Father, Son Sprout Firewood Business

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Rainier Hydraulics Chomper makes it easy to cut, split firewood logs with its shearing process design. 

WINDHAM, Maine — The article in the Portland Herald was not unusually large, and it did not herald any major event. But the picture — a man standing in front of a mountain of firewood — caught the attention of Bob Maurais and his son, Jim.
“We looked at it for a minute and thought, ‘That would be fun,’” Bob recalled recently from his home in Windham, Maine that he and his wife, Barbara, designed and built. “So I started doing some research, and we got it going.”
Today, almost three years later, you won’t find father and son standing in front of any massive piles of firewood. But you will find them out behind their adjacent homes on quite a few weekends as well as the odd sunny, warm winter weekday. They’ll be putting logs through their Chomper model 16 PDA firewood processor, adding to the 100-plus cords of firewood they hope to produce a year.
“That’s not a lot,” said Bob, “especially considering Southern Maine Firewood (the company that was featured in the Portland Herald article that caught his eye) does about 4,000 cords a year. But it’s a good number for us.”
It’s a good number because they work at the firewood business in their spare time. Bob is an industrial arts teacher at Frank Harrison Middle School in Yarmouth, where he has taught for 27 years. Jim owns a landscaping business that he began about three years ago; he previously worked for Hall Implement, a John Deere dealership, and most recently was a school bus coordinator for the Gorham School Department.
“We really enjoy each other’s company,” Bob said, describing the father-son joint venture. “And we really enjoy the outdoors.” For his part, Bob enjoys working in the fresh air after a day spent in the classroom.
The firewood business they launched together and the volume of wood they produce would not be possible without the Chomper, Bob noted.
In the process of researching firewood processing equipment, Bob contacted Rainier Hydraulics Inc. in Oregon. Rainier president Warren Aikins provided him with names of customers that used the company’s firewood processing equipment.
Bob initially invested in a Simplex 14 from Rainier. Last year he and Jim traded in the machine on a Chomper 16 PDA, which is powered by a John Deere 80 hp diesel engine.
“The Simplex was fine,” said Bob. “It’s an excellent machine. It does a great job up to 10-inch and 12-inch hardwoods, but the 14-inch beech wood was too hard for it. We were able to do a cord every 90 minutes. Now, we do two cords every hour. The Model 16 handles anything we feed it. If we wanted to, we could easily cut 500 to 600 cords a year.”
The Rainer Hydraulics Chomper is somewhat unique among firewood processing equipment because it uses a shear to cut logs into firewood-length pieces of wood. It also does not require any type of deck for the logs because they are pulled into the machine at ground level with the aid of a winch.
The Chomper is everything that Rainier’s advertisements and sales literature say that it is, according to Bob. “The shearing, the splitting, the processing — the Chomper does it all, and it’s amazingly easy,” he said.
The Chomper — all three models — can be operated by one person and handles up to 16-inch logs automatically. The winch is attached to the log at ground level, and the machine does the rest. It automatically pulls the log into the machine, shears it firewood length, and splits it. The operator is free to hook the winch to the next log.
The Chomper can cut logs into lengths ranging from 12 inches to 22 inches, which has provided a definite advantage to the firewood business. “Jim advertised in the local paper that we could custom cut, and a lot of people called, looking for 14-inch” firewood, said Bob. “It’s all that would fit in their fireplace, and nobody else was offering that size.”
Bob and Jim provide strong service — quick delivery and always erring to the good side when determining cord size. Most customers now are repeat customers or heard about their business from other customers.
Bob is thinking about offering customers a chance to lock in this season for the price of next year’s firewood. “With the shortage of firewood we’re seeing in Maine, prices are bound to increase,” he explained. “Once we get our log price in a few weeks (from Wadsworth Woodlands) for this year’s wood, if they want, they can lock in a price, we’ll cut and size it to their specifications, and even store it if they want until they’re ready for it next year.”
Once the Chomper does its work, including loading the firewood into Jim’s Ford F550 on the attached 30-foot conveyor manufactured by American MSR Inc. of Black River, N.Y., they deliver the loads (the truck holds two cords) or use Jim’s John Deere skid steer loader to stack the wood in their back lot.
“With the Simplex, Jim could stand at the end and toss the wood into his truck as it came off,” said Bob. “You could do it with the Chomper Model 16, too, but with that cycle time — 7 or 8 seconds — you’d be awfully tired by the end of a run.”
The end of the run, at least for seasoned firewood, came in September, as local residents who hadn’t planned ahead began to grow concerned about the short supply of firewood predicted for this year. Bob attributed the shortage to the reopening of a major sawmill in New Hampshire. In addition, a number of loggers are quitting the business — the expense and danger is catching up to them, he said.
When he was interviewed for this article, Bob and Jim had about 15 cords in their lot, but they anticipated adding to it soon and stockpiling more firewood for the winter.
“You don’t want to do it when the temperature gets down to 10 or 15 degrees,” said Bob. “You don’t want to force the machine to work that hard.”
They expected to have a sizable supply on hand by January and February. Then, on nice days, “We’ll Chomp maybe four to six cords a day and try to keep up with the pile.”
“There’s an advantage to working when the ground’s frozen,” Bob noted. “I’d like to get at least 100 cord cut this winter so it can season, then get another load in during the summer for those people who like to buy their wood green.”
The Chomper actually helps the firewood to season and dry faster, Bob pointed out, because the shearing process squeezes water out of the wood. “You can see the water just pouring out of the machine as it pulls a tree through and cuts it,” he said. “It forces it right out.”
In the summer, Jim’s landscaping business is going full bore, which cuts sharply into his availability for the firewood business. At the same time, when Bob is off from teaching in the summer, he likes to do some woodworking of his own, building furniture, a new shed, and other projects. He also runs programs for Yarmouth Community Services, keeping students entertained and busy during summer vacation with classes in model rocket building, remote control airplanes, and other activities.
“I love working with kids,” Bob said. “Never get tired of ’em.” At least for another seven years or so, when he will be able to retire, leaving him more time to work in his firewood business.
“It’s a great way to spend time outside,” Bob added. “I enjoy the physical end of it. And with the Chomper, all I have to do is supervise the equipment. I can keep that up for a long time.”