Arkansas Company Pleased with Decision to Invest in Bandit Beast Recycler Model 3680
STRONG, Arkansas — It’s no secret that good equipment can boost your productivity, and machines that do not perform up to par can pull you down.
Kenneth Mitcham, president of Mitcham Logging & Chips Inc., already knew that, but he was put in a position in which he really saw how poorly performing equipment slowed him down. For his field chipping operation he bought a new machine in 2001, which, he said, “gave me nothing but trouble from day one.”
Kenneth had a bad experience with a chipper supplied by one manufacturer. “We spent more on parts than we did on payments, some $100,000 to $200,000,” he recalled. “The manufacturer’s reps tried to fix it but finally just threw up their hands and gave up.”
In over 40 years working in the forest products industry, it was the only machine Kenneth was dissatisfied with. He considered taking legal action. “But I decided I would just be spending more money, so I may as well buy another unit and get on with my business.”
Kenneth turned to Bandit Industries to supply his next machine. He purchased a Bandit Beast Recycler, Model 3680. “I bought this machine from Bandit about six months ago, and it’s one of the best pieces of equipment I’ve ever owned,” Kenneth said. “With the Bandit we’ve doubled our production, and we never have any trouble with it.”
Kenneth’s company produces about 450 tons of wood per day — about half that in chips and half in saw logs. The Bandit is producing about 11 to 13 loads of chips daily.
Kenneth’s other key equipment includes a Timberline 362 AL delimber, a Tigercat CR1 240-B loader, Tigercat 720-B shear feller-buncher, and a Hydro-Ax 411 shear feller-buncher. The company has three Timberjack 460 skidders and two Tigercat 630 skidders as well as 10 Mack and Peterbilt trucks.
Kenneth’s grandfather, Ernest Mitcham, started the business in the mid-1940s. Kenneth’s father, E.F. Mitcham, took over the business in the 1960s until his retirement in the early 1990s. At the age of 79 and after suffering a stroke in 2003, E.F. still wants to know how the crews are doing in the woods.
Kenneth had wood and logging operations during the late 1970s, when he and his father ventured into fuel chipping together. They phased out field chipping in the early 1990s, and Kenneth returned to it in 2002.
Typically, Kenneth will take his Bandit Beast to a job for Plumb Creek Timber, which has a lot of pine tree plantations, and grind large piles of limbs and other slash that loggers have left behind into boiler fuel. Kenneth sells the boiler fuel to mills across Arkansas; the company sells about 60,000 tons annually. Pine and hardwood saw logs are cut to length for sawmill customers.
Kenneth has several competitors. “We work together and try not to step on each other’s toes,” he said. “We work with the landowners in a positive manner. It’s good for business to have good competitors. Otherwise you’re dealing with people who just sell on price and don’t do a good job. That brings everybody down.”
Kenneth gets up at 5:30 a.m. and is on the job at 6 a.m. He works five or six days a week, as do his men, up to 10 to 12 hours a day. “Back in the 70s and 80s we would work around the clock, up to 14 hours per shift. Maybe we’re older and wiser now, or maybe just older and lazier. We could still work that hard, but the problem is you just burn your men out.”
Kenneth believes it’s important to keep good workers. “The longest one here has been with us for 23 years, Dewayne Holley, and a lot have been her 16 to 17 years,” he said. “I try to treat them the way I’d like to be treated. I want them to feel like they’re not working for me but with me.”
One of the things Kenneth does well, he said, “is I can run all of the equipment. There’s not a piece of equipment I can’t run. I’m real good on the dozer and loader and can run these machines as well as any man I’ve got.”
Kenneth’s chief hobby is racing cars on dirt tracks. He regularly competes throughout Arkansas, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana and has won many championships. Sometimes he’s not sure whether racing is his consuming hobby or his real vocation, which his timber work serves to support.
“About two years ago I said I was going to get out of this business and retire so I could race all the time,” Kenneth said. “But my wife, who keeps the books and keeps everything on the computer, more than I want to know, told me that if I wanted to retire, fine. But she showed me the expenses associated with racing, and said I’d have to retire from racing, too. So we’re still working and still racing.” The racing season is from March to October. During the race season, Kenneth may take off early Friday in order to travel to a track for Friday and Saturday night races.
