Logging and Sawmilling Information for the Western United States
November 2000 - Volume 25 Number 11
Cashing in Your Chips
Ray Moss is out on a limb. He's just high enough off the ground that he can see all kinds of potential for his Peterson PacificHC 2400A hammer mill, but he also figures he has a long way to fall if the profit margins aren't there. Armed with the new waste wood processor, Moss contracts mostly with Potlatch Corporation, reducing huge slash piles to truckloads of hog fuel. However, there's a catch. Companies such as Potlatch generally get all the hog fuel they want for little or no charge from other mills, so Moss's hog fuel is more expensive for the corporation. That means his processor must prove its worth by improving the logged site, something Moss and his crew say it does very well. It's an angle that plays to the environmental side in an era when public opinion sometimes counts as much in the bottom line as company profits."I've always been ahead of the times in a way," says Moss, who's based out of Clarkston, Washington. "The idea came along but maybe the timing isn't quite right.
We're the only ones doing this in the area and I could call any mill and get their brush piling job. They're so enthused. But we've got to get paid to do it. When you have a half a million dollars into equipment, you're not doing this for a hobby." No stranger to stepping out on limbs, Moss brought the first 3000foot capability line machine into the area in the 70's, a Canadian built Sidewinder, after Guy Bennett Lumber lined up contracts to keep the machine busy. He was on a roll, chipping and logging, keeping 30 people in paychecks. Eventually, the demand waned for that type of line machine, so Moss concentrated on chipping, working with Potlatch in the early 80's. When he purchased the Peterson Pacific last year, Potlatch Corporation reps entertained the idea because of Moss's good work and track record with the company. But the company has him on a tight leash, delivering 30 loads per week, while he's capable of processing nearly twice as much.
Moss knows the company regards his product as its most expensive hog fuel, yet he points to the clean job in the woods as a bonus in the operation. "Potlatch has tried this before," he says. "Everyone's tried it, but it didn't seem to work in the past because our prep work and equipment weren't as good as they are now. This machine has 24 hammers on a cylinder and it spins, so it's good for making hog fuel, but not for making chips." Moss's processor operator Ted Williams rates the Peterson Pacific more favorably over processors he's used previously, claiming it's the right fit for the jobs the company is doing in north central Idaho and eastern Washington and Oregon. "The swing hammer mill in a tub grinder costs about half what these cost, but these hammers last ten times as long," Williams notes. "The cost of production is 60 percent of those, factoring in fuel costs, loads and repairs. It takes about half an hour to change one of these hammers, but it took several hours on tub grinders, not to mention all the bad words.
Though Moss has used knife chippers in the past, he has been more pleased with his hammer mill, making only one major change - the length of the conveyor - so it could deposit the hog fuel into the back of a chip truck. (Moss notes that the conveyor also has a magnet near the top that skims off 99 percent of the metal and drops it to the ground, making loads even cleaner). He also had a different grapple fabricated on his loader, so it can better pick up the mix of logs, limbs and waste. Because the processor type is usually found at a landing or in a log yard that is level, Moss has had his own set of hurdles to overcome to outfit the machine to the woods. "When Peterson Pacific came out here to see how we were doing, they asked how others were doing things, and I said 'what others?' There's no one else doing it - in this area, anyway. Nobody's out in the brush doing this. Potlatch said it wouldn't work, because there's too much dirt, but we find that the better the logging job, the better job we can do.
What we really need now is a good cogeneration plant because this stuff is otherwise all going to waste." First seeing the processor at the Oregon Logging Show, Moss picked right up on the potential for such a machine in the area. Environmental interests and private landowners frown on the idea of slash piles burning and smoldering for weeks after a logging job is finished.
Moss is not alone in anticipating burn bans in the future to meet clean air standards, so grinding up the logging residue seems logical. Moreover, the conversion from slash pile to hog fuel, and perhaps landscape bark, leaves the forest floor much cleaner, with fewer fuels on the ground. "There are no minuses to this," says Moss, who began his logging career in 1956 in Superior, Montana. "We used to waste a lot and do things differently, but there's a lot changed in 40 years. With this system, there are no weeds, no smoke, no burnt trees from fire getting away, no scorched bodies of timber. I just can't think of any minuses." Down to a crew of two in addition to himself, Moss handles all the dozer work, pushing debris into piles, which are scooped up by John Deere 690E loader operator Craig Grimes. Ted Williams baby-sits the processor as chip trucks line up for loads.
The 30 load limit is usually tallied by Wednesday or Thursday. The only downside is moving the processor and situating it in a good area for chip truck access. For moving chores, Moss devised a dolly, which he hitches up to his John Deere dozer. "We're still learning and are on a fairly steep learning curve," Moss assesses. "The weather about starved us out last year, and the terrain can be a problem. Flatter is better, and the steeper it is, the harder it is. The machine was originally designed for a yard that's level. Also, you really need good roads for the chip trucks."
Despite the headaches of maneuvering the processor around on challenging back roads, Moss remains committed to his new direction because he sees the final product in the woods. From the looks of his appointment calendar, there are several customers ready to sign on for the same reason. For example, Bill Skelton, who helps oversee forest and rangelands for McCann Ranch and Livestock near Winchester, Idaho, is lavish in his praise of the Peterson Pacific and Ray Moss. After several slash piles were processed into hog fuel and removed, Skelton said it was easy to keep up with the company's usual planting of 15,000 to 20,000 new trees per year. Already planted grasses have taken hold, and the young trees are showing good growth. A clean logging job means Skelton can avoid risky burning, yet grazing lands are looking good. "If environmental efforts and the state would put a little money into this instead of burning, I think it would be a good idea," Skelton comments.
Ray Moss dittos that thought. Ironically, if he would have promoted his idea with a grant application instead of a personal payment plan, he might have gotten a leg up on the financial risk. Once into the business, however, he qualifies for no grant help. That means the progressive thinking has to also turn a profit somewhere along the line. And that makes Ray and Susie Moss pray that the limb they've gone out on holds long enough for the environmentally sound idea to catch on.
Barbara Coyner has covered forestry issues and the timber industry for various magazines and newspapers for over 15 years.
This page was last updated on Tuesday, July 08, 2003