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Rebuilt Morbark Chipper Helps Timber Firm Broaden Its Business
Craig Bergerson, founder and owner of Tillemook Fiber Recovery, Inc. expanded his business to a full-scale producer of chips with the purchase of a Model 2348 Flail Total Chiparvestor.
Date Posted: 5/1/2011
Keeping startup costs down can often determine not only how successful a business venture will ultimately be, but whether it makes it off the ground at all. That premise holds true for both totally new businesses and new components within an existing one. For Craig Bergerson, founder and owner of Tillemook Fiber Recovery, Inc. (TFR), it was an important point to keep in mind, when, in 2008, he expanded his business—going from one that did in-woods grinding and log handling to a full-scale producer of chips for area pulp and paper plants. At the heart of the new endeavor is a Morbark Model 2348 Flail Total Chiparvestor, built in 1997 and fully rebuilt in 2007. He says purchasing a rebuilt unit—and having confidence in its performance—made a huge impact on his ability to be competitive as he launched his new chipping operation.
Into the Woods
Despite a relatively recent entré into grinding and chipping, Craig Bergerson is anything but a stranger to the timber market. With more than 37 years of service to the industry, he has done everything from setting chokers for Crown Zellerbach, to aerial fertilizing, to tree plant inspections for Weyerhauser, and more. Along the way he earned a degree in Forestry Technology, and worked for the Columbia River Log Scaling and Grading Bureau, eventually setting off on his own to co-found Ranier, Washington-based TFR.
“This was initially a partnership buying land, timber and timber deeds,” he says. “We did that until the export market started to fall, at which point we shifted gears and started doing some in-woods grinding in 2006. “Mind you, I had not done any grinding prior to getting into it; I was as green as they come. But I had some excellent people working for me and we started out with a large unit of land that had been cleared and piled for us.”
Bergerson says that first project, about 240 acres of cleared material, took them roughly 2 ½ months to complete, a job he describes as “a real cake walk.”
“But, because it was so easy, it gave us some valuable time to establish some additional markets for the material,” he says. “From that point on we were able to get our feet under us and grow the in-woods grinding operation. It was a real godsend for the business; we currently grind for all the major timber holders in northwest Oregon and southwest Washington, as well as for a few large private landowners. All that material is also used by area pulp and paper mills but in this case, the hog fuel powers their boilers.”
The Chips Start to Fall
In 2007, with the grinding operation in full swing, Bergerson leased a parcel of land in Deep River, Washington, to handle and oversee the processing of logs.
“This was primarily work we did for Longview Pulp & Paper,” says Bergerson. “They would purchase the logs and have them delivered to our Deep River yard where we would hold them until they sent in a contract chipper to generate chips onsite then have them hauled off to their mill.”
Bergerson says that arrangement continued for a couple of years until a combination of an increase in log volume and an inability of the contract chipping company to keep up with that increase, opened a door for TFR to tackle the chipping themselves. With no equipment to do so, however, it was time for the company to look at all the options available to them.
“We were aware of the cost of a new chipper and knew that, based on our size and anticipated workload, we’d be over our heads for quite a while; that was something we’d always avoided. There was plenty of used equipment around, but going that route means putting a lot of faith into someone else’s machine. We were hoping for another alternative and got it in a phone call from our equipment dealer, Papé Machinery.”
The alternative to which Bergerson refers was a 1997 Morbark chipper that Papé had located in Colorado. The unit had been totally refurbished at Morbark’s Winn, Michigan factory in 2007, and seemed a perfect fit for TFR’s operation. So J.R. Henderschott, Papé Machinery’s delivery and revisit specialist, accompanied Bergerson and his operator, Bud Beck, out to look it over. Bergerson says he was immediately impressed.
“This was a chipper that had only 1600 hours on it and looked every bit as good as a new machine. My understanding is that Morbark takes these units right down to the frame and sends them through the assembly line again. When we went to look at it, in fact, there were still warranties on both of the motors. It was exactly what we were looking for in every regard: condition, features, size and, most of all, cost. So we bought it and had it working at the Deep River site by April of this year.”
Bergerson says the chipper’s performance belies it’s lineage—again, testimony to the thorough nature of the rebuild process.
“This is an outstanding unit,” he says. “I really like the fact that it is a two-engine machine: the main engine, a Caterpillar C-27, runs the disk and the smaller Cat 3306 engine runs the flails. So if the flails start to bog down, it doesn’t affect the main motor and draw power away from the disk. In fact, you can listen and when the wood hits the disk, there is no difference in motor pitch at all. It really is a solid performer.”
While he is excited about the rebuilt unit’s performance, Bergerson says he has no qualms about purchasing new equipment, and several other units he bought as new—including a pair of Hitachi excavators—bear this out. In a case like his, however, he says the rebuilt unit played a huge role.
“Simply put, there’s no way we would be doing what we’re doing today without the cost advantage the rebuilt chipper afforded us,” he says. “We definitely wanted to get the chipping contract, but we were not going to overextend ourselves to do so. This made all the difference for us.”
All About Efficiency
Today, TFR’s Deep River location is the picture of efficiency. While many chipping companies like to blow material directly into waiting trucks, Bergerson’s crew blows directly onto the paved surface and loads out the chips with a front-end loader.
“Blowing into the truck means that truck has to sit for 35 minutes. The loader, a John Deere 624, has a 7.5 yard tip-out bucket and my guys can load a truck out in 8-10 minutes. Because the site is paved, we have no concerns about ground contamination of the chips, and that’s far more efficient.”
TFR currently processes a dozen loads a day out of the yard and maintains about that same amount in a stockpile. “So, on average,” says Bergerson, “we are chipping 15-18 loads—roughly between 500 and 600 tons of chips—every day.”
Tale of Two Machines
While the Morbark 23/48 chipper stays at the Deep River location, Bergerson says their other grinder, a Morbark 4600XL Track Hog is always on the move.
“The in-woods part of the business is still a very active one and if that grinder is in the same place for two weeks, that’s a long time. It’s a great machine as well—far better than the units it replaced. The chipper, on the other hand, stays here all the time—for us, it’s just not cost-effective to move it. For the price difference between hog fuel and a wood chip we can pay to have wood delivered here.
“We’ve been really fortunate with the way things have worked out for us,” he adds. “We benefited from the savings of the rebuilt chipper, we have excellent support from both Morbark and Papé Machinery, and we have a crew both here in the yard and in the woods that’s second to none. Given the state of many businesses today, I’d say we’re doing alright.”
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