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Contractor Recycles 'Everything We Touch'

Track Machine from Continental Biomass Industries Enables Virginia Company to Go; Grind in Remote Sites

By Tim Cox - Editor
Date Posted: 6/1/2001

Many people may not think that someone who basically pushes down trees with heavy equipment and scrapes the ground clean for a living knows or cares anything about recycling. They havenít met Chris Johnson.

"We recycle everything we touch," said Chris, a land-clearing contractor who lives and works in northern Virginia.

His company, C.C. Johnson Inc., was started by his father, Charles, now deceased, who launched the business after retiring in 1979 from working for the federal government. Chris joined his father in the business immediately after graduating from high school.

"When we started it was my dad and I and my brother, who worked part-time while he was in school," Chris recalled. "We had a couple of other part-time employees, too."

The company got its start primarily doing land-clearing work for residential construction. It cleared lots for homes, dug basements and graded yards. "We started working for a small builder, clearing trees, digging basements, and finishing the lots. We remained with this company for 10 years." With the recession of the late 1980s, however, the company shifted focus to pursue contracts with the state highway department and other government agencies. Government contracts were somewhat sporadic initially; however, the state was a reliable customer when it came to payment for services. Today the company continues to do a small volume of work with residential builders.

C.C. Johnson utilizes all the wood it removes under a land-clearing contract. The companyís crews cut out saw logs, and the saw logs are sold to a couple of sawmills in northern Virginia. Low-grade logs are reserved for the companyís considerable firewood business. Stumps, tops and limbs are processed in one of the companyís grinders and converted into mulch. The company even collects the dirt it cleans from stumps and screens it and sells the top soil.

Chris began cutting, splitting and selling firewood as a high school student. It has been a part of the companyís operations since his father started the business. The firewood operation employs three men who cut and split fuel wood year-round; it is equipped with a Multi-Tek firewood processing machine. "We probably did 1,500 to 2,000 cord of wood last winter," said Chris. The company mainly sells its firewood wholesale to nurseries and other businesses; its retail price for a cord of firewood this past winter was $155. The company sold out its firewood before Thanksgiving Day in 1999, and last year sold out just before Christmas. "Hopefully, this year weíll get a jump on it and have enough to get through," said Chris.

The feller-buncher is used to take down trees on large jobs. On smaller jobs, trees are usually pushed down with an excavator and bucked with a chain saw.

The company began grinding operations about four years ago. It previously burned stumps and slash, but burning came under increasing regulatory scrutiny. The company still conducts some burns, however. "We just finished burning a job yesterday," said Chris. Come the beginning of June, though, outdoor burning would be banned for three months during the dry summer months.

About "98 percent" of wood to be processed is recycled by grinding equipment in the field, said Chris. Grinding reduces the volume of stumps and brush by three-fold, making it more economical for hauling and disposal at landfills. Mulch ages in a company yard and goes through a second grinding process later.

In recent years C.C. Johnson has added two grinding machines from Continental Biomass Industries. The company acquired its first CBI machine about three years ago. "We had been using tub grinders," Chris recalled. Horizontal grinders were still "fairly new," he noted. Horizontal grinding equipment is economical and safe, said Chris. He was pleased with his initial investment in a CBI machine, and it has performed well. "Weíre real happy with it," he said. "Itís helped us a lot in our production."

The beginning of this year Chris added another CBI grinder; the second machine is mounted on tracks ó the first track grinder made by CBI ó and moves under its own power. The CBI track grinder has enabled the company to operate in areas where the terrain would have prohibited the use of towable grinding machines, according to Chris. "The two jobs at Dulles Airport, we had to be able to get in remote areas," he said. "And they didnít want us to remove the mulch. They used it for soil stabilization to control erosion."

In clearing rights-of-way, he said, the CBI track grinder allows the company to operate faster because there is no need to skid wood out from the job site. The application of the CBI track grinder also eliminates the need for the company to use other off-road equipment at the job site, saving operating costs and wear and tear on the machinery.

The CBI machines both have the same horsepower but are equipped with different mills; the track machine has a smaller mill. "Itís not quite as fast grinding stumps," said Chris, but the machineís mobility provides a definite advantage. "In a right-of-way weíre working on, we could never get the (other) big grinder in. Itís just too hilly." The track machine has navigated the terrain well, he said.
"Itís been surprising," he added. The operator once drove the machine through a muddy area, and the mud went up to the to of the tracks. "It kept on going," said Chris.

"Itís done very well," he added. "Itís a heavy machine, but itís well balanced. You can get around in those right-of-ways."

The company normally uses the heavy equipment to split large stumps prior to grinding. C.C. Johnson used to have a stump axe but has adopted severe application buckets on excavating machines as the best way of splitting stumps. The stumps are picked up by grapples on the heavy equipment and shaken to remove dirt, then struck with the buckets and broken up with the teeth.

"We probably remove 95 to 99 percent of the dirt," said Chris. "That helps sell the mulch because itís clean."

Currently the business is owned by Chrisí mother, Anne, who runs the office. Her position as owner has been helpful to the company in obtaining work from state government; the business is considered a minority contractor.

Fifty percent of the companyís contract work is with the state and federal government on clearing land for road work. C.C. Johnson is certified as a disadvantaged business enterprise with Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority. It recently cleared a 135-acre site
on airport property for a new air and space museum and two runways at Dulles Airport.

C.C. Johnson employs about 30 people and has an inventory of about 45 pieces of heavy equipment. "Some is specialty machinery that we only use for certain jobs," said Chris.

The company operates mainly in northern Virginia. "We are one of the larger independent companies that just does land clearing," said Chris, who is a member of the Land Improvement Contractors of America. For some preferred customers, the company will send crews to work in Maryland.

Most land-clearing jobs only involve a few weeks of work at a time, according to Chris. "If weíre in one spot for more than two or three weeks, thatís a long time for us." Even large-scale projects normally keep the companyís crews in one location for only a few weeks, he explained, because the projects are implemented in phases or sections.

C.C. Johnson is equipped with a host of heavy machinery. The company has six excavators, five loaders, a bulldozer, a skidder, a feller-buncher, two chippers, four grinders and two pit burners. It also is equipped with four low-boy trucks, four demo trailers, three log trailers and a walking floor trailer. "We also do a lot of for-hire moves," noted Chris.

Chris, 40, lives with his wife and family in nearby Fauquier County. He recently bought an old farm, and his son and daughter are getting involved in 4-H activities; they are venturing into livestock farming with two black Angus cattle. Chris enjoys gardening in his spare time, and he and his family are active in a local church.


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