Penn. Contractor Has Diverse Operations

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Metzler Forest Products Adds CBI Track Grinder for Land-Clearing Operations

BELLEVILLE, Penn. — Metzler Forest Products performs a wide variety of work to stay profitable. The company does mechanized logging, land-clearing, custom grinding, and excavation and road construction work.
Being 30 miles south of State College, home of Penn State University, is an added benefit because the university is home to an excellent forestry school. The region is mostly hardwoods — approximately 80% — with some plantation pines and hemlocks.
Alan Metzler started out in the other end of the forest products industry. He worked in the cabinet business for several years after high school, but eventually he decided that he wanted to work more in the outdoors. Since he was already familiar with working with wood, he got into logging.
“I guess it was kind of backwards to start out working with the finished wood product and then end up working with the raw product,” Alan recalled.
He started a logging business in 1986. The company moved into whole tree chipping in 1993-94, at the same time growing quite rapidly. In the fall of 1994, however, its major market for wood chips folded. The company had been hauling 80-100 loads per week but suddenly found itself with a market for only 10 loads.
“When that happened, at first we had to down-size for a few years,” said Alan. “But at the same time we worked on ways to diversify and make our business stronger. We branched out into providing mulch, pulpwood, excavation, land-clearing and even housing demolition. Many times when we are doing land-clearing for highways, there are condemned houses in the way that have to be torn down. We learned in the early 90s that it often doesn’t work to have all your eggs in one basket.”
Metzler Forest Products now has 23 employees. The shop in Belleville is about 3,500 square feet with an attached office. At one time the company had sawmill operations but those were discontinued. Alan now markets logs to various mills in the region.
For the company’s logging operations, Alan tries to stay within a 60 minute drive of Belleville. The land-clearing operations, however, extend throughout Pennsylvania and into Maryland and New York. The company clears land primarily for new highways.
“Our logging sometimes works in conjunction with our land-clearing,” said Alan. “The biggest jobs we’ve ever had to work on were in the 500-600 acre range, but a more typical job for us is about 50 acres.”
Alan’s company has done land-clearing on multiple stretches of a new interstate under construction in the region, I-99. The I-99 corridor runs from Cumberland, Maryland, to State College, Pennsylvania and eventually will reach Elmira, New York. Metzler Forest Products has cleared land for nearly five sections of the highway. Typically, Alan’s company will clear the land and market the logs and pulpwood before grinding or burning the remaining slash and stumps, depending on the area’s local ordinances.
Alan invested in a Continental Biomass Industries (CBI) track horizontal grinder in July. The new machine has proven very useful in grinding the brush and stumps generated from the land-clearing and logging operations. Alan previously owned a portable grinder on wheels that was pulled by a road tractor.
“It was hard to access our work sites with our previous grinder,” Alan noted. “We switched to our CBI 6800 track grinder and have been very pleased with it as far as its mobility around the job sites. Our CBI also grinds and feeds a lot better than our previous grinder.”
The CBI track grinder has maneuvered and performed well in off-road conditions, he indicated. It can travel across wet areas readily because of its track undercarriage.
CBI, based in New England, specializes in heavy duty grinding equipment. The company manufactures a complete line of horizontal grinders for applications that include land-clearing, yard waste, construction and demolition debris, biofuel, mulch, and sawmills. CBI also manufactures screens, custom grinding and screening systems, and stump shears.
For felling, Alan’s company uses a Timbco 445 EXL equipped with a Quadco high-speed disc saw. The inventory of heavy equipment includes six tracked excavators, two dozers, three grapple skidders, a Logmax 750 processor, a wheel loader, skid steer and road grader — some 20 machines. The excavators are predominantly Caterpillar machines with one John Deere excavator and both Cat and John Deere dozers. The business also uses a wide variety of rakes and attachments from Rockland Manufacturing of Bedford, Penn., and Alan has been pleased with the service after the sale from Rockland Equipment personnel.
The company typically starts a logging or land-clearing job with the Timbco to remove the trees. Grapple skidders move the trees to a landing. At the landing, the Logmax 750 processor, mounted on a Caterpillar 320 excavator, is used to process the trees into saw logs and pulp logs. The tops are stacked and fed to the grinder to produce mulch, which is sold wholesale to landscaping businesses or to a company that burns it to produce electricity.
“We have something of a modified cut-to-length operation,” said Alan. “Many times we will cut the trees with the Timbco, drag the whole tree to the landing, and then the processor — sitting at the landing — does its work, processing the trees into logs.”
Alan prefers to log in stands that are mostly pulpwood or plantation pines because the timber can be readily cut and processed with the company’s equipment. Some large trees occasionally are felled manually with Husqvarna and Stihl chain saws.
With its CBI machine, the company also provides custom grinding services for customers, including grinding scrap wood and bark for sawmills and stumps for other land-clearing contractors.
Although the company has hired some workers recently, it has a good group of long-term employees. Most employees are paid hourly. “We don’t have a high rate of turnover in our company,” said Alan. “We definitely have a group that is dedicated and puts forth quite a lot of effort. They have a good work ethic, which makes a big difference.”
Most of the company’s business comes by word of mouth. Alan’s company has developed a strong reputation in the land-clearing arena for delivering a good, clean, professional job.
“We have an excellent reputation with different contractors in the area who depend on us,” he said. “Typically, with our land-clearing we are subcontracting to a large highway construction or excavation company. Through the years we’ve concentrated on doing an excellent job. This has helped us to bring in a lot of repeat work with contractors throughout the region.”
Alan has a full-time forester on his staff, a Penn State University graduate. The forester cruises and buys timber, plans the logging work, and deals with the environmental regulations, such as erosion and sedimentation control.
Alan finds his business and work goes smoothly thanks in large part to his supportive wife, Jill. She worked in the office until their three sons were born. Now they are 17, 16 and 13, and she plans on returning to the company as the current office manager will retire in December. Their sons help out by washing the seven over-the-road tractor-trailer trucks on the weekends. In his free time Alan likes to hunt with his sons.
Alan has a private pilot’s license and owns a Cessna 185. He uses the airplane frequently when the company is doing land-clearing jobs all over the state and in Maryland and New York. The family also has used it to fly on vacations to the Western U.S. and the Bahamas.
“I fly back and forth quite a bit to save time,” Alan said. He has been flying for 11 years and is on the board of the Mifflin County Airport Authority.
“My interest grew out of my hiring of another individual to fly me to a few jobs,” he added. “I saw how quickly he could arrive at the jobs — say a half-hour in the air — compared to the three hours of driving it would take. Sometimes we’ll have a job going on in the Pittsburgh area and another in Allentown in the eastern part of the state. I can visit both jobs in one day when I fly whereas before it would have taken me two days.”
A recent job was at Maryland’s mountainous Garrett County Airport. Alan could fly to the airport and be on the job site quickly to check on the progress.
Penn State owns several thousand acres of forestland between Belleville and the campus. Alan’s company contracts with the university to build logging roads and for timber contracts. The company also builds access roads for other loggers and landowners.
The company did a rather unique job recently — helping to develop several food plots for elk in northern Pennsylvania. It has also prepared wildlife food plots for owners of hunting camps and other landowners.
“I love working outdoors,” Alan said. “What keeps things really interesting is that we’re doing something different every day. Diversity is the best way to protect your investment. Between the logs, the pulpwood, the mulch that we sell and our many services — land-clearing, food plot construction, and excavation — it means we’re always in business. Change is the one constant out there. We want to be ready for it.”