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Minnesota Contractor Focused on Benefits

Dave Rasmussen Wanted a Retirement Home, but He Found a Business with Gyro-Trac

By Diane M. Calabrese
Date Posted: 9/1/2008


ELY, Minnesota — Moving to a sparsely populated part of the country seemed the perfect way to enjoy the rich outdoor recreational opportunities, including hunting and fishing. With that in mind, Dave Rasmussen headed to the far reaches of northeast Minnesota, aiming to enjoy a change of pace after three decades of working in the corporate world.

      Dave moved to the remote area to build a retirement home, but in the process he also formed a contracting business – Enviro Trac LLC — to provide land clearing services.

      “We’re a land and brush clearing company,” he said of the two-year-old business. “We do it the most environmentally sensitive yet effective way possible.”

      Most of the land clearing is done with a Gyro-Trac GT-13 medium-duty forestry mulcher. It processes standing and downed trees and other vegetation into a fine mulch. The tightly packaged GT-13 has a powerful cutter head that can mulch a tree down to ground level.

      As soon as Dave decided to settle in the far reaches of the North Star State a few years ago, the business of Enviro Trac began to take shape.

      Forest management services were nothing new to Dave’s family. His father and grandfather were loggers in the Arkansas Ozark Mountains before they turned to dairy farming in Missouri.

      Felling trees by hand with a chainsaw and removing the stumps with specialty grinders or pushing the trees over with a bulldozer are time-tested methods of clearing land, and Dave had firsthand experience in them. He also carried 30 years of work experience with him to Minnesota, and if there was a better way, he was willing to look at it.

      Dave was convinced the Gyro-Trac GT-13 was a better choice, and he bought it in 2006. “These (Gyro-Trac) machines are the most efficient” way to clear land, said Dave. “With diesel at $4.80 per gallon, we don’t have to bring in trucks to haul away” the wood and pay the added transportation cost.

      The machines also do an excellent job of removing trees and vegetation and processing it into mulch that stays on the forest floor. “I’ve got references that would stand in line” to vouch for the satisfying results he provided with the machine, said Dave.

      When Dave first looked at a Gyro-Trac machine in operation, he was not in business and was not yet thinking of starting a land clearing business. “We were going to build our retirement home,” said Dave, and he began clearing the land with a chainsaw.

      Dave was watching a hunting television program on the Outdoor Channel, and during the course of the show there was footage of a Gyro-Trac machine at work. “I was just enthralled,” he recalled. “I’m sitting here watching the Outdoor Channel, thinking, ‘That might work here for our ground.’ ”

      The name of the machine had not been mentioned on the television show, but Dave wanted to learn more about it. “I called the television station,” he said, to find out.

      Of course, buying a piece of heavy equipment solely to clear land for a home site didn’t make good financial sense, but Dave began thinking of the feasibility of investing in the machine and contracting to do work with it for others.

      “I asked myself if it would work with me, would it work for others,” he said. “I started working with the economic development people at the University of Minnesota. No one knew.”

      As he talked to more people in the county and the state, however, he realized there was a potential market for the services a forestry mulcher could provide.

      When he decided there was a definite business opportunity, he still didn’t rush to a buying decision. “I did all my due diligence,” said Dave. “When I found Gyro-Trac, I checked them out. I flew down there (to South Carolina). I checked out their competitors. We probably spent a good year,” researching the machine and others, before making a decision.

      Gyro-Trac is based in Canada, and its machines are manufactured in Canada. The company’s U.S. operations are based in Summerville, S.C.

      Daniel and Guy Gaudreault, brothers, founded Gyro-Trac in Canada, using their experience as land-clearing contractors. The inspiration for their all-in-one machine was the remote region where they worked in far northern Canada. Because they worked in such a remote area, they sought to use a minimal number of machines – machines they could count on for maximum performance and durability. They followed those criteria in developing their own equipment.

      In South Carolina, Dave got a close look at the performance of the Gyro-Trac, and he was persuaded of its capabilities. He watched a demonstration of a Gyro-Trac GT-25 that included felling a large oak tree and turning it into mulch.

      Gyro-Trac also arranged for a demonstration of the GT-13 and GT-25 for Dave on the ground in Minnesota. One observer noted the consistency of the mulch the machine produced and that mulch would not burn like standing or downed timber. In an area that must be concerned about wildfire fuels, that was another important benefit and another selling point for Dave.

      Gyro-Trac machines are the most cost-effective way to clear land, Dave believes. His company, Enviro Trac, also is equipped with bulldozers, trucks, chainsaws and brush cutters, but the linchpin of its operations is the GT-13.

      Enviro Trac clears land for utilities, fire breaks, trails, building site development projects, and more. “We do a lot of pre-grading building site and utility easements,” said Dave. These kinds of projects are a good match for the Gyro-Trac GT-13 — another reason Dave bought it.

