Northeast Logger Diversifying to Ensure Continued Success

April 15, 2019


Peterson Grinder a Key Ingredient for HB Logging

By Tim Cox
Timberline Magazine, www.timberlinemag.com
April 2019, Vol. 25, No. 4, Page 14-17

MONROE, New Hampshire – Heath Bunnell has been steadily steering his logging company into new areas of business, diversifying so it can better adapt and prosper if some markets weaken. In the process, he is utilizing a Peterson Pacific grinder to put his company on a firm footing for the future.

Heath’s company, HB Logging LLC, has an office and shop in Monroe, New Hampshire, a small town in the northern part of the state along a bend in the Connecticut River. Heath makes his home in Kirby, Vermont, about 25 miles north.

Heath Bunnell (right), owns HB Logging in Monroe, New Hampshire, and his dad, Rocky Bunnell, is a foreman for the company.

Heath, 46, has been in business for himself since 1998. Although he grew up in a logging family that has long roots in the industry, he made a brief detour out of the business. He graduated from high school in 1992, and the following year he followed his dream of living in Alaska and working on a fishing boat, which he did from 1993-1998. When he came home in 1998 to visit his family, he way trying to decide if he should invest and buy a share in the fishing boat’s quota. New England had been through a bad ice storm, and there was plenty of salvage timber on the market. Heath decided to invest in a skidder instead and start a logging business, following a long family tradition. In addition to his father, Heath’s grandfather was a logger, and his great-grandfather also worked in the woods in the winter. The fact that he missed his family also impacted his decision, explained Heath, who began working as a subcontractor to his father.

Since then, HB Logging has grown to 12 employees, including several family members, and a mixed fleet of logging machines and excavating and land-clearing equipment. One of the newest additions to the company’s mixed fleet is the Peterson 2710D horizontal grinder, a track machine. Heath purchased the grinder about two years ago from Massachusetts-based Barry Equipment. Six months later he purchased another machine from Barry Equipment to work with the grinder, a Doosan 235 excavator with a Rotobec RPA grapple saw.

OPerator Arik Bergeron runs the Doosan 235 excavator equipped with a Rotobec RPA grapple saw shown feeding the Peterson 2710D horizontal grinder. Heath Bunnell purchased the grinder two years ago from Barry Equipment.

The company only has one cutter, a Tigercat 822 feller buncher, but it subcontracts other loggers for felling when necessary. “Sometimes we just can’t keep up with one machine,” acknowledged Heath.

For getting the wood out, Heath has three skidders: a Cat 555, a TimberJack 460, and a TimberJack 460 cable skidder. His company also has a John Deere 200CLC stroke boom delimber and is equipped with three loaders with slasher saws: a Cat 559, Barko 495, and Hood 24000. The Cat is equipped with a CSI ground slasher saw, and the other two have Pro Pac tow-behind slasher saws.

Finally, it is equipped with a Brown Brontosaurus mulching head for removing small trees and brushy vegetation, primarily on jobs to clear or maintain utility right-of-way or areas adjacent to roads, clearing vegetation to create trails, and other projects.

The company has several excavators – a John Deere 250, Cat 312, and the Doosan 235 – and two bulldozers: a Komatsu 51TX and a Case 550G with winch. Other specialty tools used on some jobs include a Solesbee stump shear and a Wain-Roy stump rake.

Diversification at HB Logging

The company does a wide variety of jobs, from clearing a lot for a new home to clearing land for commercial projects, such as removing trees to create a new ski run for a resort, or harvesting trees and clearing land to make way for a solar power project. The company was scheduled to clear land in April for an airport expansion in Vermont.

Heath also buys timber, dealing directly with landowners or through a consulting forester; the average woodlot is about 100 acres. The company may do a final cut or a thin or select cut; jobs include timber harvests for forest management, creating or managing wildlife habitat, or reclaiming land from encroaching forests.

HB Logging does little contract logging but occasionally works for Meadowsend Timber Co., a New Hampshire company that owns over 30,000 acres of timberlands mainly in New Hampshire and Vermont.

Some jobs are purely excavation and site preparation work; in those cases, Heath may rent some additional machines.

