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On-Site Screeners excavator, screen, conveyor and mulch.

From Debris to Dollars

On-Site Screeners, creates value-added products from debris

By Kurt Glaeseman

Whatever happens to all the debris left on a logging side or a former mill site?

Often, there’s usable land or even valuable real estate under that topping of bark, dirt, rocks, and metal. But the question is, “how do you get to it?” A massive cleanup is often required to get down to the original topsoil, or too often the site is simply abandoned, a visual eye-sore that diminishes property values and invites inquisitive bureaucratic probing.

Ronnie Lyon and Earley Johnson, co-owners of On-Site Screeners near Medford, Ore., have developed a practical and efficient process to clean up such a site. They can simultaneously restore it back to its original topsoil and recycle valuable by-products. Their solid track record and long-range maintenance plans could well be the answer for logging companies periodically drowning in their own debris.

Working with an Idea
Lyon and Johnson met and worked together in construction — operating heavy equipment, trucking, and laying pipeline. Definitely hands-on workers, they weren’t afraid of new equipment and new adaptations for older equipment.

Add to that, Lyon’s dad’s interest in biomass, one of the potential by-products when a mill needed a yard deck cleaned up.

The wheels started to turn. What other products might there be? Defining the products helped develop the process. Basically those products fall into four categories:

  • Mulch, which could be sold to landscapers, nurseries, and distributors as soil amendment or potting material.
  • Bark, used for co-gen plants or as decorative bark for landscaping purposes.
  • Rock, graded for size and sold for road or building projects.
  • Metal (from old chains or mill repairs) to be sold as scrap…and then some rubber from old tires—usually requiring a disposal fee
  • The next step was how to process and separate them. They progressed from slant belts to a water bath, and in 2004 On-Site Screening was born.

On the Site
After a project has been bid and accepted, Lyon and Johnson move in with a 322L Cat excavator and a 960 CAT loader. The dozer pushes material into piles, and the excavator loads it onto their Peterbilt haul trucks for a short trip (perhaps 300 yards) to a Warrior 1400 Power Screen — what Johnson calls “a fantastic machine.”

The 322 loads the hopper, or feeder, of this Power Screen, and the material runs through a shaker screen — a six-inch screen on top, down to a three-quarter-inch screen on the bottom. The material finer than three-quarter inch (called “3/4 minus” or “fines”) goes to a mulch pile. Volume-wise, there is usually a lot of mulch. Anything bigger than six inches is handpicked from the top, and a magnet is used to locate metal.

The majority of the material screened will be in that six inch to three-quarter inch range. That goes to a water bath about the size of a semi-trailer (around 2,500 gallons of water). The wood floats in the current and the rock drops to the bottom. Each set is then taken away and stacked by a conveyer.

Co-Owners Earley Johnson (left) and Ronnie Lyon (right) stand before a pile of first-sort big rocks from the clean-up site north of Medford.

The Right Tools
Having the right machinery is critical for this process. Both Lyon and Johnson like CAT equipment. “We get great local service from Peterson CAT in Medford,” says Lyon. They also like the Peterbilts, a 2001 and a 1989 model. A high-side trailer is used for transporting bark, and a low-side for mulch and rock. Local drivers are available in the Medford area; in fact, it’s not unusual to see one of Lyon’s sons maneuvering a Peterbilt on site.

But it’s Lyon and Johnson you’ll see doing the machinery maintenance. According to Johnson, this process incorporates lots of moving parts, so keeping the bearings replaced and everything greased are top priorities.

A company seeking the service of On-Site Screeners may want them to get rid of all materials, or the company may want to recycle the material. A bid is usually based on the number of cubic yards to be moved to get down to the natural topsoil. Among other things, transportation of equipment must be considered because it takes seven low beds to move the whole operation.

Sometimes a job request may be a little unique. A Portland company had an old concrete ice house in Washington’s Tri-Cities area. Could On-Site Screeners separate the wood from the concrete? They could and they did. They ran the mixture through their water bath and all worked well. Lyon and Johnson learned that they can work from a bid (like cleaning up a log deck) or on a cost plus basis (the concrete demolition job).

A Mammoth Project
On-Site recently worked on a 40-acre job north of Medford. They cleared and scraped a former dumping site of decked logs destined for local mills and took it down to the native clay surface. They started work in 2004, with work finishing in 2008. By mid-2008 they had already moved 450 thousand yards of topping.

“There are mill sites with millions of yards of topping just sitting around, getting in the way,” says Lyon. “Our whole goal is to go to four or five mills a year and run 30 to 40 thousand yards annually to give the owners time to get rid of the by-products. We can come back the following year and make the same loop. The mills don’t need to spend a huge lump sum, and they could budget for equal, or smaller, subsequent or maintenance work. If nearby mills could work together, geography would not be an issue. The savings could run into millions of dollars.”

And that’s something to take to the bank.

On-Site Screeners can be researched at, or contact them by phone at (541) 865-3811.