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Calif. Company Prospers in Wood Fiber

Reuser Inc. Transitioning to Trailers with Keith® Walking Floor® System for Moving Mulch

By Diane M. Calabrese
Date Posted: 10/1/2005


CLOVERDALE, California — Every owner of a wood products business travels a different path to the helm. Reuser Inc. was started by a man looking for a way to combine his role as a single parent with meaningful work.

        In April 1978, Bruce Reuser launched Reuser Inc., an enterprise that focuses on bulk landscape supply of mulch and soil amenders. Bruce is the majority owner and president.

        When he founded Reuser, Bruce had some experience in wood products. His father had operated a sawmill in northern California in the 1950s.

        But the impetus for starting and growing the mulch production business came from Bruce’s young family. “Being single and having four children” was a powerful motivator for Bruce, said his son, John. Today, John is vice president of Reuser. His brother, Merle, is general manager.

        “(My father) was talking with a guy at lunch, and he said, ‘Why don’t you get a truck and move product?’” explained John. Acting on the suggestion, Bruce did just that. He also did much more.

        Bruce began experimenting with and developing soil amenders. He conceived and then had trialed and tested a range of products that Reuser now sells in addition to many types of mulch.

        The raw material for the products Reuser makes includes redwood bark, chips and waste wood from sawmills. The lighter material, including sawdust and less weighty bark, is picked up and moved with a fleet of 12 tractors and 40 trailers that belong to the company. Contract haulers are tapped to move heavier material.

        The tractors in the Reuser fleet are “mainly Peterbilt and the rest Freightliner,” said John. Among the trailers there are “eight possum belly and everything else is moving floor” he explained.

        Moving floor trailers are a boon to unloading, speeding the process and saving time that can be better used elsewhere. But having a moving floor that is easily maintained is just as important, explained John. Consequently, four years ago, Reuser began converting to Keith® Walking Floor® systems from Keith Mfg. Co., Madras, Ore.

        Reuser now has 10 trailers with Keith Walking Floor systems, and it is slated to add more, said John.

        The Pressure Seal® floor on the moving floors from Keith Mfg. got his attention at a truck trade show, he explained. The configuration keeps the floor clean, he said.

        After doing research, John decided the Keith Walking Floor system would be an excellent fit for Reuser “It will be the only floor we run” in time, he said.

        The engineering of the moving floor from Keith got John’s attention immediately. “Being able to work on it was important,” he said. “Others, if you had an oil leak, you had to pull out the whole system.” With the Walking Floor system from Keith Mfg., one can pull out “just one cylinder.”

        In four years of use and by doing routine maintenance, Reuser has not had any oil leaks in its moving floors from Keith Mfg.

        Hydraulics power the slats of the Keith Walking Floor system, giving them the push they need to convey bulk material. The system also exploits gravity and friction to provide mechanical propulsion to the material in a trailer.

        The principle of the Keith Walking Floor system is that not all slats under a load move at the same time as they draw back into the position they take before giving a load another push to convey it off the trailer. A four-phase cycle coordinated among groups of three slats moves the material.

        Slats, which typically are aluminum, run the length of the trailer floor. They do not have a set length and Keith Mfg. customizes the fit to the trailer. Reuser Inc. had all of its Keith Walking Floor systems installed in Western Star trailers.

        Essentially, the four-phase conveying cycle is achieved by a combination of hydraulics, gravity and friction in the Keith Walking Floor system. In phase one, all floor slats move together, powered by hydraulics, and carry the load with them. At the end of that collective stroke, and in phase two, the first group of every third slat retracts under the load, but the load does not move because gravity and friction hold it on the other two slats in the trio. In phase three, it’s the second group of every third slat that moves (and retracts) under the load. In phase four, it’s the third group. Then, the cycle repeats. One in three slats is able to retract without moving the load because the weight and friction of material against the two slats that do not move is greater than it is against the slat that moves.

        “We probably move close to 1 million yards per year” of product, said John. Add the incoming raw material, and it is clear the fleet at Reuser gets a work out.

        Reuser has a full-time mechanic among its 26 employees. That mechanic has not had occasion to comment on repairs to the Keith Walking Floor systems, said John, because they continue to run so well.

        Among the products Reuser markets are some top sellers in addition to mulch. Nitro-dust is very popular, said John. It is easy to spread and easy to use, he explained, and it is often added to lawns to encourage soil to break-up into arable components.

        “The gardeners like Black Dust with iron in it,” said John. The various formulations of amenders that his father has developed over the years are strictly proprietary.

        Reuser is headquartered at its original location in Cloverdale, which is in Sonoma County. The company also
has a facility in Ukiah, which is in Mendocino County. The two counties are adjacent to one another and fit into the northwest section of the Golden State along the Pacific coastline.

        Cloverdale, a town of 5,000 residents, is on the northern end of Sonoma County, close to the boundary with Mendocino County. The city refers to itself as the place where the redwoods meet the vineyards. Ukiah is 30 miles northwest of Cloverdale. A town of 15,000 residents, Ukiah is the county seat of Mendocino, which is in the heart of a wine producing region.

        The Ukiah facility serves the town of Ukiah. It takes in clean wood waste, which is not painted or treated, and grinds it. The Ukiah facility grinds a lot of scrap pallets, among other material.

