S. Carolina Contractor Adapts to Change

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Bandit Industries Beast grinder and chipper key machines for land clearing work.

MYRTLE BEACH, South Carolina — Necessity may not be the seed of all invention. But it is a powerful motivator for change, as well as an inspiration for ingenuity. The old adage about a solution to every problem sums it up nicely: an outcome is often tied to a serious need.
Larry Ricks, owner of L&R Sitework Inc., has looked necessity directly in the eye at least three times and met the challenge it posed. Until he launched his land clearing, excavating, and site preparation business 25 years ago, Larry was a farmer. “I was the last man in this part of the county to grow tobacco and produce,” he said. “I enjoyed it very much.”
However, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina was becoming an attractive resort destination and locale for people looking to build a primary or second home. Developers began buying up farms and other land to build on. Traffic from the burgeoning population alone made it difficult for Larry to keep farming. The region and its landscape changed, and he changed, too.
Larry decided to seize a business opportunity presented by the escalating development. “If I can’t beat them, I might as well join them,” he concluded. With a small farm tractor and flatbed truck, Larry left farming and started clearing land for construction projects. He began by doing small jobs, and the business grew. Today, L&R Sitework operates with 45 employees.
As the business expanded, Larry adapted it to other changing times. He invested in a chipper relatively early in the business. “We’ve always been in the clearing business,” said Larry. “We bought a small chipper. When we went in to clear a site, we would cut the wood and chip it. The main reason we were chipping was because of landfill and tipping charges.” Tipping fees kept increasing.
As the business grew, it produced more and more chips. Finding a market for the material was important. “We started selling chips to a charcoal company,” said Larry. That went very well for a good stretch. Then, the charcoal maker closed.
Not one to be put off by the need to shift direction, Larry talked with someone at Canal Wood Corp. Based on that recommendation, Larry decided to sell chips to boiler fuel markets. He began supplying chips for boiler fuel to Smurfit Stone and International Paper through Canal Wood.
In order to keep the two companies supplied with sufficient quantities, Larry invested in the first of a series of grinders and chippers from Bandit Industries. His first investment was a Bandit Beast 3680 Recycler, a horizontal grinding machine. Two years ago he added a Bandit model 2400 chipper.
“When we have a big grinding job,” said Larry, the Bandit Beast 3680 is a must for high-production grinding. The Bandit Beast 3680, one of four models in the Beast Recycler line, has a 30-inch by 60-inch opening. The cuttermill design at the core of the Beast series machines easily processes a mix of tree limbs, trunks and tough stumps that L&R Sitework routinely collects at land-clearing jobs.
When he decided he wanted to add a grinder, Larry looked at many types. His experience with the performance of the Bandit chippers he had owned earlier and everything he learned about the Bandit Beast helped him settle quite quickly on the Bandit Beast 3680 Recycler.
“The Beast takes anything,” said Larry. The grinder runs 30-40 hours per week, and the company’s Bandit chipper runs about the same number of hours.
L&R Sitework does more than remove trees from building sites. The company handles all preliminary phases of development, including excavation for drainage and utilities.
Larry initially looked at the purchase of the Bandit Beast as an important way to reduce landfill disposal fees. However, the Bandit Beast became more significant to the company’s operations.
“After September 11, site business fell off,” said Larry. The terrorist attack had a negative impact on sales of new homes. “At that time, Canal Wood came along and made an offer to us to go into the fuel chip business.”
Larry saw the opportunity to make another shift in direction in order to keep L&R Sitework going through the difficult post-9/11 period. He had already invested in the Bandit Beast, and he was able to produce enough fuel chips to interest Canal Wood.
Putting a greater emphasis on producing boiler fuel chips required adding a piece of logging equipment that was capable of harvesting larger trees. “We had to get a bigger feller-buncher,” said Larry. He bought a Hydro-Ax 570 equipped with a high-capacity 22-inch saw. The new feller-buncher expanded the range of jobs the company could tackle. L&R generally does the cutting on small tracts and contracts for logging on large parcels of land.
One of the toughest parts of preparing sites for development is also one of the most important — removing stumps. The Bandit Beast 3680 readily grinds stumps, but getting them out of the ground is the most difficult task. Larry relies on excavators to remove them.
“After everything is cleared, we have rakes on the excavators” to clear the area, he explained. “We bring all the stumps to one location where they are split.” The splitting equipment is old and refurbished. Larry is looking to upgrade it to something new, but he has not done so yet.
The pulp and paper companies that buy boiler fuel require clean chips. So it is necessary to break the stumps and remove dirt before they are fed to the Bandit Beast grinder. Even so, the Beast gets a workout. “The Beast is a very good piece of equipment,” said Larry. “We’ve had very little trouble with it outside of maintenance.”
