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Grinding Service Finds A Home on the Range

DuraTech tub grinder enables Wyoming contractor to provide service to localities in western states.

By Jack Petree
Date Posted: 6/4/2002

CASPER, Wyoming — To some, sparsely settled Wyoming, Montana, and South Dakota may not seem fertile ground for a company that provides services to reduce and recycle urban wood waste. But Pete Peterson, owner of FM Company, has found that even in remote areas local governments are concerned about conserving natural resources — as much so as more populated localities.

Companies like his that provide grinding services can help these small communities conserve space in landfills, recycle material from demolition and other sources, and re-use the wood fiber again in valuable products.

FM provides grinding services for towns and cities within a radius of about 400 miles from Pete’s home in Casper, Wyoming. Using a DuraTech Industrial Products HD-12 Tub Grinder equipped with remote controls, Pete has found that he can make a good living processing what used to be considered waste into valuable products with a ready market. Equally important to him: he is having a positive impact on conserving and enhancing the wide open spaces where he lives.

Pete was originally in the demolition business. He had always been interested in recycling more of the material from the buildings he demolished. One day he read a magazine article about an Eastern demolition business. "This guy was not only taking the buildings down. He was recycling almost all of the material in them," Pete recalled. "I was impressed by that and thought I’d see if it could work for me."

Pete believed there were two huge potential benefits to his business by adding large-scale grinding capabilities. First, recycling made a great deal of sense from a profitability standpoint. Tearing a building down and discarding the material into a landfill was an expensive proposition. Tipping fees, hauling expenses, and other costs were high, and he thought they could be reduced by grinding and processing. Second, putting material in a landfill that could be used again as a useful product was a wasteful misuse of a natural resource. "I decided I had to look into the potential for grinding in my own market areas," said Pete.

The Western Plains region is not exactly a "hotbed" of grinding, Pete noted. Aside from a few people doing chipping on a small scale, no one thought there was much of a market for a high-volume grinding service. Pete was not convinced immediately, either. "Still," he said, "I knew there had to be a better way to do things, so I began to look into machines."

To find a suitable grinder, Pete asked for advice from his primary machinery dealer, Western Plains Machinery. Western Plains brought in a representative from DuraTech to consult with Pete. Pete’s search, for all practical purposes, began and ended with DuraTech. He was completely impressed with both DuraTech’s equipment and the company’s willingness to help him find markets for his grinding service.

"The first words out of my mouth when they began talking industrial grinders were, ‘That’s $200,000 and I don’t see a market for it around here,’ " Pete recalled. "But they’d done their research and brought it to my attention that cities and towns were very interested in managing their green waste as well as their demolition debris, and that there should be a market there if someone wanted to go out and get after it."

Pete said he began testing the market and almost immediately received a commitment for a job in Sheridan, Wyoming priced at about $8,000. "I bought the machine based on the strength of that one order," he said with a bit of a laugh.

DuraTech is located in Jamestown, North Dakota. The company was founded in 1966 by Joe Anderson, a rancher who wanted to grind hay for his livestock. Joe found the grinders on the market were too expensive for his use, so he built his own. The machine was such a success that other farmers began to ask about it, so Joe went into the manufacturing business. The machines originally were built for agricultural customers, but as it grew, composting and recycling came to be important environmental tools. Seeing a demand, DuraTech began to expand into the industrial marketplace.

Today, DuraTech offers a full range of heavy duty industrial tub grinders, ranging from an 8-foot utility unit to a large, 12-foot high output unit to the Grindmaster line of horizontal ram-fed grinders. Custom options are available on each machine, according to sales manager Bob Strahm.

DuraTech also has grown in terms of the geographical market area it serves. Its grinders are operating throughout the world. In fact, one of the company’s machines is working in Antarctica!

The key to DuraTech’s success, Bob said, is its straightforward product design with a strong focus on production capabilities of the grinders and strong after-market parts and service support. "We use a fixed hammer system in most of our tub grinders for product consistency and heavy production levels," he said, "plus a quick-change design so our customers can produce a lot of different size mulch in a short time. We work hard to make our machines operator friendly and trouble free so they are able to stand up under the severe conditions our customers come up against, such as land clearing and land fill grinding."

That was the kind of machine Pete wanted when he decided to expand his demolition business. While he wanted to enter the business of recycling green waste, he also wanted to continue the successful demolition business he already had underway. His demolition business would provide the financial base necessary to invest in new equipment until he could get more contracts to make it even more profitable. A new machine would have to be able to handle the rough, grueling work of grinding demolition material and also have the capability of processing large volumes of logs, stumps, brush and yard waste. The HD 12 machine he purchased from DuraTech has been in operation for nearly four years and has performed successfully in both applications. "The demolition wasn’t enough, but it was a good start," said Pete. "I gambled on the bet that I could generate new business that would justify the machine long term."

