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Bob Ray Co. Does ‘Anything’ Dealing with Trees

Contractor has grown from arborist to land clearing, has long relied on Bandit Industries

By Diane M. Calabrese
Date Posted: 4/1/2005

LOUISVILLE, Kentucky — Tee Ray was 13 years old when his father, Bob, taught him to climb trees with ropes and saddle. Bob was then the owner of the Bob Ray Co., a business that Tee now heads.

      “Anything that has to do with trees” falls within the scope of the Bob Ray Co., said Tee. “My father started (the company) in 1960. I took over day-to-day operations in 1986.”

      The Bob Ray Co. is probably best described in its current form as an “arborist-slash-land-clearing” operation, explained Tee. The main root of the firm extends all the way back to Tee’s great-grandfather, who took an early interest in tree services related to nursery management.

      The younger Ray joined his father in business full-time after attending Ohio State University to study nursery management. “Dad did strictly residential work until I started in 1980-1981,” said Tee. As soon as he joined his father in business, Tee widened the focus. “I started going after commercial work,” he explained.

      Today, the Bob Ray Co. tackles tree service work of all sorts -- management and pruning services, including fertilizing, land-clearing, and select cutting. Tee determined early that if he was going to get the most value from the trees he removed, he would have to take over the marketing, instead of relying on a third party to negotiate deals.

      To get the most out of every tree, Tee also decided to match his diverse array of endeavors with equipment that has an equally broad scope of capabilities. In 1988, Tee bought an 8-inch to 10-inch chipper from Bandit Industries Inc. in Remus, Mich. That was his first Bandit machine, and it started a relationship with Bandit that has grown across 17 years.

      Tee recalled that he was on the way to an arborists’ convention in Hawaii when he met two principals from Bandit Industries on the plane. He liked what he heard about Bandit machines. “They had one of the first hydraulic-fed chippers,” explained Tee. The configuration made the chippers safer, he said.

      Today, Bob Ray Co. owns four Bandit 254 towable brush chippers, two Bandit Beast model 3680 grinders, and one Bandit model 1900 track whole tree chipper; the two Beast model 3680 machines are track-mounted and powered by 650 hp engines. Tee recently invested in a Bandit model 1890 Intimidator chipper that was scheduled to be delivered in April.

      With the combination of machines from Bandit Industries, the Bob Ray Co. is able to fulfill a motto that Tee developed. “No job too small, no tree too tall,” he said. Tee’s company sends out everything from two-man residential crews to land-clearing teams.

      The residential felling and pruning jobs depend on bucket trucks and chain saws. Tee’s company is certified to work above power lines. In all the work the company does, the limbs come down without ever touching the ground, he explained.

      For removing trees in wood lots and tracts of land, the Bob Ray Co. relies on a Hydro-Ax feller-buncher equipped with a Koehring felling head. It easily takes down a 24-inch diameter tree and will handle larger trees, said Tee.

      The crew uses a Rayco forestry mower to clear underbrush first, said Tee. Then the Hydro-Axe is used to remove the marketable timber. “We do cut-to-length only,” said Tee.

      Because the Bob Ray Co. has forestry expertise among its 35 employees, it can assist landowners in making decisions about how to manage forests. “We’ll sell anything from pulp, grade, pallet, to veneer,” said Tee. “I’m starting to investigate round wood and chip wood.”

      Once the merchandisable wood is removed, crews begin to feed the Bandit machines, which are moved to job sites on a lowboy trailer. The Bandit 1900 track grinder and the two Bandit Beast 3680 machines are used for big jobs.

      The two Bandit Beast 3680 machines are the most recent additions to the roster at Tee’s company. “There’s just so much versatility to those machines,” said Tee. He bought the first one in May 2004 to handle an increasing amount of wood from right-of-way jobs. He liked it so much that he bought the second Bandit Beast in January 2005.

       A feature of the Bandit Beast that receives particularly high marks from Tee is the way it can be fed and operated by one worker. A single employee can operate another piece of heavy equipment to load the 3680 Bandit Beast and run the grinder via remote control.

      Tee is eager to get the Intimidator he ordered. In many ways, he said, Bandit “built it for us.” Bandit Industries listens to customers like him when they request certain things for a machine, he said.

      Having already had the Intimidator for a demonstration, Tee said he knows what it can do. He “bought on performance,” he explained.

      With the Intimidator, “you can take less horsepower and do more work,” said Tee. “Actually, you can take less horsepower and do the same work with it,” he explained.

      With a business so tightly linked to the performance of its chipping and grinding equipment, Tee has followed industry trends closely. The first chippers were drum style, he noted. “Then, Bandit came out with a disc chipper with a hydraulic feeder,” said Tee, an innovation that represented the “single greatest improvement to the industry.”

      Yet, a problem Tee perceived with the disc chipper is that it “would kick brush to the side,” he explained, although equipment manufacturers solved the dilemma.

      The Brush Bandit model 1890 Intimidator is a high capacity, hydraulic feed, drum-style chipper. It is designed to work well for businesses like the Bob Ray Co. that take on light land clearing and whole tree removal.

      The Bandit Intimidator incorporates the slide box technology developed by Bandit; it keeps the feed system within inches of the cutting surface. The arrangement of the cutting surface coupled with a large opening makes the machine an efficient handler of limbs and crotches. It also reduces the need to trim, which saves time.