“We usually run two or three jobs at a time,” said Heath, who contracts for all trucking. In the summer he tries to keep one logging job running and also a crew clearing land. During the winter, he tries to keep a crew in the woods, while other employees may be busy on jobs doing site work, building access roads, and other projects.

“We do a lot of biomass,” said Heath, and have been doing it for about 10 years. Heath buys biomass material from other loggers. They pile up the material on their jobs, and HB Logging sends a crew to chip it. The chips are blown into trailer vans and delivered to power generating plants.

Wood is merchandised from all jobs, logging or land-clearing. Hardwood and softwood grade logs are supplied mainly to sawmills in New Hampshire. Pulp logs are supplied to Kennebec Lumber at one of their New Hampshire facilities and also to Nine Dragons, a Chinese-based paper company that acquired a facility in Shelburne, Vermont. Biomass is supplied for fuel to four power generating facilities in Vermont and New Hampshire.

Logging and mobile chipping operations account for about 70 percent of the company’s revenues, and land-clearing work makes up the other 30 percent.

The Peterson 2710D is used on land-clearing jobs to grind stumps and other unmerchantable wood material. Grindings are supplied to the company’s biomass markets. Some of the material is used on-site at land-clearing jobs for erosion control.

The Peterson machine also is used for grinding wood waste material for some local governments. On those jobs and land-clearing sites, the approach is the same. The material is staged in rows. The Peterson, on tracks and being fed by the Doosan excavator, advances down the row of material from time to time as it completes grinding a section of the row.

Heath hopes to be able to use the Peterson grinder more during winter months when land-clearing work may be slow. In addition, he wants to position himself with the Peterson machine to be able to produce other products with biomass material if markets for biomass fuel chips weaken in the future. “That’s what made me buy the grinder,” he said. If markets for biomass go south, he can still process the material into other products that will generate revenue.

Heath is in the process of developing a wood yard in Kirby. The yard will be used for the production and storage of mulch and compost.   He plans to make the wood yard available – and charge a tipping fee – to accept wood debris and waste material from homeowners, tree service businesses, and other businesses that may have a need to dispose of wood material. With the Peterson grinder, he will be able to process the material into products he can sell. The Peterson machine also will continue to be used as necessary for on-site grinding at land-clearing jobs. Heath will also use the yard to process firewood logs and plans to invest in a firewood processor and kiln to produce kiln-dried firewood.

Why Heath Chose Peterson Grinding Equipment

Ben Moulton, excavator and low-bed operator, holds a large piece of steel that was caught and discharged by the airbag system on the Peterson 2710D before it could do any damage. Heath Bunnell said that it “saved me a pile of money by discharging the steel on to the belt.”

Heath considered several manufacturers of grinding equipment and traveled to watch some in operation. He was attracted to Peterson for several reasons. One is the Impact Release System that protects the grinder from contaminated material, like rock or metal—a feature unique to Peterson grinders. “It opens the screens up without tearing the mill apart,” said Heath. “We’ve seen it firsthand.” The screens can be changed easily and quickly, another plus for Heath. The Peterson also was designed with replaceable wear parts. “I thought that was a good idea,” he said.

“I’ve always heard good things about Peterson,” Heath added. “They look well-built…Another thing that attracted me is it’s not over-width.” There are no applicable road restrictions when Heath moves the machine, and he doesn’t have to obtain any special permits when it is moved.

The 2710D has become one of Peterson’s biggest selling horizontal grinders, according to Charlie Bagnall, northeast sales manager for Peterson. “Its 755 hp Caterpillar C18 engine on a smaller frame gives customers big grinder power on an easier to transport package,” he said.

The 2710D comes with all the standard Peterson features, such as the large 60×44 infeed opening, the Impact Relief System that allows non-grindable material to bypass the rotor, and the load-sensitive infeed system. “It has all the safety back-up features that keep the cost of running a Peterson the lowest in the industry,” said Charlie.

The quick-change multiple grate system makes it easy to customize grate configurations to produce a wide variety of finished materials; grates are removed through an easy-access door on the side wall. Triple grouser wide tracks enable better handling on hilly or rocky terrain, maximizing productivity.

