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Florida Logger Finds Niche in Thinnings: Stripper Pull-Through Delimber Proves Productive for McClellan Logging

Stripper Pull-Through Delimber Aids Florida Logger

By Carolee Anita Boyles
Date Posted: 5/1/2008


LAWTEY, Florida — When Buck McClellan first saw a Stripper delimber, his reaction was somewhat skeptical. Buck is open minded about new ways of doing things, though, so he decided to give it a try. After all, it was a demo unit, so what did he have to lose? He clamped the Stripper pull-through delimber on his Prentice 384 loader and ran it for about an hour.

      Buck liked it so much that he told Sam Sessions, the owner of Stripper Manufacturing, “You’re going to have to go back to Maine and get another one of these demonstrators because I’m not taking this one off!”

      Buck, who owns McClellan Logging in Lawtey, Florida, cuts primarily Southern Yellow Pine.

      “We specialize in thinning, particularly in third-row and fifth-row thinnings,” Buck said. “We don’t do a lot of clear-cuts. As we’ve grown to specialize in thinnings, we’ve found that we can do a real high production thinning. Most people can’t make good time doing a thinning, but we’ve figured out a method where we can do a thinning fast and make money doing it.”

      Buck declined to divulge the details of his thinning method because he didn’t want to share trade secrets with any competitors. “I have a good crew of guys, and we all know a lot of tricks to make it work,” he said.

      Although McClellan Logging specializes in thinnings, the company is not limited to producing pulp wood. In addition to cutting pulp wood, the company also produces chip and saw logs, logs for plywood mills and poles.

      “We cut some plantations, but we also thin some old growth natural stands,” explained Buck. “For instance, right now we’re working on the Austin Cary Memorial Forest, owned by the University of Florida. We’re thinning an old natural stand of mixed loblolly and slash pine to get the loblolly out of it. There are some huge trees in there.”

      Buck’s company works all over northern Florida, from St. Johns County on the east coast to Perry and Trenton on the west coast and up to the Georgia border. “We’ve cut a little in Georgia but not very much,” he said. “And we’ve gone as far south as Ocala.”

      Buck buys tracts of timber and markets the wood off them to mills. This allows him to be very flexible about whom he sells to and make changes as markets change.

      “We sell to a number of different mills all over north Florida,” he said. “We sell to Tatum Brothers Lumber Company in Lawtey, a Rayonier pulp mill in Fernandina Beach, Gilman Building Products in Lake Butler and in Maxville, and we sell our poles to Koppers in Gainesville.” Other customers include Georgia Pacific in Palatka and Hawthorne, and Elixson Wood Products in Lawtey, which makes wood mulch.

      “We also haul to Southern Fuel Wood in Newberry,” Buck said. “They shave pine and make bedding for cows and horses.”

      In order to maintain this kind of flexibility and supply wood to so many different kinds of mills and other customers, Buck’s company merchandises the logs carefully to get the most out of every tree. Logs are graded and sorted in the woods and then hauled directly to the appropriate customer.

      “We do our sorting in the woods,” he said. “I run the loader myself, and I do all the sorting and loading. We have a dolly and an extra skidder, and we have eight trailers. We set the trailers out throughout the woods, and the trucks come and get them periodically during the day.”

      Buck grades the logs and stacks them in piles around the loader, then fills a trailer with one type of log.  One of the company’s three trucks hauls the full trailer away, and another one positions an empty trailer in its place. Buck fills the empty trailer with another load of logs, and away it goes.

      “I always have several different stacks around my loader,” he said. “I’ll have a stack of poles here and a stack of plywood logs over there. Then I’ll have a stack of pulp wood somewhere and a stack of chip and saw, so I’m grading four different grades.”

      Buck’s father started McClellan Logging after he and his father — Buck’s grandfather — moved to Florida from North Carolina. “My dad went into the wood business about 40 years ago,” Buck recalled. “He now is 68, and he still drives a truck for the company and is still an active part of McClellan Logging.”

      Back when his father started McClellan Logging, trees were cut into short logs of about five or six feet. “In those days,” said Buck, “you had to load the logs on a truck, take them to a rail car, and then unload them onto the car.”

      Then, along came cable-type loaders. “The cable loader we had was just an old truck rear end welded onto a frame,” Buck said. “The cable ran through the boom, and that’s how we loaded the wood. That’s what we were doing when I first got into it.”

      Before too long, McClellan Logging bought an old Prentice loader. “It was a real small one that was mounted on the back of the truck,” Buck said. “That was in the late 1970s or early 1980s, and it was the first hydraulic loader we ever had.”

      The short wood market played out, and the timber industry in Florida started moving more toward tree-length logging and wood. “At that point, we had to have something bigger to load with,” said Buck. “So we bought a Barco 160 loader and used it until about a year ago. That’s when I bought this new loader that I have now, which is a Prentice 384. At the same time we bought a ground saw.”

      Shortly thereafter Sam Sessions entered the picture. On a swing through Florida to demonstrate his Stripper pull-through delimber last winter, Sam found McClellan Logging’s name in the telephone book. He visited Buck to show them the delimber he had brought with him.

