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Va. Company Turns Hurricane Disaster into Opportunity

Continental Biomass Industries’ quick response saves the day

By Richard Veilleux
Date Posted: 4/1/2004

      Timing, they say, is everything. For Kevin Sims, owner of KW-1, LLC, the saying couldn’t be truer.

      Sims, working with company managers Mike Couch and Eric Byrum, in early 2003 decided to expand his high-end housing construction business into land clearing. This was not a huge leap since the company already cleared land to build high-end homes and owned a 1999 Arbor Brush Bandit. The Virginia Beach, Va., region where the firm is based was booming, and there were land-clearing jobs to be had.

      Six months after taking the plunge, a tropical storm developed into Hurricane Isabel. It gained strength and ravaged North Carolina and Virginia. High winds and torrential rains ground through the state, taking down power lines, washing away homes in massive floods, and bringing down thousands of acres of trees.

      Virginia Beach City officials called KW-1.

      “We were out there grinding as much as we could, but the logs kept piling up,” said Mike, who manages KW-1’s daily operations. “It didn’t take long before we realized we needed something larger.”

      To the rescue came Continental Biomass Industries of Newton, N.H., manufacturer of the self-described “World’s Best Grinders.” KW-1, a happy customer, is convinced they’re right.

      “That’s just an amazing machine,” Eric said of the CBI Magnum Force Series 4800, one of CBI’s largest grinders. “You just put huge logs in there, and they just come right out the other end as mulch. It’s very fast - there were times we had two excavators loading logs in at the same time and the machine didn’t even blink,” he said.

      Neither did CBI, when Sims called them several days after Hurricane Isabel hit. The storm, which caused nearly $2 billion in damage to the state, created a quick need for land clearing services. KW-1 ordered a Magnum 4800 grinder.

      “CBI had that machine up here within a week, trained us on it and CBI’s representative sat there watching us for two or three days, until he knew we had it down,” Eric said. KW-1’s ability to get the massive machine up and running so fast gave the city the confidence they needed to send massive amounts of work its way. Not bad for a start-up venture.

      During the height of the storm cleanup, 500-600 trucks a day came in loaded with logs. Crews were working seven days a week, 12 hours a day. What had started with an open lot quickly had logs stacked up seven, eight stories tall.

      Eric said, “We’d finish one story, one layer, then the excavators — a John Deere, a Caterpillar and a Kumatsu — would just climb right on up and start another layer. We’d finish that and they’d go right up and do another one.”

      Ultimately, it took KW-1 six months to work through the debris. It produced more than half a million yards of mulch with the new Magnum 4800 grinder. City officials used the mulch to build up dirt roads at the city landfill and other Virginia Beach sites. KW-1 helped, contributing its 44-yard Demo mulch truck and a 84-yard Peterbilt.

      Eric said that the company had dozens of offers from local builders and loggers to buy the logs, which included virtually every tree species from Ash to Maple, Pine and Oak, but with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) concerned primarily about time, FEMA officials just wanted the material mulched.

      The CBI grinder complied.

      “It took everything you could throw at it as quick as you could do it” Couch said.

      Coming from a KW-1 manager, that says a lot. The team of Sims, Couch and Byrum know about speed. Besides the housing and land clearing businesses, KW-1 also owns and races a pair of International Hot Rod Association (IHRA) Funny Cars. Their racing team has become one of the top 10 teams in the world.

      Many of the workers that KW-1 hired to handle the hundreds of acres of downed trees after Hurricane Isabel also pitch in on the IHRA circuit. Couch, KW-1’s operations manager, has been around speed racing since his teens and is the racing team’s crew chief.

      “It’s quite an operation. We race across the country and in Canada. It takes a couple tractor trailers, a bus, and an airplane to get everything to the races,” he said. It helps that KW-1 also operates a charter airplane business.

      “We keep busy,” Eric said, adding that they also sell and install $300,000 home theater systems. And if that’s not enough, they have just launched their own label of barbecue sauce, Kalbones Grill’n’ Sauce, available on the Web at

      Back home, the next step for the company is to build a new facility to house its offices and operations. KW-1 intends to build a pair of 9,000-square-foot buildings. The facilities will house all of KW-1’s interests, including offices for the home construction company, a place to manufacture the barbecue sauce, work on the hot rods, and a machine shop.

      “We’ve been using the CBI Magnum regularly,” said Eric, noting that even though the hurricane cleanup has nearly wrapped up, KW-1 regularly has grinding jobs of its own. Some of the major clean-up companies in the area are still swamped with work and have contracted jobs to KW-1. The company keeps up with the requests by deploying the CBI grinder, as well as the old Brush Bandit and a newer 2003 Bandit.

      “With the Magnum, we can do anything,” Eric said. “We can roll it right in, and clear two or three acres in just a couple of days.”

      According to Eric, having a horizontal grinder helps the business by allowing it to do grinding jobs near roadways, buildings, or other equipment.

      “With a tub, some of the larger branches tend to bounce a bit, but we can direct the feed on the Magnum, put it right where we want it,” he said.

      And, of course, there is the speed. The Magnum 4800 operates on an 1,030 horsepower CAT diesel engine, and has a 19,000-pound solid steel rotor. It also has three heavy-duty high torque gear drives to provide a continuous feed of wood.

      Eric said that the group also likes Magnum’s ability to travel on the state’s highways, which is towed behind a 2004 Kenworth tri-axle truck. Among all the other things they learned as part of the new venture, they also had to study for and pass the tests to become certified escort drivers. This allowed them to help guide the machine from one site to another.

      Sims, Couch and Byrum have known each other for years. Byrum and Sims are Virginia Beach natives. Couch, he said, laughing, “has been everywhere.”

      For now, though, they’re comfortable in Virginia, growing their land-clearing business with the help of CBI’s grinding equipment. As for this year’s hurricane season and the chance of a repeat of last year’s flurry of work, are they nervous?

      “We’re ready,” said Eric. “This time we’re a lot better prepared. Bring it on.”


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