As is the case with many of New England’s successful logging firms, Redding, CT-based Saugatuck Tree & Logging has its roots in a small startup operation. According to Derek Smith, who along with his brother Dwight owns and runs the company, theirs was perhaps even smaller and more modest than most.
“We started out in 1983 as a tree pruning operation and, armed with only a hand-fed chipper, a 1965 dump truck and a whole lot of ambition, worked hard to make the company succeed. After only a short while, we saw the potential in growing the business into other areas. So in 1985 we purchased a Morbark Whole Tree Chipper and made the move from tree pruners to specialists in mechanized land clearing and logging. Today we are actively involved in a range of projects including clearing for golf courses, condominiums, horse farms, roads, subdivisions, and so on.”
Over the last few years, Smith and his brother were faced with two realities: they were spending more and more money disposing of their wood waste, and that same material they were discarding had a measurable value to it. “Coming to grips with those two facts led to the establishment of the recycling portion of our business,” he says. “We now stockpile our wood debris at a two-acre site in Monroe, CT, and grind it on a regular basis for production of high-quality mulch and compost.”
Smith says he is both amazed at how far they’ve come in that relatively short 20 years, and pleased with the direction he and his brother Dwight have taken the company. “There’s no denying we’ve worked hard for every gain we’ve made, but a good deal of the success we’ve enjoyed can be attributed to the skilled, committed people we’ve been fortunate enough to have had join the company, and to the solid level of performance we’ve gotten from the equipment we’ve purchased along the way.”
Service Tilts the Scale
Saugatuck currently employs about 30 people in both its logging and recycling operations and uses no fewer than 25 major pieces of equipment to help those operations run smoothly. While virtually every tool is invaluable in an operation such as theirs, Smith says the recent addition of the Morbark Track Wood Hog to its fleet has already made an impact and looks like it will do so even more in the future.
“We’ve been a believer in Morbark’s equipment since we bought our first Whole Tree Chipper, a Model 20. We currently own that unit plus a Model 27RXL Whole Tree Chipper and a Morbark Wolverine, and they’ve never let us down in terms of performance or maintenance. However, when we decided to move into a track mounted unit, we looked at equipment from a number of different manufacturers. While some came close in production numbers, we took into consideration the level of support and the availability of field service Morbark has provided us over the last two decades. That helped cement our decision to go with the Model 5600.”
According to Smith, their search for a horizontal grinder — particularly a track-mounted unit — stemmed from a desire to both increase production in the newly-established recycling facet of the business, and to enhance their capabilities in the logging end as well.
“We saw the advances that had been made in the development of track mounted units and saw the value they could have in our operation. The benefit of using it in the recycling yard was obvious: we could up production by going with a more powerful grinder than the horizontal unit we had in place, and we could improve efficiency by utilizing the mobility of a track-mounted grinder. Without knowing a wood waste recycling operation, one would be amazed to see how many times a grinder has to be moved during the course of a day’s processing — particularly in a small acreage yard such as ours.”
Both benefits have produced immediate and impressive results in Saugatuck’s recycling operation. With the Track Wood Hog, the company has gone from a 525Hp unit to an 860 Hp grinder yet it has almost doubled production. Smith attributes this upturn to a combination of the added power and the onsite mobility.
“Now we are able to move the Track Wood Hog right up to the top of a pile and grind off a specific area. Or we can walk it up to one of our mulch storage bins and grind a specific mulch directly into the bin, thereby eliminating and additional movement step with a loader. And, at the end of the day, cleanup around the machine — a job which used to be a major undertaking after a full day’s processing — is now simple. The maneuverability of the grinder is something we didn’t know we were missing, but now is something we couldn’t do without.”
A Look at the Hog
The Track Wood Hog which has made such an impression on Saugatuck’s business is a track-mounted version of the company’s popular Model 5600 Wood Hog and provides all of the same features along with the added mobility. Weighing in at 90,000 lbs., it is built to perform yet also minimizes maintenance concerns in ways that Saugatuck’s other grinder didn’t.
“The nature of our business is such that we frequently change grates to create different product sizes. That changeout used to be something of a major undertaking, but the 5600 makes it a snap. A hydraulic hinged door allows easy access to the screens and, because the screen is a three-piece design, changes can be done by one person rather than by two — and still get done in half the time.”
Other features include a heavy duty undercarriage, a Full Breakaway Torque Limiter which prevents damage to the drive train in the event of a hammermill jam, and a separate reversible fan for blowing fines out of the radiator. However, when pressed for the single overriding feature the Track Wood Hog brings to their operation, Smith again comes back to the mobility.
“We just can’t say enough about the fact that the unit is fully maneuverable and fully operational from a remote position,” he says. “For us that has been a big plus because now we are able to have the excavator operator — who is feeding the grinder with a grapple — also have control over its movement. In the past, a simple movement of the grinder to either clear the discharge pile or reposition the grinder meant a halt in production while a truck or loader was hooked up to make the move. And, if the situation warrants it, we can still have one man feeding the Wood Hog with the excavator while another handles the remote control unit of the grinder either from another piece of machinery or from the ground.”
Making Tracks for the Woods
Saugatuck has field-tested the Track Wood Hog in its recycling yard but has big plans for it to become an integral part of the forestry and logging operation as well. With several major projects already on the books for this winter, Derek Smith sees many opportunities for the grinder to shine.
“We do a lot of municipal work such as clearing for ball fields, new schools and so on, as well as commercial development, so the Track Wood Hog will definitely streamline the grinding part of such jobs. However, we also have contracts to clear for several golf courses in the area and the fact that the grinder is track-mounted will allow us to take it almost anywhere to grind — that’s a luxury we’ve simply never had.”
Saugatuck Tree & Logging is a year-round operation, but, says Smith, in winter the conditions can often be far from ideal. “To be able to drive that grinder virtually anywhere on a jobsite that we need to grind — regardless of terrain — will save us vast amounts of time and man-hours.”
Growing With the Flow
Derek and Dwight Smith have seen Saugatuck Tree & Logging grow at a pace even they never anticipated. The logging portion of the business generates more than 1.3 million board feet of hard wood and 300,000 bd. ft. of soft wood annually. On the recycling side, this year alone they will be providing more than 75,000 tons of mulch to 350+ area landscapers, nurseries, golf courses and residential customers. With all that in place, the brothers are still poised to take the company to the next level.
“We have really outgrown our site at Monroe and are getting ready to move to a much larger site — 40 acres versus our current two acres — not far from here. That additional acreage will allow us to do some things we are currently unable to do such as additional custom-blending of mulch, custom-coloring material for added customer selection, and so on. We have also looked into the possibility of bagging some of our product to make it more commercially available. These are things which are just in the planning stages right now but are definitely realistic goals for us to reach. We believe in what we do, we have the people to make it happen, and we use equipment which helps us get the jobs done right and done on time. The latest addition to our arsenal — the Track Wood Hog — will only make us that much better.”