Kentucky Company Thrives in Land Clearing

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Grasshoppers Landscaping and Tree Service Inc. Leans on Bandit Chippers, Grinders

LOUISVILLE, Kentucky — Twenty years ago, Greg Deetsch was a student at the University of Louisville, studying business. Today, he and his wife, Kim, own a thriving company, Grasshoppers Landscaping and Tree Service Inc.
The company, with annual revenues exceeding $3 million, primarily clears land for development. “We clear for subdivisions, highways, railroad tracks,” and other projects, said Greg.
The company’s success is a tribute to the couple’s hard work and collaboration. It also stems from carefully managed decisions about equipment.
Formal education in business was an advantage, explained Greg, but the day-to-day aspects of running a company provide real life lessons in business management.
To keep pace with the volume of wood material that Grasshoppers works in, Greg is in the process of adding a Bandit Industries Model 4680 Beast track recycler. The company already has a Bandit Industries Model 3680 Beast track grinder.
Greg added the Bandit 3680 track grinder about 17 months ago. He chose it for two reasons. Based on its performance during a demonstration period, the Bandit Beast 3680 met all Greg’s expectations. He also had had good experience with other equipment from Bandit Industries.
Greg still runs the Bandit Model T1900 whole tree chipper on tracks that he bought in 1998 and the second Bandit T1900 that he bought in 2001. He strongly endorsed the T1900 machines.
Greg wants to see all equipment demonstrated in action before he commits to purchasing it — even equipment from the vendors he trusts.
When Greg had the Model 4680 Beast for a demo period, he was able to complete a job for Thieneman Real Estate Partnership. “Awesome” summed up the performance of the Bandit Beast 4680, said Chris Thieneman, president of the company.
Chris had a short timeline on a job for a local sewer district. It required removing some “big trees, impressive trees.” His company could have incurred financial penalties if the job had not been completed on time.
“I had a deadline,” Chris recalled. “So he (Greg) brings the Beast out here. It was done quickly and awesomely. I didn’t get fined.”
Watching the Bandit Beast 4680 in operation got Chris interested in the equipment. He went to a trade show soon
after to learn more about the Bandit product line.
When Greg talked with TimberLine in late summer, he explained that he planned to take delivery of the new Bandit Beast 4680 by the end of September. The machine was slated to be exhibited at the International Construction Utility Equipment Exposition (ICUEE) in Louisville from Sept. 27-29 prior to delivery to Grasshoppers.
Greg was not sure what he will do with the Beast 3680. For the time being, at least, he will use both machines. At some point he may trade in the Beast 3680 for a bigger machine.
Grasshoppers Landscaping and Tree Service operates 12 months out of the year and has about 22 employees. They often work a six day week, so the equipment puts in some long hours. The Beast 3680 gets a real workout.
“Our machines just beat themselves to pieces,” said Greg. He meant that figuratively, of course. Grasshoppers Landscaping and Tree Service has three full-time mechanics who keep the machines in top condition so they can keep running.
Before Greg purchased the Beast 3680, he did some serious research. “I looked at all the different grinders” on the market,” he said. “I had them bring grinders to us and demo.”
Bandit Industries also provides strong service, he indicated. “We just feel we get good product support,” said Greg. “If we need parts, we can get them the next day.”
The Bandit Beast 3680 easily adjusts to ambient conditions. “The beauty of the Beast,” said Greg is how durable it is. “We run it five or six days a week, rain or shine.”
Because the machine is on tracks, “it will go just about anywhere,” said Greg. The Beast 4680 will also be on tracks, and like the 3680, it will have a diesel engine. Both machines have CAT engines.
“We use all CAT engines on Bandit equipment,” said Greg. “We have good product support from CAT.” More than that, he explained, he believes that the CAT engines make a big difference in terms of power.
In addition to working for contractors and developers, Greg’s company contracts to provide grinding services for some local governments. Grasshoppers Landscaping and Tree Service works throughout Kentucky and in southern Indiana and southern Ohio.
Louisville is the largest city in Kentucky with more than 250,000 residents. It fits along the southern edge of the Ohio River in the north-central part of the state.
Grasshoppers normally operates at least two crews, often working on different jobs. One focuses on tree trimming and the other does land clearing. “We split our clearing crew up and can work two or three jobs at one time,” Greg explained.
To fell small trees and brush, Greg relies heavily on Nye wood shears coupled with a CAT 322B excavator. The excavator is used to push down the trees, and the shears cut them up. Some trees are felled by hand with Stihl chain saws.
“If we’ve got a big job,” said Greg, or one that has four acres or more of standing timber, a Timbco T435 feller-buncher is put into service. The Timbco often works at a site solo, felling the trees and stacking the logs. Then the chipping equipment is brought to the job to process the wood into chips. Grade logs are bucked with the chain saws and sold to a sawmill, mainly as veneer logs.