      Gyro-Trac offers two larger machines, the GT-25 and GT-50. Dave chose the smaller GT-13 because he wanted a more compact machine with a smaller turning radius that could maneuver and work in more confined areas. “It can get in much tighter places,” said Dave. “You can actually get within six inches of trees you don’t want to take down.”

      The compact footprint of the Gyro-Trac GT-13 is matched by its light ground pressure; it exerts only 3.5 pounds per square inch on the ground.

      The machine also has an excellent reach, Dave noted. “The head on this machine rises up nine feet,” he said.

      The Gyro-Trac is fast and efficient. “I’ve actually done an acre of ground in less than three hours,” said Dave. That particular site was a stand of poplar trees, 10-15 years of growth, that previously was pasture land. Even on more challenging sites, though, an acre in five hours or less is the norm.

      “They use a lot of these (Gyro-Trac) machines up in Alberta,” noted Dave, in big timber.

      Although most of the jobs performed by Enviro Trac are for select cutting or thinning, there are exceptions. The company is prepared for them.

      “One of the fellows who works with me has logging equipment,” said Dave. “We have ready access to skidders and feller-bunchers.”

      If the tract has timber that will produce good logs, Enviro Trac will fell the trees, top them, mulch the tops, and put the logs in piles of tree-length wood or buck them, according to the customer’s wishes.

      Enviro Trac employs Dave and three other men. When they need a chainsaw, the men have different preferences. Dave has Stihl and Jonsered saws, and another employee uses a Husqvarna.

      Landowners typically want to keep logs they can cut and split for firewood; otherwise, Dave and his crew will keep the wood or sell it. There is also a pretty decent market for good quality logs of white pine, which is used for building log cabins in that part of Minnesota, the far northeast region of the state. Log homes are popular in the region. “I have all the logs for my log home, red pine and tamarack,” said Dave.

      Dave’s family brainstormed to come up with the name for the company. Enviro Trac conveys a business that is better for the environment. “We’re environmentally conscientious,” said Dave, an avid hunter and fisherman. “I fish a lot, I hunt a lot,” he said. “That’s pretty much my life.”

      The Gyro-Trac is an excellent fit for the family’s philosophy. Some methods of clearing land that rely on bulldozers, for instance, do a fair amount of damage to the substrate. Disturbing the top level of the soil can lead to erosion and the undesired consequences associated with it. In contrast, the Gyro-Trac can clear land with minimal disturbance to the substrate.

      Enviro Trac is based in Ely, a town of about 4,000 people about 80 miles north of Duluth. “I have fun every day” running the company, said Dave, 58. He enjoys the contact with prospective customers and is happy to give them a cost analysis of what Enviro Trac can do for them with the Gyro-Trac.

      When Dave’s father and grandfather decided to trade in their logging business for a dairy business, they moved near Springfield, Mo. They were engaged in dairy farming when returned home from a four-year stint in the Marines, including a tour of duty in Vietnam. Dave quickly decided that he did not want to get into dairy farming, with its around-the-clock obligations. He studied business at the University of California, Los Angeles and Memphis State University, then put his formal education to work in the frozen food industry.

      Dave remembers when his father and grandfather did logging with a couple of horses, and he remembers when they bought their first skidder. “I was in the woods a lot” when he was a boy, he said. He enjoyed the outdoors and still does. “I like the woods,” said Dave.

      The Gyro-Trac GT-13 XP medium-duty mulcher is ideally suited for the rough, sometimes steep terrain where Enviro Track works. It is powered by a Cummins 140 hp Tier III turbo-diesel engine. The cutter head has a drum speed of 2350 rpm.

      For clearing operations in rocky terrain, Dave can choose an optional cutter head, a swing-tooth flail drum. It is designed to bounce off hard surfaces and fall back into a pocket for longer life. The Gyro-Trac GT-13 is also available on rubber tracks, which increases ground pressure to 4.5 psi.

      Dave has allowed Gyro-Trac to refer potential customers to him when they are considering buying a machine and want to talk to a user with experience. “I get calls from all over,” he said. He spent about 10 hours talking to someone else from Minnesota who ultimately bought a Gyro-Trac.

      Recently Dave has been talking with avocado growers in California. They are looking for ways to reduce water use because of the current water restrictions in California. They want to thin their groves of avocado trees to attain the optimum number – the number of trees that will produce enough saleable fruit to justify the cost of water. The growers have been paying $40 per tree for thinning and Dave is helping them determine if they can do it more economically with a Gyro-Trac.

      Dave has plenty of work for his young company, but they do not work through the coldest part of the winter. “When it gets to be 20 below, we stop,” he said. Snow depth is also a consideration. Rock ledges punctuate many of the areas where they work, and Dave wants to be able to see them clearly when using equipment.

     Although Dave’s dad did not live to see his son’s Enviro Trac business take hold, he would have been impressed but not necessarily surprised by the capabilities of the Gyro-Trac, according to Dave. He was “always keeping up” with the latest technology, Dave said.

 




 






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