Kenneth started racing when he was 14. When asked what keeps him attracted to it, he said, “The adrenalin keeps you driving. You sit down to race, and everything else goes away, except the pleasure of racing.”
Kenneth was introduced to the forest products industry at even an earlier age. “I started coming to the job site when I was five or six years old,” he recalled. “I remember starting to help when I was eight or nine. I remember once sitting on a mule, thinking I was skidding logs. I later found out I was just sitting on the mule.”
Kenneth married his wife, Kathy, in 1972. “Kathy does all the bookkeeping for me, just like my mom did for my dad.” They have two daughters – Kim, born in 1975, who is married and has a daughter, Kelsie, 9, and Kayla, born in 1984, who lives at home and is attending college to become an x-ray technician.
Kenneth has diversified his business interests. He has three 18-wheelers and three spreader trucks that haul rice hulls to horse stables and chicken houses for bedding. In 1990 he purchased a local NAPA auto parts store, which Kim manages and keeps all the books. Next to the NAPA store is his race car shop. Kenneth also has a shop to perform maintenance and repairs on his logging and chipping equipment and trucks. He owns about 3,000 acres of land, most of it forested, and his crews perform thins and other forestry operations on his land. Overall he has about 30 employees.
The weather in Arkansas generally is good for logging and chipping contractors, Kenneth noted. “About every five years the temperature gets below freezing, and we get a little ice. And it doesn’t get too wet. But some periods when it does rain a lot, we might miss a few days. For about the past 10 years we haven’t been allowed to make ruts and dig holes. We have to take care of the roads to meet forest and industry criteria. But we usually work pretty regular. We don’t have to worry about fires or hurricanes, though we might have a tornado once in a while.”
Strong is a tiny village of less than 1,000 people. “It’s a little hole in the wall, but everybody likes it here,” said Kenneth. “We have land coming in and going out of town, and some in the middle. We don’t have to worry about trying to get business. Everybody knows who we are, and the business comes to us. It’s nice out here, and I do a little deer hunting once in a while.”
Kenneth has had some setbacks. In 1982, a tree fell on him, and Kenneth suffered a broken shoulder and jaw. He kept working. “About six months ago I was out chasing some cows,” he said. “My chest started hurting, so I lay down and rested about 30 minutes. When I got home, most of the family was gone, but Kim saw me and asked what was wrong. I said nothing, but I guess she could see something was wrong. She made an appointment with the doctor. They did three bypasses. There was a 90 percent blockage in one part of the heart and an 85 percent blockage in the other. That happened on a Wednesday. We raced Friday night and won, and I’ve been active and fine ever since.”
Kenneth bought his Bandit Beast Recycler at about the same time he began recovering from his heart attack. He’s happy that he left the problems associated with the old machine behind.
Kenneth especially appreciates the three speed infeed conveyor drive and two speed discharge drive on his Bandit Beast Recycler. “The Bandit is a much easier machine to work with,” he said. “With the infeed and outfeed mechanisms, you can either speed it up for more production or slow it down.”
The Bandit Beast Recycler has turned out to be the most popular of Bandit’s machines. More than 700 are in operation. It is available with a variety of power options, ranging from 396 hp to 700 hp. Different size discharge conveyors are offered (12 feet and 30 feet) as well as a hydraulic thrower for loading trailers.
The Beast can process a wide variety of wood material, including piled brush, whole trees, stumps, pallets, land clearing debris, green waste, palm fronds, logging slash, sawmill waste, construction and demolition debris, railroad ties, and also shingles and asphalt. Wood material can be processed into salable products, such as chips or grindings for compost, mulch, animal bedding, fuel, pressed board, and more.
Kenneth, 51, knows there will come a time when he has to retire from both working and racing, but he’s not thinking about that yet. With his heart condition, he knows that in order to keep working he must reduce stress. The Bandit Beast Recycler is helping. “It’s sure made my life much easier,” he said.
Kenneth’s advice to anyone considering buying a chipper or grinder: call Bandit. “They are great machines, and the people at Bandit are great to deal with.”