      “My first impression of the Stripper was that it was kind of small,” said Buck. “It’s not as big as the conventional delimbers that you see. I thought, ‘I don’t know about this thing.’ But I told him I’d put it on and pull a load through it and load it and send it to the mill and see what happened. If the mill didn’t have any complaints with it, I’d buy the delimber.”

      At the time, Buck was cutting some big loblolly pine timber. “I didn’t touch the trees with the chain saw,” he said. “I just put them through the Stripper delimber, topped them off with my top saw, threw them on the truck and sent them to Tatum Lumber Company. They said the wood was fine.”

      In fact, the wood was more than fine. Tatum Lumber previously had been complaining to Buck about knots. “But once we started using the Stripper, we didn’t have any more trouble with knots. It’s amazing how it works. There’s no maintenance and nothing to work on. You just put it on the loader and use it.”

      Although Buck wanted to buy it on the spot, he took it off the loader and returned in to Sam, who wanted to do some more demonstrations. Sam had a Stripper shipped right away from his facilities in Maine to McClellan Logging.

      As Buck discovered with the demo unit, setting up the Stripper pull-through delimber is simple. “There aren’t any hoses or anything else to attach,” noted Buck. “It’s all mechanical; there’s nothing about it that’s hydraulic. There are a couple of fittings that you grease once a day, and other than that you don’t do anything to it.”

      Buck’s production increased when he began using the new equipment. “The Stripper has added two loads a day to what I’m able to do,” he said. “We went from about eight to 10 loads a day to 10 to 12 loads a day.”

      The Stripper also has created efficiencies and savings for McClellan Logging. “I’ve told the skidder man to run each tree through the limbing gate one time and bring it to the ramp,” said Buck. “I told him if the log still has limbs on it, don’t worry about it. It doesn’t matter now. So it’s saving fuel on the skidder because he’s not backing each log through there three or four times, trying to get all the limbs off. The Stripper has sped up production and is saving me fuel. It’s an all-around good piece of equipment.”

      McClellan Logging employs eight people: Buck, his father, two truck drivers, a skidder operator, a feller-buncher operator, and Buck’s wife and mother in the office.

      Buck has three children.  He is not sure yet if any of them are going to be interested in running the business one day. “I worked with my dad for so long that it would be nice if they would,” he said. “My son is 21 and about to go to Ohio to an engineering school there. My oldest daughter is 18, and she just signed a scholarship in softball to go to Central Florida University. Then my youngest daughter is 15, and she likes the business part of this. She helps out in the office. She’s shown the most interest in it of all of them.”

      The biggest challenges Buck sees for his business in the near future are rising fuel costs and declining wood prices.

      “We get less for wood now than we did 10 years ago,” he said. “And the price of fuel has probably tripled from 10 years ago. We’re paying $4.05 for fuel right now, and just in our equipment in the woods we use probably 500 gallons a week. I’ve never sat down to figure out what our road trucks burn, but it’s probably about 1,000 gallons a week. So that’s 1,500 gallons of fuel a week, which is our biggest expense.”

      Rising fuel costs have Buck looking at options and trying to reduce travel. “We target buying tracts close to home,” he said. “And we try to work as close to a mill as we can. There’s not a lot you can do in the woods to cut fuel costs. But in the freight aspect of it, you can.” If McClellan Logging is cutting near a mill that Buck has never done business with, he will visit that mill to see if he can sell wood to them instead of making a longer haul to a different mill.

      “Since we don’t go through a broker, we can sell wood anywhere we want,” he said. “When I buy timber, I can take it anywhere I want. I don’t have to take it where someone tells me I have to go.”

      Buck operates his company as efficiently as possible and uses every part of the tree but the pine needles. “We utilize mulch mills and chip mills as much as we can,” he said. “We can haul almost anything to them, and as long as it doesn’t have any green pine needles on it, they’ll buy it. They’ll even buy the limbs.”

      Buck is paying attention to one company that is exploring the possible use of green pine needles. “Georgia Pacific has been talking about starting to buy the needles to extract some kind of chemical from them,” he said.

      The biggest thing that helps McClellan Logging cope with rising fuel costs, Buck said, is the fact that they work for themselves and market their own wood. “I can take wood wherever I get the best mileage or to whoever works the best numbers for me,” he said. “That’s been a huge part of us staying in business as long as we have.”

      Buck’s employees are on a regular training program to ensure their safety in the woods. “We have a monthly safety meeting,” he said. “We discuss a lot of things, including production and what we can do to make things run easier for everybody. We try to work as a group and do whatever we can to make everything safer for everyone. It’s taken me a while, but I have a good bunch of guys; I have some of the best in the business.”

      As far as the future is concerned, Buck would be content to maintain the company he’s built. “We’ve exceeded the goals we set for ourselves 10 years ago,” he said. “But who knows what the economy is going to do over the next five years? I’d love to retire, but with the economy the way it is, that’s wishful thinking right now.”

      The best thing about being in the timber industry, Buck said, is all the people that he gets to meet.

      “We buy a lot of private land timber,” he said, “and I get to go out and meet those landowners. That’s what I’ve enjoyed the most.”

      (For more information on Stripper delimbers, visit the company’s Web site at www.stripperdelimber.com, or  call (207) 890-6597.)




 






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