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Pennsylvania Firewood Business Going Strong: Four Multitek Firewood Processors Keep Production Humming Along at Gish Logging

Gish Logging – Multitek Firewood Processors Power Pennsylvania Company

By Diane M. Calabrese
Date Posted: 1/1/2009


FORT LOUDON, Pennsylvania – The warm glow from a fireplace rarely sets anyone thinking about the source of those cozy, mesmerizing flames. Yet the line-up of machinery used to produce firewood can be captivating in its own right.

            Consider Hotsticks® firewood prepared for premium performance by Gish Logging Inc., which is owned by Ernie Gish, president, and Mike Jones, vice president. Stress-free handling and optimum burning are the key features of Hotsticks, which is used more for “ambience” than heat, explained Ernie.

            Hotsticks firewood is kiln-dried; the moisture content is 8-12%. The firewood is packaged in plastic bags with built-in handles.

            In the early 1980s, Ernie and Mike launched a firewood business, which they ran in addition to their regular duties at Ernie’s machine shop. They went full-time into the forest products business in 1984, adding logging and incorporating the company. Ernie sold his machine shop the same year.

            The company now has 35 employees. It is capable of producing about 1.5 million bags of firewood per year.

            From the beginning, Ernie and Mike have depended on firewood processors from Multitek, which is headquartered in Prentice, Wis.

            In 2005, Gish Logging purchased three new Multitek 2040XP2 firewood processors. The machines buck logs to fireplace length and then use a hydraulic splitter to produce finished firewood. These models can process a log up to 40 feet long and 20 inches in diameter into cut, split firewood. Gish Logging uses a 16-way splitter head on all its Multitek processors.

            In September 2008, Gish Logging purchased a fourth new Multitek 2040XP2 with one difference. They chose the 60-inch circular saw for bucking instead of a bar saw. “They just introduced the circular saw about a year ago,” said Mike. “It’s supposed to be a little more maintenance free.”

            Mike tested the Multitek with the circular saw at a logging exposition before buying it. He expects it will stand up well bucking logs that may have ice and mud on them. That was important because Mike is the one who keeps the equipment running at Gish Logging.

            Sure enough, having the machine has been a real plus since they began using it. “We didn’t have to do anything,” said Mike. “We run it every day, five days a week, 10 hours a day.”

            Gish Logging also has a number of shop-built machines they have put together for the firewood operations. “Mike can maintain any piece of equipment we have,” said Ernie. That expertise is a “big part of our success,” he added.

            Mike and Ernie first met when Mike, who had a background in farming that included some logging and abundant experience with machines, went to Ernie’s machine shop looking for a job. So began a lasting relationship.

            In 2006 Gish ceased logging to focus on production of Hotsticks. Workers’ compensation premiums had become close to prohibitively high for loggers in the Keystone State. Gish Logging sold its timber harvesting equipment to one of the several logging contractors from which it buys logs. The company also buys logs from sawmills.

            Seventy to 80% of the hardwood mix in any bag of Hotsticks is oak. Some customers, like restaurants, buy only hickory.

            Technology keeps moving forward, and so does the equipment it supports. The Multitek 2040XP2 with the circular saw, known as the 2040XP2ss, shows gains even over the hydraulic models purchased three years earlier. “It has a little more technology built into it,” said Ernie. The best part, though, he explained is that “frozen ice, mud, doesn’t bother it.”

            The Multitek 2040XP2 is built to produce between 3.5 and 4.5 cords per hour. With the circular saw, the production is faster still, said Ernie. Multitek offers bigger models in its firewood processor series, but Gish Logging was aiming to balance engine fuel costs, too.

            With its ability to cut and split wood as big as a 20 inches in diameter, the Multitek 2040XP2 with its 80 hp engine is a good match for Gish Logging. The next step up, to a Multitek 3040XP2 processor, which has a 110 hp engine and can process logs up to 30 inches in diameter, would have more than they needed.

            A key to the Multitek approach is to allow customers to choose a firewood processor tailored to the size of the logs they use day in and day out. That enables the firewood to be produced in the most economical way possible.

