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R.E. Martin, Grinds, Chips Way to the Top

Virginia Contractor Depends on Morbark Machines to Clear Land for Development

By IRI Staff
Date Posted: 4/1/2006

        Asked to cite one of the fastest-growing areas of the country, most would not name Loudoun County, Va. Yet, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the northern Virginia county has led the nation in growth the last four years. Virginia studies show the county is responsible for 27% of all newly-permitted residential units in the state.

        That kind of growth obviously bodes well for area developers and the businesses that support them. One such company, R.E. Martin Tree Services, has combined reliable equipment and committed personnel to grow a small business into one of the region’s busier contractors, eager to keep the boom booming.

Changing with the Times

        Formed in 1982, R.E. Martin is somewhat of a rarity. Unlike other companies that have changed the look or direction of their business over the years, R.E. Martin has remained in its core activities of clearing land for commercial and residential construction. However, according to company owner and president Russell (‘Rusty’) Martin, that doesn’t mean the company is the same as when it started 24 years ago.

        “There are a number of things about our business that have evolved over the years,” said Rusty. “We have relied less and less on municipal business, for example. Many of the towns and cities that we once counted as customers have grown large enough or collaborated between themselves to buy their own grinder. We have also seen a real growth in the need for the chips we generate. The continually rising cost of fuel is prompting companies to look into ways to reduce their reliance on petroleum products, and they are finding that a biofuel product like wood chips is a nice way to do that.  We’ve really seen the market for these chips grow in recent years.”

Two Divisions

        R.E. Martin generates its chips from mid-sized residential and commercial land clearing projects, jobs that range from 10-60 acres. The company employs 20 workers in two divisions: one for tree trimming and removal, the other for clearing land.

         “We work both aspects of the business at the same time, but the bulk of our work is done on the clearing side,” said Rusty. “Typically, we will go in and, using a track hoe, drop the trees and haul out the timber, which is taken to a local mill.  The remainder — the tops, stumps and rakings — are all processed on-site, for either the biofuel, or as a mulch product.”

        The company has enough personnel and equipment to keep several projects going at the same time. In such cases, equipment performance is key to keeping production up.

         “It’s fairly common for us to have several jobs going simultaneously,” said Rusty, “usually with a chipper working one site and a grinder doing another. That allows us to keep a smooth work flow and helps bring in the developer’s other crews faster.

        “In that regard,” he continued, “we also benefit from the changes that have taken place in equipment manufacturing over the years. Grinders have continually gotten better, faster, more powerful and more efficient at what they do. The newest grinder we purchased last year, a Morbark 1300, is so productive that our operator says he used to always have a stockpile of material to draw from.  Instead, he now often has to wait for crews to bring him material.  The throughputs are that impressive.”

Staying the Course

        The grinding and chipping equipment Rusty has relied on has also been a mainstay with the business over the years. “I’m a firm believer that, if something works for you, you stay with it,” said Rusty. “That’s been the case for us with our grinding equipment which has almost always been exclusively Morbark.” In addition to quality machine performance and durability, Rusty has continued to turn to Morbark because of its commitment to quality in service and parts availability.

        In addition to the Morbark Model 1300 tub grinder, R.E. Martin is equipped with a Morbark Model 23 whole tree chipper. The grinder is the fifth one purchased from Morbark and the chipper is the second.

        Rusty explained his loyalty to Morbark. “I’d be lying if I said performance doesn’t matter because it really does. Competition is tough in this area, and we have to get things done as quickly and cleanly as possible, and the Morbark equipment does that for us. However, having gone though our experience with another equipment manufacturer, we also recognize the value of good service and support. Downtime in this business is inevitable, but when it does happen, we know Morbark will help ensure that it is minimal. The company has parts depots in Ashland, Va. and Frederick, Md. — both sites fairly close — so availability of replacement parts is never an issue. On really tough issues, the company has been known to fly a mechanic down to resolve the matter. But for the most part, their factory personnel are so good they can usually run us though a series of questions and situations and help us nail down the problem ourselves. That’s been key in keeping us moving.”

Inevitable Comparisons

        Rusty’s workload has been steady, due both to the seemingly unending development in the region and the ability of his company to maintain an aggressive pace.

        “We have to be able to go in, get things cleared, get our chips and allow other crews to come in to do their work, and we really feel we are better equipped than most to make that happen,” he said. “The chipper will take almost anything we can feed it, generally yielding 2 1/2 loads of chips per acre, and the tub grinder just continues to impress us. The other day we had a track hoe and two rakes feeding him material, and they couldn’t overload him. We were recently called in by an area contractor who needed to wrap up the clearing portion so dirt crews could come right in. He was running several grinders from another manufacturer. When we set to work, they were very impressed with what we were able to do. That’s just the nature of the machine. It’s a grinding animal, and it’s helped us hold our own in this competitive market.”


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