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Processing Machines Fuel Firewood Businesses
Multitek firewood processors enable solo operator, elderly couple to pursue business
By Thomas G. Dolan
Date Posted: 9/1/2004
Sometimes bigger may be better, but small can still be beautiful. Here are two stories of how the Multitek Model 2020LDCS series firewood processor, made by Wisconsin-based Multitek Inc., helps two small businesses survive and prosper in a way they could not without.
Wayne Malley, 58, of
About three years ago, paper mills began escalating the prices they would pay for round wood as they sought to obtain enough raw material, he was priced out of the market for logs. “I couldn’t afford to buy wood and sell it at a profit,” said
With the Multitek,
The Multitek can split two, four, or six ways. “We don’t go eight ways,” said
The Multitek “is very steady and extremely reliable,”
When asked how many hours he puts into the business, he said, “I don’t know of anybody in the nuts and bolts side of the lumber business who works a 40 hour week. For me it probably averages out to 60 hours a week winter and summer.” In addition, his business occupies about 10 acres that must be plowed in the winter and maintained with gravel in the summer so that trucks can get in and out.
In the firewood business, he found he could gradually increase prices to increase profits. “The beauty of firewood is that it’s recession proof,” said
The market for firewood is large, he believes, but
Wayne and wife, Elizabeth, have been married 38 years; they have two sons and a daughter. They enjoy traveling in their motorhome, which allows
In Poplar, Wisconsin, Lyle Fechtelkotter got into the firewood business about 20 years ago. At the time, he was a farmer and a logger, running logging crews of two to five men. During the oil embargo in the early 1980s, he decided to get into the firewood business, too. A few years later, he exited farming and logging. He could have lived off his retirement and investments, but he wanted to remain active so he maintained his firewood business. He still owns 300 acres of land that he uses either to grow hay or to rent to people needing pastureland for their horses.
Lyle started his firewood business with a chainsaw and splitting ax. About 13 years ago he bought a firewood processor from a company that later went out of business. “I didn’t know what I was doing when I got that first machine,” he confessed.
The machine performed well, but eventually Lyle needed to replace it. “The Multitek factory is just about 100 miles away, and every time the salespeople came by, they wanted to sell me one,” he said. “I always said, ‘Mine is good enough,’ and we would joke about it. But when it was time to buy a new one, I thought of them first because we had such a good rapport.”
By the time he needed to get a new firewood processor, Lyle already knew he wanted to buy a Multitek. He checked another manufacturer to compare prices, then decided there was no further need to shop around. He decided on a Multitek 2020 and bought it early this year from a local dealer, Resource Recovery Systems.
Lyle and his wife, Geraldine, who goes by Gerry, are both 79. He has been in a wheelchair for about two years, so they hire college or high school students to run the Multitek. Gerry also runs the firewood processor occasionally. “There’s probably not another woman in the world who runs a firewood processor,” said Lyle.
“I enjoy it,” said Gerry. They bought a machine with the cab option, which has all the controls, heating and flood lights. “We didn’t need the air conditioning for it never gets warmer than the low 80s, and you can just stick your head out the cab,” said Gerry.
Lyle used to work 16 to 18 hours per day. Although his physical activities are now restricted by the wheelchair, he can contribute to the business in other ways. For example, he handles phone calls and makes sales.
The business started off in a back muddy lot but began to do much better when they moved the operations to a site on Highway 2, which goes from
The business produces 300 to 500 logger’s cords of firewood annually. Firewood is sold year-round, to homeowners in winter and campers in the summer. The biggest customers are two
The Multitek firewood processor produces a logger’s cord of wood in about 1 to 1-1/2 hours. “The processor cuts from any length, from 20 down to 10 inches, and the splitter head turns out four, six, or eight pieces,” said Lyle. This Multitek model has the newest design and works really well.”
Although the couple has no particular interest in expanding the business, Lyle said, “The demand keeps increasing, and we’re having trouble keeping up with the demand.”
They could sell the business to their children — they have three children and seven grandchildren — or another buyer, but they have no plans to retire completely. “We enjoy life and want to stay active,” said Lyle. “We’ll work until we drop.”
Besides running their business, Lyle and Gerry are woodworking hobbyists. They make wood tables, rocking chairs, cabinets, and other furniture.
Gerry is the sister of Dick Bong, who was a highly decorated fighter pilot in World War II. Dick became
Dick returned home and continued his military service as a test pilot. He was killed test piloting the first Lockheed jet fighter plane on the same day that the
There is a museum honoring him in
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