            “We have a lot of people who want to come in and look our operation over,” said Ernie. However, they do not want to invite competition, and they do not want to show off their shop—built equipment so it can be copied by others.

            “A lot of machinery (is developed from) a lot of blood, sweat and tears,” said Ernie. “A lot of it has been engineered by our operators. Mike and I have 30 years experience between us.” That experience has resulted in many changes to fortify the business across the years.

            Gish Logging recently rolled out a new firewood product, under the Hotsticks brand, which is called Nuggets. Nuggets are pieces of kiln-dried firewood 3 to 6 inches long for chimineas and other little outdoor fireplaces for patios and decks. The Nuggets are produced from wood remnants that are too small to be bagged as Hotsticks. “We’re trying to make use of all the wood that comes from the kiln,” said Mike.

            Another big change is coming at Gish Logging. In December they began testing a new system to package bundles of firewood in shrink-wrap. That will enable the company to enter another market for firewood this winter.

            “We spent $350,000 to $400,000 to put in the shrink wrap line,” said Mike. It is a custom-engineered system. The stretch film can be printed with a customer’s logo. The idea was to give customers another packaging option.

            For now, Hotsticks are packaged in 0.75-cubic-foot plastic bags with a fire starter or without a starter. Fire starter can also be purchased in one-cubic-foot and 0.75-cubic-foot packages. Kindling wood is also sold in bags.

            Bags of Hotsticks are palletized for shipment throughout the U.S. The company uses contract truckers to deliver firewood to customers beyond a 300-mile radius of Fort Loudon, which is in south-central Pennsylvania.

            The recession has not slowed down the business. “Even with the economy, we’re still going to show a 10 percent increase this year,” said Ernie. When fuel prices soared as the summer came to an end, many customers wanted to buy bulk firewood. That was wood that did not go toward production of Hotsticks.

            Flexibility is essential, but a mainstay during 25 years has been the Multitek equipment. Multitek was the processor that launched Gish Logging, and Gish has purchased 10 machines from Multitek over the years, rotating out older models after long service.

            The company has run some Multitek machines for 14 years, according to Ernie. “Mike replaced assemblies and parts,” he said, but other than that the processor kept going.

            To keep pace with the heavy work load for the new Multitek 2040XP2ss, Mike has already geared up to maintain the circular bucking saw in-house. That complements his strategy for maintaining saw chains for the other models.

            “We buy chains in bulk,” said Mike. “You can sharpen them 10 times. We circulate them 10 to 12 times and then sell them for salvage.”

            Each Multitek has a dedicated operator. Although they are set up to operate outdoors, each processor has a fully enclosed, heated Multitek cab for operator comfort. A fifth worker operates a John Deere wheeled loader to keep each Multitek processor supplied with logs.

            The four Multitek processors feed the finished firewood into a conveyor-driven, screen-cleaning system; it removes fine dirt and dumps the firewood into walking-floor trailers.

            Gish Logging also operates a company-made dry kiln to dry the firewood. It is fueled with sawdust. The company burns its own sawdust and obtains more from other businesses, but it has been a challenge to get sawdust lately.

            Kiln-drying is a crucial part of the appeal of Hotsticks and its added value. Because the wood is kiln-dried, it burns much cleaner and does not generate as much creosote that builds up in chimneys, according to Mike.

            There is much to like about owning and operating Gish Logging, said its principals. They get a lot of positive feedback from homeowners who rely on them for firewood.

            “I actually got my wife, (Eloise), who runs the office, and my sons here,” said Mike. And Ernie, who at 63 is 18 years older than Mike, is like a father, he explained. So the environment at the company is very pleasant despite the intensity of the business world. Michael Jones Jr. and Eric Jones are 25 and 20, respectively.

            Ernie and Mike were amused when asked about what they like to do in their free time. “We’ve got sawdust in our blood,” said Ernie. Nevertheless, he likes taking an all-terrain vehicle to the mountains and then setting out for a hike.

            In his spare time, Mike has a farm on which he raises deer and crops to feed them. It is managed according to the prescriptions of the state Department of Agriculture.

            Gish Logging belongs to the Northeastern Loggers Association and the National Hardwood Association. It has earned numerous awards, including Franklin County Business of the Year in 2002.




 






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