high cost of the ground hog fuel."
Just in case you're still not convinced that Dean believes in business diversity, Dean has spent the last year investigating the feasibility of biomass power generation. He has gone so far as forming a new business, Tongue Point Investors, LLC. And he knows how big a plant he can build given the available fuel in the area. The apparent hang up is finding a steam host and someone to buy the renewable power. My guess is that Dean will find a way to figure that out too.
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