        “We have three hogs, two Jeffrey’s — one electric, one diesel — and one Tamworth diesel,” said John. “Depending on what we’re doing, we move the hogs around” between the 14-acre yard in Cloverdale and the 13-acre yard in Ukiah.

        John explained the plan is to convert the Jeffrey diesel machine to electric. “It’s cleaner,” he explained, speaking of electric. It may also be more efficient.

        Keeping pace with stringent environmental regulations in California is a must for Reuser, Inc. The company takes many steps to minimize risk. For example, it uses all marine-grade vegetable oil for hydraulics. The oil is more expensive, but if there is a leak or a spill, clean-up is less costly.

        The system used for sizing and moving material at Cloverdale was constructed by the team at Reuser. “We have a processing (system) that we built ourselves,” said John. “It’s all electric.” It is situated on a concrete slab. The system includes a 40-foot feeder, a 60-foot trammel rotor, and another 30-foot belt.

        The trammel is set up with four screen sizes. “We have magnets on a good majority of parts and conveyors,” said John. “So every time (product) goes over a magnet, it gets a metal pull.”

        The processing plant is used two ways, explained John. It is used for pre-sorting prior to grinding and post-sorting after grinding. Volvo loaders are used at both ends of the system. Reuser has used Volvo loaders since 1987 and John gives them high marks.

        A similar processing system is in the planning stages for the Ukiah yard. That system may get a boost from automatic belt feeds, said John. Conveyors from Keith Mfg. are being considered.

        Keith Mfg. has a history of making conveying and unloading equipment, a history that extends to more than 50 years. Its systems are in wide use in many agricultural applications, moving feed, fertilizer, manure, grains, hay, seed, compost, and silage, as well as wood products.

        Keith Mfg. put a design emphasis on reducing the number of moving parts and precision engineering all parts. The fewer parts there are, the less maintenance there is. Moreover, to protect parts from corrosive sprays and salt that come from moist air or wet substrate, Keith Mfg. uses a process of chromation to seal pores in aluminum at the molecular level.

        When all the parts of a Keith Mfg. Walking Floor system are put together, they add up to a durable and compact design. To simplify maintenance, the system comes with interchangeable cylinder packs and cross-drives. And, of course, the externally mounted valve assemblies are easy to access.

        Reuser has a variety of customers. Among them are companies that bag and resell, retail yards and freeway maintenance yards.

        Reuser makes about 100 mulches. They differ by size of components and to some extent, color. “We’re moving more and more colored mulch each year,” said John, “red, black and brown. We’re using a WizTech system.” (The WizTech FlashFoam Coloring system is trademarked.)

        “We don’t generate any waste,” said John. Every bit of raw material finds a market somewhere. A small volume of grindings is sold to co-generation facilities for boiler fuel.

        John is a native of Cloverdale, the same town where his grandfather once operated a sawmill. He has been in the business more or less all his life, although he took off three years after high school before returning to work full time. That was 18 years ago.

        “Our average work week is 70 to 80 hours,” said John. “Between my brother and my dad and me, someone is always here. My brother is here at 5 a.m. I’m here at 7 a.m.”

        “Our goal is to do a good job at a good price,” said John. “We’ve just grown over time. We’re honest. We take good care of employees.”

        John noted that he sees many parallels between the business approach of Reuser and Keith Mfg., and he is glad he does. “They’re just a good line,” he said of Keith Mfg. “They’ve got good customer service. I tend to work with people that work like we do.”

        The Keith Walking Floor system can be installed in small trucks, small trailers, agricultural equipment, drop-off containers, small bins and roll-off boxes, as well as in trailers designed to be pulled by full-size tractors. Streamlining the movement of materials is the overarching goal of Keith Mfg.

        Over time, Keith Mfg. has developed a reputation as a significant player in the renewable energy marketplace. Many of its conveyors and moving floors help feed generators with properly ground wood waste. The company earns a listing in the Renewable Energy Online database, for example.

        Walking Floor systems not only speed delivery of product, but they also offer yet another way to enhance safety. And safety is a high priority of Reuser. Indeed, it is the first priority.

        Reuser sees the use of well-maintained and up-graded vehicles and machinery as one important way to maintain a safe work environment. The other critical component is the commitment the company has to ongoing worker safety training.

        Besides his role at Reuser, Bruce is active in the California Truckers Association. “Bruce is strong in the Chamber of Commerce here, too,” said John, including current service on the board.

        Bruce is also a past chairman of the Cloverdale Chamber of Commerce. John credits his father with being a forward-looking as well as an enterprising and industrious company leader. He said that he himself has learned the business by experience.

        Careful planning is a must in business. One dimension of that is developing a protocol for how equipment will be replaced. Reuser, Inc. strives to find the optimum tenure for equipment.

        “We just run equipment a certain amount of time and then replace it,” said John. For instance, as trailers are replaced, new ones will be purchased installed with Keith Mfg. Walking Floor systems.

        Being part of the wood products industry suits John. “I like making something out of nothing,” he said. Taking material that falls under the general heading of wood waste and transforming it to a saleable product brings him real satisfaction.

        In fact, said John, he likes everything about the business he is in. “With the rules and regulations, it’s not getting any easier,” he explained. But even so, he enjoys his work.

        When John takes time away from Reuser, Inc., he travels. “I go back East to visit family,” he said.

        Reuser Inc. has a Web site at www.reuserinc.com.


 






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