(For more information about Peterson Pacific Corp. or its product line, visit www.petersoncorp.com or call (800-269-6520).

“We’re very proud to partner up with Heath,” said Charlie. “He has developed a first-class reputation in the land-clearing, trail building and habitat enhancement business. The Bunnell family has shown tremendous leadership in the New Hampshire forestry community in their business methods, from the woods to the legislature.

For any troubleshooting, technical assistance, or parts, Heath is in contact with the staff at Barry Equipment via phone, texting, or email.

“I’m very happy, very happy,” said Heath, of the equipment dealer. He said the Barry Equipment staff is very knowledgeable, and the company provides parts the same day or the next day.

“They’re so in tune with the land-clearing business,” added Heath. Clearing land for development “is not really popular” in the region, observed Heath. Some equipment dealers in the region have never sold a grinder, he added.

Barry Equipment Was Heath’s Peterson Dealer

Barry Equipment is the Peterson dealer for New England, having represented the company since about 2002. Owned and operated by the Barry family, it has one location in Webster, Mass., but it has customers as far away as Fort Kent, Maine, in the northernmost region of the state, adjacent to Canada. The dealership has service technicians with fully equipped trucks stationed throughout New England to serve its customers. Service manager Randy Earle has been with the company for more than 22 years.

“We take pride in our service, our parts department, our family ownership,” said Mike Conway, a representative of Barry Equipment. “Our customers deal with a small, family business and receive personal attention.”

Peterson’s Impact Release System is a feature that gets a lot of attention from contractors, noted Mike Conway, a representative of Barry Equipment. “No one else has it,” he said.

Heath was attracted to the Peterson brand because of the “ease of ownership and maintenance,” added Mike.

Barry Equipment personnel were on-site for about a week with Heath’s employees, teaching them and training them on the operation and maintenance of the Peterson grinder.

The Peterson machine has been a boon to the company’s land-clearing work. “We’re doing the whole thing,” explained Heath, “from head to tail…We cut the wood, stump the site (remove the stumps), grind the stumps, re-grade the site and do erosion control.”

The grinder “keeps my crew running,” said Heath, on land-clearing jobs when conditions may be too wet for logging. “It keeps us working more months out of the year.”

More About Heath and HB Logging

“We used to do straight-up logging,” said Health. “Times are changing and pushed us into other areas. We’re working into doing more of the site work and land clearing, finding ways to create our own marketplace in case we lose our pulp and biomass markets.”

HB Logging’s equipment lineup includes a Cat 555 skidder (shown here) and a Cat 559 loader equipped with a CSI ground slasher saw. Owner Heath Bunnell said the company has branched out from “straight-up logging” into site work and land clearing. The company does a wide variety of jobs, from clearing lots for new homes to removing trees to create a new ski run for a resort.

Although Heath scouts new jobs and prepares bids, he also operates equipment regularly. For example, on the day he was interviewed for this article, he was running a loader. Working alongside the other men is good for employee morale, he said.

Heath is a member of the New Hampshire Timber Owners Association, which named him the Logger of the Year for 2018. He and his employees receive logging training and certification through the association.

HB Logging provides a group health insurance plan, and the company pays a portion of the premium for employees. Some employees coach youth athletic teams and have children playing in sports, and Heath allows them flexibility in their work schedule in order to participate in those activities. He also helps to sponsor some teams. Some employees have been with him more than 20 years, and some, almost 20, while others are in their first year on the job.

Several family members are involved in the business. His father, “Rocky,” 68, recently retired from his own business to work for Heath as a foreman. His stepmother, Gail Bunnell, works in the office and helps with billing, typing up bids and contract proposals, and other correspondence. An uncle, Rick Bunnell, also works in the office; he handles payroll and oversees the administration of trip tickets. A cousin, Doug Bunnell, operates the Cat 555 skidder.

“I was born into logging, but it’s a great business,” said Heath, who enjoys mountain biking, skiing, and deer hunting in his free time. “Your family has to be on board with you, though. Your hours are not a normal lifestyle.”

When he does have spare time, Heath says, “I enjoy spending time with my family, my wife Tricia and daughters, Sofia and Zoe.”

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