Two Rayco T275 and one Rayco T175 forestry machines, called prime movers by Rayco, are also in use. One T275 is paired with a 48-inch stump grinding head, and the T175 is paired with a 36-inch stump grinder.
CAT excavators are used to feed the Bandit Beast 3680 horizontal grinder, and they will also be used to feed the Beast 4680. The Beast 3680 has a 12-foot conveyor on it to discharge grindings into trailers.
Wood grindings are marketed in several ways. Some grindings remain on-site as specified by contracts. Some is sold for hog fuel. More and more of it is being double ground to produce landscaping mulch, which is sold wholesale.
Greg is planning to produce colored mulch within a year. He recently purchased some land for mulch coloring operations but has not made a decision yet on coloring equipment.
A lowboy trailer pulled with a Mack tractor is used to move all off-road equipment to work sites. The fleet at Grasshoppers also includes two International tractors and four trailers for delivering mulch and other grinding products.
Occasionally Grasshoppers grinds material that cannot be used for mulch or hog fuel and must ultimately go to a landfill. For example, it has performed grinding of wood material from buildings that were razed on development sites. The magnet on the back of the head pulley of the Bandit Beast 3680 does a good job of removing metal, Greg noted.
Generally, the Bandit Beast 3680 is used for grinding hardwood trees removed in land-clearing projects. Among the common species in the region where Grasshoppers work are oak, maple, cherry, ash, hackberry and elm.
As building contractors move farther from established metropolitan areas to construct housing and commercial buildings, the land that must be cleared has more mature trees. The Bandit Beast 4680 will make grinding these large hardwood trees faster and easier.
To help Greg get the most from his Bandit 4680, Bandit Industries worked closely with him on options. He traveled to the Bandit headquarters in Michigan, and Bandit representatives traveled to Louisville. Bandit is making some custom modifications for Greg.
“We’re having the infeed table built a little longer to handle bigger trees,” he said. “The conveyor has a little bit more protection. It is more guarded.” The Bandit 4680 also will be equipped with remote control and a reversible fan on the radiator.
The Bandit Beast 4680 can grind wood material up to 40 inches in diameter. The Beast 4680 that will soon be at work at Grasshoppers is equipped with an 1,100 hp CAT engine, another option. The machine can grind at the rate of 500 cubic yards per hour, depending on the material, producing high quality mulch in a single pass. Currently, Greg double-grinds with the Beast 3680 to produce a fine mulch product for landscapers.
The Bandit 1900 whole tree chippers usually are used to chip trees up to 19 inches in diameter; the Model 1900 can chip a 19-inch diameter tree in one minute.
Track machines are a good match for Grasshoppers because the company often works in bottom mud, explained Greg. The tracks also enable Grasshoppers to be mobile when there is snow, although there is usually minimal accumulation in the region where the company works.
While studying for his business degree, Greg also was engaged in another important endeavor, one that would help put him on a firm footing when he launched Grasshoppers in 1988. While he was in college, he worked at Clifton Hardware in Louisville.
The owner of the hardware business during Greg’s early years of employment was Lee Steinhauer. “He was a really sharp guy,” Greg recalled. He taught me a lot about dealing with people.”
Greg said he also learned much from the subsequent owner, Charlotte Goins. It was when he worked for Charlotte that he began doing more landscaping work, including tree trimming in the evenings after he finished working in the store. Some of the tree trimming was for vision impaired clients; they could not see the results of the work for which they paid. However, they knew that Greg put honesty first.
Soon, things began to fall together for Greg. He wanted to own a business. He enjoyed tree work. He understood what made a business successful.
In the early days of Grasshoppers, Greg and his wife were still dating. “She even helped me when I was dating her,” he said. The business and marital partnership has been strong and vital.
“She’s a key to my success,” said Greg. ”My wife runs the office.” Kim credited Greg’s vision for moving the company first to reality and then to growth.
As for how Greg and Kim sustained and expanded their business, Greg said that they did it as a couple. “We learned it together, as a team,” he explained.
“We try to make it practical,” said Greg. “We’ve had our ups and downs. We had no help from anyone.”
Greg could not recall exactly how they came up with the name for the business. “We got of lot of catchy names,” he said, and began to consider them.
The business has been rewarding over the years. “We like working with the people,” said Greg. “They’re real good to work with.”
Then, too, said Greg, “there’s more learning” at every juncture. And that makes it all interesting.
“I like dealing with the people,” said Greg. “I like working hard to make a deal. I like it when things go good. We have a lot of great and loyal customers who we try to make happy.”