In the land clearing business, the likelihood of contact with manufactured materials — such as concrete or metal — is quite high. Occasionally, concrete or metal debris makes its way into the Bandit Beast, said Larry. Both materials can damage the cutter teeth. Moreover, Larry does not want either contaminant mixed with the wood chips, so his employees work aggressively to separate them from stumps before grinding.
With his extensive knowledge of equipment, Larry considers himself a customer with high expectations. And he expects Bandit Industries to meet his expectations and his requests. He has been satisfied with the service he receives from Bandit.
A native of Myrtle Beach, Larry’s affinity for equipment takes many forms. His son is a well known winning driver in the Late Model Stock Car NASCAR races at Myrtle Beach Speedway and is on his way to competing nationally. Larry is a member of his son’s pit crew.
“We love equipment,” said Larry. Both his sons acquired an interest on par with his own in mechanics and engines. When they were ages seven and 11, they began building and racing go-carts.
(Larry’s second son passed away in 1998, and it is evident in talking with him that his late son is still very much in Larry’s heart and greatly missed.)
The 0.538-mile speedway at Myrtle Beach is an historic one. It just began its 45th year in April, which makes it almost as old as NASCAR. By the end of 1947, the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) had formed. The first officially sanctioned NASCAR event took place at the fairgrounds in Charlotte, North Carolina on June 19, 1949.
The successes at Myrtle Beach Speedway have made the Ricks team competitive. “We’re starting to travel with the Pro-Temp series,” said Larry.
In all his endeavors, Larry sees some strong links. Before he launched L&R Sitework, he had no experience with forestry. Yet he knows forestry is “a lot like farming” and he points to the harvesting and site preparation operations. “The forestry part of it to me is the most interesting,” said Larry.
“I really wouldn’t want to be doing anything else,” said Larry. “It’s had its ups and downs.” But he wondered aloud what business would not.
Most of the jobs contracted by L&R Sitework are within a 50-mile radius of Myrtle Beach. The population of Myrtle Beach fluctuates with the season, but it is now close to 30,000 year-around. The golf courses and seashore attract a huge number of part-year residents. So does the favorable location, just across the canal from the true mainland.
The Atlantic Gulf Stream warms the sandy islands that make up the South Carolina coast. In fact, the climate of coastal South Carolina is semi-tropical — warm enough for the palmetto palm, the state tree. Long-leaf and loblolly pine have long been the dominant species along the coast, although the region also supports magnolias, oak and cypress.
“I do a lot of clearing for other contractors,” said Larry. And one of the tools that makes L&R Sitework versatile is the Bandit Beast 3680. A Mack tractor normally is used to pull the Beast from one site to another. Although L&R Sitework hitches and pulls its Bandit Beast, Bandit offers three self-propelled models of the machine.
“The Beast is a very, very good piece of equipment,” said Larry. “In fact, I’m probably going to get another one.”
Although Larry normally does not measure production, he is confident he gets the highest output possible from the Bandit Beast 3680. In some instances Larry has used the Beast on chipping jobs. In those circumstances, it is a very fast producer. “We have put it on jobs where we were using it as a chipper,” he said. Output was “a couple hundred tons” per day, he said.
All the horizontal grinders in the Beast series from Bandit can be loaded with a front-end loader or an optional knuckle boom loader. When Larry looks at new models in the Beast series, he will be able to consider a new model 3680 Beast. He can also assess the fit of a bigger model, such as the model 4680 Beast. The 4680 Bandit Beast has a 40-inch high by 60-inch long opening.
The biggest machine in the Beast series is the model 5680 Bandit Beast with 1,000 hp. It is designed for large logs and stumps. Horsepower choices available for the Beast series machines range from 275-1,000 hp. The smallest member of the Beast series is the model 2680 Bandit Beast, which has a 24-inch by 60-inch opening.
Most fuel chip trucking at L&R Sitework is contracted out. “Grindings,” said Larry, “we truck ourselves.”
When Larry got the suggestion from someone at Canal Wood that he should consider selling chips to paper mills as boiler fuel, he also got linked to the legacy of a leader in the pulpwood industry. Craig Wall (1911-1985) founded Canal Wood Corp., which later would become part of Canal Industries, Inc. He is another man who built his business by being flexible and finding ways around obstacles.
According to accounts of the life of Craig Wall, the founder of Canal Wood took the adage about not wasting and not wanting seriously. He, too, knew adverse times and business cycles. When he went to college during the Great Depression, he started a newspaper route at 3 a.m. in order to earn money to send home to his family. His many strong connections to Horry County, the home of Myrtle Beach, included being a member of the development board.
In many ways, the planning for a business involves being ready to change as rapidly as conditions do. Certainly, there are parallels with auto racing. There are definitely similarities with the concept of fine-tuning an engine. So, it seems fitting that Larry is involved in all three enterprises, and more. There is also every reason to believe that whatever course adjustment Larry must make to keep L&R Sitework strong, he will. The same flexibility and versatility that characterize L&R Sitework also are traits of the Bandit Beast, a significant machine on the equipment roster of Larry’s company.