      Other improvements from Bandit keep the Intimidator chipping no matter what is passing through. For instance, pockets that catch chips coming off the knife have been enlarged. Because the pockets are bigger, the machine easily discharges chips on the first pass, and the chips do not collect in the chipper housing.

      Facilitating the expulsion of chips from the Intimidator is the power slot. It
is cut into the underside of the chipper and helps maximize air flow to push out the chips.

      Having the Bandit Intimidator, Tee will be able to pursue chip markets more vigorously. The machine produces dimensional chips that are salable.

      The hydraulic feed drum-style Intimidator is another of the many grinding and chipping options from Bandit Industries, including hydraulic feed disc-style chippers. Bandit Industries manufactures 12 models of chippers, starting with the 6-inch capacity model 65XL, which is a compact machine, and extending to the 18-inch capacity model 280 and model 1890.

      When TimberLine talked with Tee in early February, he was using several pieces of equipment on one job site. “We’re doing a 45-acre job in Riverport,” he said, which required the deployment of both Bandit Beast model 3680 grinders, two excavators and the Hydro-Ax.

      If a knuckleboom loader is needed on a site, as it was at Riverport, Tee contracts for one. He owns Mack and International tractors for hauling and one custom-built, three-bunk log trailer. A 50-ton Eager Beaver lowboy trailer is used to move equipment to job sites. When stump removal is part of a job, he has a Rayco 2T75 at his disposal.

      Tee expects the addition of the Intimidator to increase the scope of what his company can do. That is what the Bandit Beast machines already have done.

      One of the Bandit Beast model 3680 machines is slated to be put to use in a new way. “We’re going to be using the Beast to double-grind” waste wood for mulch, Tee explained. Mulch is sold wholesale and retail. The Bob Ray Co. formerly used two 8-foot tub grinders to produce mulch.

      The line of Bandit Beast grinders offers contractors considerable flexibility in selecting equipment for their particular application. The cuttermill design at the core of the Beast grinders can process a mix of limbs, trunks and tough stumps. Bandit offers four Beast models. The smallest member of the Beast series is the model 2680, which has a 24-inch by 60-inch opening. The Bandit Beast model 3680 has a 30-inch by 60-inch opening. The biggest machine in the Beast series is the model 5680 with 1,000 hp, which is designed for large logs and stumps. Horsepower choices available for the Beast series machines range from 275 hp to 1000 hp.

      Evaluating all markets for wood fiber and selling for the best price is very important to his company, said Tee. “In our land-clearing, we just used to chip and blow the chips on the ground,” he explained.

      Maintenance gets the same acute attention in-house as does marketing. “We do 90 percent of our own maintenance,” said Tee, including blade and knife sharpening. “We buy blades from Morbark and knife grinders too.”

      Getting started with equipment from Bandit Industries made a big difference to Tee’s business. “I tell you, the 1900 track Bandit — this is my fourth one,” he said. The machine enabled Tee to expand his company from residential tree work to land-clearing and more.

      “I was always an equipment freak,” explained Tee. “I bought my first 1900 track Bandit. It was like Field of Dreams. If you build it, they will come.”

      Not only did the 1900 track Bandit allow Tee to take on new types of work.
It also performed. “You can’t kill that thing,” he said.

      Tee said that his dad, who has not been involved in the business since 1987, is impressed with the way moving beyond the residential sector has contributed to business growth. “He was strictly an arborist,” explained Tee.

      That does not mean that arborist efforts are a thing of the past. Tree service still is very much part of the Bob Ray Co. today. “We wear two hats in our company,” said Tee. “We’ve got the best reputation for tree care, and then on the other side, we work on land-clearing.”

      Kentucky has loamy soil that is rich in nutrients, and trees grow fast. Cedar, hemlock, holly, beech and mixed hardwoods grow throughout the foothills and on the ridges of the state. Oaks of many species thrive.

      When Tee was 18 years old, his father took him to the Midwestern Tree Climbing Jamboree in Chicago. Tee won a competition there in which climbers were evaluated on criteria like speed and rope work and drop. “I’d never done it competitively,” said Tee, so he was pleasantly surprised. On the other hand, he explained, “I was so into climbing trees and chain saws” from an early age the challenge seemed reasonable.

      Tee and his employees currently use Stihl chainsaws. They have also used Husqvarna chainsaws in the past. He likes both brands.

      Louisville, the home to Tee’s business, is a city of about 270,000 people. It is the biggest city in the Blue Grass State. Located on the Ohio River, Louisville has long been an important economic center. The Bob Ray Co. works mainly within a 75-mile radius of Louisville.

      Tee belongs to the International Society of Arboriculture and other tree-related organizations.

      One matter on which Tee has a firm conviction is the need for businesses to be forward-looking. One reason why he likes working with Bandit Industries is that the company responds to his concerns.

      “Complacency” is an enemy to a sound business, said Tee. Competition should be viewed as a motivating force, he explained; ignoring competition will not serve a business. Healthy competition serves businesses, customers and the entire economy. In short, it’s a positive.

      “Every morning when I come to work, I just whistle,” said Tee, explaining that he genuinely likes the professional path he chose. “The diversity of everything we do” keeps it interesting.

            Tee also raises beef cattle. When he takes time away from work, he likes to spend time with his family. He also enjoys pheasant hunting and riding his Harley-Davidson motorcycle.


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