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Oklahoma Firewood Business Growing
Power Split International Machine Fuels Production, Growth for Flying G Firewood
By Diane M. Calabrese
Date Posted: 5/1/2005
PRAGUE, Oklahoma — Terry Gouker changed the course of his professional life by being a good neighbor. Today, Terry owns Flying G Firewood, a company he established 12 years ago.
Terry’s introduction to firewood came when he began selling firewood for a neighbor. “At the time, I owned and operated a small engine repair shop,” he explained. The neighbor, whom Terry had known since childhood, did not have roadside visibility from his property to help market his firewood, but Terry did.
Once Terry started selling the firewood, his neighbor’s business grew so much that customer demand exceeded what he could produce, and Terry began working with him. “We started out itty bitty, using a homeowner splitter,” Terry recalled.
It was slow going. The two of them, working eight hours in a day, could only process enough wood to keep a few high school boys busy for a couple hours after school, bagging the firewood.
However, the situation was reversed six years ago. In 1999, Terry bought a commercial wood splitter from Power Split International Inc. in Rosemère, Quebec, Canada. He purchased the double-vertical Power Split International, which also goes by PSI. The Power Split machine is self-propelled, and the splitting rams are pedal-activated. Once it was put in service, Terry got well ahead of the students he hired to bag the wood — and fast.
Today, Flying G Firewood operates with three full-time employees; two work in the yard and one is a delivery driver. The company also employs between two and 10 part-time workers, depending on the time of year. September through February is the busiest season.
“Most machines are set up to handle logs,” said Terry, but he needed one that was not. He buys wood that has already been bucked to fireplace length. “It comes to me pre-cut to 18-inches to 20-inches, whatever I want.”
After Terry first learned about the Power Split International machine, he ordered a free demonstration video from the company. He was impressed with the way the machine operated, and he contacted a Power Split customer in the Chicago area and called him. The owner gave it a good review. That sealed Terry’s decision to invest in one.
When Terry started his wood business, he closed his engine shop. “I either had to quit this (firewood) or get into it,” he explained.
Terry’s expertise with small engines makes him a tough critic of what works, and the Power Split wood splitter works well. “It’s almost maintenance free,” he explained. The machine has performed well, experiencing only ordinary wear on some replaceable parts, such as sprockets and hoses, he indicated.
Flying G Firewood bags about half of its production. It supplies two cubic foot bags of firewood for retail outlets as well as five sizes of bagged barbecue wood and bagged wood for chimeneas, wood stoves that first became popular in the Southwest. Flying G Firewood also will supply bags of firewood according to species.
Production is order-driven, and the company’s growth has been sustained thanks to word-of-mouth advertising, said Terry. Customers request everything from hickory, pecan, mesquite and cherry to the occasional sassafras and apple wood, said Terry. Wood for chimeneas is generally piñon. Size requests are also met.
Flying G Firewood has customers across the U.S., including wholesale customers in Colorado, Kansas, North Carolina, Arkansas, New Mexico and Texas. Local deliveries are made with a 1-ton pick-up truck or pulling a 16-ft. gooseneck trailer with a 20,000 pound capacity. Most long haul deliveries are done by contract truckers.
The Power Split International commercial wood splitter is a perfect match for the versatility the company requires. “This machine is ideal for what we do,” said Terry.
The bagging operations rely heavily on manual labor. “It’s almost something that you can’t do automated,” said Terry, because of the diversity of the quantities of wood the businesses deals in.
Terry buys mesh drawstring bags from Farber Bag & Supply in Peosta, Iowa. “I’ve been using them since we started doing this,” said Terry. “We bought out a guy when we first started bagging,” and the other company was using the bags.
Flying G Firewood is located on one and one-half acres in Prague, Okla., which is about 50 miles east of Oklahoma City.
Terry helps his company’s bottom line by moving out firewood as quickly as possible, so much of the wood is shipped green. “The majority of the stuff we do here, we’re on a constant move with it. I try to turn it as fast (as possible).” The company also will supply seasoned firewood on request.
Customers that buy bagged firewood can choose mesh color. Flying G Firewood also provides bagged firewood that has a customer logo on the bag, and it sells some firewood with the Flying G Firewood logo on the label.
The Power Split commercial wood splitter is portable, but Terry uses the machine on-site at his wood yard exclusively. “We only took it off site one time,” he explained, when he took it to a car wash.
According to Power Split International, the cycle time of its machine is five seconds. Terry said the figure is accurate. “Our wood down here is quite a bit harder than what they have in Canada,” said Terry. “Hickory here is a very hard wood.” But even with hickory, he noted, his average cycle time is only six seconds.
Depending how fast one can load the machine, said Terry, the Power Split can produce 10 face cords per hour. Terry’s Power Split is powered by a Honda 18 hp engine; a 20 hp engine is optional.
Terry has several options on his Power Split, including a hydraulic log-lift, a 25-foot conveyor, and a roof to protect the machine and operator from the weather. He bought optional wood hooks but does not use them. Terry’s machine is set up on the ground.
“I love running the splitter,” said Terry. “I love being outside.” In the last few years, as his management responsibilities have increased, Terry has not had as much time as he would like to run the machine, a task he has delegated to employees.
The Power Split International double-vertical model commercial wood splitter comes standard with two independent operating rams. The machine weights 2,500 lbs.
Terry has no regrets about closing the chapter on his engine repair business to switch to wood products. The firewood enterprise “just grew to the point,” he explained, where a choice was necessary.
Terry’s wife is a teacher, and they enjoy traveling to Mississippi when they have free time.
As for the difference the Power Split International commercial wood splitter has made to his business, it’s been huge. “I don’t know how I ever lived without it,” said Terry, noting that he recommends the machine for “anybody that is in the situation we are.”
Summing it up, Terry said, the Power Split International machine “made our life and productivity easy.” One thing above all impresses him about the splitter. “It will do what it says it will do,” he said.That sort of predictability resonates strongly with Terry, who runs his business by the same philosophy. “I try not to take on more than I can chew,” said Terry. “If I take on an obligation, I make sure I can fulfill it.”
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