Pete’s risk was rewarded almost immediately. "Four days before the grinder arrived we had a heavy and unseasonable snowfall," he recounted. "All of the trees in the city (Casper) still had their leaves, so the snow caused a lot of damage to the city’s trees. After the snow melted, people began to clean up, and was there ever a lot to clean up! Cars were backed up for a mile and a half at the landfill, and the city had 12 dump trucks running. People were bringing everything from broken branches up to whole, split trees. There was so much material generated from that storm that we just got the aftermath cleaned up last year."

The storm was a perfect opportunity to test the capabilities of the new machine. "They had to stockpile the stuff and ended up with a pile of material 275 feet by 375 feet by 39 feet high," said Pete. "Grinding all of that stuff up was an important piece of work early in my business because
it gave me a chance to show what could
be done with this machine while it provided income."

The storm was a blessing for his business, and the work has been pretty steady since then. In addition to providing services to local governments throughout Wyoming, Pete has taken his equipment as far as Bismark and Dickinson, North Dakota, Sturgis, South Dakota and Billings, Montana. His customers also include private individuals and other businesses. He once did a "huge" job for a man from California who purchased a large amount of land and torn down all the buildings.

The DuraTech HD 12 that Pete uses has a 12-foot tub. It can process anything from brushy material to stumps and logs. A torque limiter prevents damage from sudden shock loads to the engine and grinding cylinder while a heavy-duty 56-inch long grinding hammer-mill provides maximum capacity and durability. With an overall weight of 49,750 lbs., the diesel powered HD-12 offers 500-650 horsepower and features a 26-foot hydraulically folded discharge conveyor to stockpile material.

Pete runs his operation by himself most of the time. His grinder can be operated by remote control, he said, so he can be loading the machine - he uses a track-mounted Case 9020 B backhoe with a grapple head - and running the DuraTech machine at the same time. In the right kind of material, he said, he can grind up to 220 cubic yards of material per hour.

The material that Pete processes goes to a wide variety of sources. In addition to the usual landscaping materials and composts that grinding companies produce, Pete creates chips for top dressings for landfills he serves as well as products for land reclamation projects. For example, chips he processed and supplied recently were used by the federal Bureau of Land Management to reclaim sandy soil that had been exposed to oil and by a state highway agency to reclaim a limestone quarry.

While sales have been good, they do not come automatically. Anyone looking to go into the grinding business, Pete noted, will have to face a long process of developing a regular customer base in order to ensure long-term success. "I’ve seen a number of people come in and try it who’ve gone by the wayside because they didn’t realize how demanding the work is or how long it takes to build up a business," he said.

Progressive cities like Billings, Montana are concerned about the environment and prefer to grind wood fiber in order to reduce landfill volumes. However, other communities, especially smaller ones, burn wood material instead. "That doesn’t always make a lot of sense environmentally," Pete pointed out, "But people can get stuck in doing things the way they’ve always done it, and when that happens, they just don’t want to change."

Grinding is more cost effective than landfills for his local government customers, according to Pete. In Billings, for example, it costs the city $27 per yard to put material in a landfill -- including all permits and the final costs of closing a landfill. A 20,000-24,000 yard pile of green waste takes up only about 10,000 yards after grinding, and much of the material can be used as top dressing for the landfill’s cell as it is filled.

"That means they’re saving on landfill space and are reducing costs because they don’t have to buy top soil to cap the landfill," said Pete. "The savings are substantial, and the more progressive towns realize that, but some just haven’t figured it out yet." Change is coming, though, especially as state environmental agencies clamp down on outdoor burning.

Pete has been satisfied with the way his business has grown the past four years. He has been able to earn a good living and helped to improve the environment in the region he serves. His service also saves money for local governments.

Pete has been particularly pleased that he found his way to DuraTech early in the process. "Their machine has been everything they said it would be," he said. "I work in some very tough conditions that are very hard on a machine. This thing has stood up extremely well. As far as its production is concerned, from everything I’ve seen it is the equal or better of any machine on the market. I can get a consistent product out of it and still stay self-contained because of the remote control. It’s easy to manage on a job, too. I pull into a landfill and I’m set up and ready to run in less than five minutes."

Equally important is that when he needs assistance, he can call the factory and get immediate service. "Time really
is money in this business," said Pete, "so I’ve really appreciated the factory support I get."


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