Maine Contractor Adds Fuel Chip Operations with Bandit Machine
d sell the logs by the ton, predominately to paper mills,” Lyle said. Weekly production is around 1,500 cords, which is about 4,000 tons.
Trucking operations are vital to ensure reliable, dependable deliveries and customer service, said Lyle. “We started with one truck in 1991 and then added a second in 1997,” reported Lyle. “From then on we have continued to add more trucks. Today we have nine, and we are negotiating to buy another two.”
Having his own trucking capacity is important to the company’s overall operations, Lyle noted. “The advantage to having our own tucks is I know where they are and that they are hauling for me. When my timber needs to get hauled, it gets hauled.”
Lyle also uses the services of several trucking contractors to supplement his own fleet of trucks; two of the contractors have worked with him for 10 years.
L.R. Hamilton performs tree-length logging. The company works on private land, state land, and land owned by paper companies or land management companies. The logging crews produce logs in random lengths, from 17-40 feet, with diameters ranging from 6-20 inches. The company also supplies mills with veneer logs, usually yellow birch and sugar maple in 9 and 12 foot lengths and white pine in 16 foot lengths.
The company is based in Princeton, a town in Washington County, the northeastern-most county of Maine – also known as Downeast. Princeton is just a few miles from the Canadian border as the crow flies and some 40-plus miles northwest of Eastport, the eastern-most point of the U.S. When he talked to TimberLine in early March, logging conditions were excellent, with the ground frozen solid.
“We have a very young crew,” said Lyle, “and we want to build this company to be around for years to come. That’s what our business is all about. We see people come into this business when the market conditions are good and fuel prices are low. But within three years, if economic conditions turn, they are willing to throw up their hands and walk away from the business.”
“We have been in business for quite a while, and we’ve been fully mechanized for 10 years now. We’ve seen tough times and good times, but we have every intention of building a business that will be around in years to come.”
It is quite evident the company is building a strong foundation, a business with long-term plans in a changing industry. The company is in the process of acquiring Master Logger certification through the Northeast Master Logger Certification Program, which uses standards that have been cross-referenced to the leading forestry certification programs. Master Loggers must document harvest planning, protect water quality, maintain soil productivity, sustain forest ecosystems, manage forest aesthetics, ensure workplace safety, demonstrate continuous improvement and ensure business viability.
The certification process is a bit easier because the company already is certified by the state Department of Environmental Protection to perform work on and around streams and rivers. “There are only three DEP-certified contractors here in Washington County, and we happen to be one of them,” Lyle said with pride.
The Master Logger certification will enable the company to do more work from land management companies that are seeking certification under sustainable forestry programs. “They should hire a Master Logger before hiring a logger who does not have the certification,” Lyle said. “It’s not that the rates are any different for a Master Logger, but we are held to a higher standard.”
“Being a member of the Professional Logging Contractors of Maine gives us great pride and presentation in the logging profession,” he added.
Lyle is pragmatic about the ups and downs of running a business. His company is gradually coming back from last summer’s “absolutely devastating” performance. A number of older, established companies in the region have downsized, creating opportunities for Lyle’s company.
“Market conditions were poor then, and we had to deal with the high cost of fuel, which continues to tear us up,” he said. “We are starting to gain back and spring is coming, so hopefully this summer’s business will look a lot better. We just can’t get discouraged, and we have to ride the highs and lows, knowing that our ultimate goal is to stay in business.”
The company is equipped with a brand new Bandit Model 3590 whole-tree chipper. Other equipment includes three Tigercat feller-bunchers, six stroke-boom delimbers (three Timberjacks and three Caterpillars), eight grapple skidders (four Timberjack and four Caterpillar), two Hood loaders, a Tigercat loader — and the original John Deere cable skidder Lyle bought new back in 1984. “That piece of equipment has a lot of sentimental value for me,” said Lyle. “It works great every day.”
Lyle’s company uses the Bandit to chip slash – limbs and tops, both hardwood and softwood – from the logging operations. The chips are sold for fuel to energy plants.
The company began chipping slash for fuel markets about 18 months ago, and Lyle views the fuel markets in his region of Maine as relatively stable.
Lyle had been using the new Bandit for about six weeks when he talked to TimberLine. “I like the fuel-efficient Caterpillar C18 700 horsepower inline engine, which is more fuel efficient than the v-12 engine we had in our previous chipper,” Lyle said. A shorter in-feed makes it easier to feed large tops into the chipper.
According to Bandit, the Model 3590 drum-style chipper owes its high performance to a unique feed system the company says is the most powerful offered in a whole-tree chipper. The feed system has a 32×48 opening.
The machine is compact but efficient. Those attributes were important to Lyle. “It is easier to handle for a one-man operation,” he said. “I don’t want to put down the other machines, but we just liked the overall compact design and the fact that it’s a simpler machine to operate.”
Another appealing feature was the machine’s productiveness yet excellent fuel economy. “Our old disc chipper burned about 19 gallons per load of chips, but with our new Bandit we are burning only 10.3 gallons — the reason being that we are loading in half the time now.” The chipper can fill a trailer in 20-25 minutes, Lyle estimated.
In fact, the new Bandit chipper is so productive that Lyle is adding two more trucks – he currently uses three — to haul chips. “Our trucks run the chips right to the energy plants,” said Lyle. “We sell to four plants, and we try to do two long hauls (about 80 miles one way) and one short haul (about 30 miles one way) in the afternoon so that everyone can be back to the shop by 4:30 or 5 o’clock.”
The Bandit has four feed wheels, two vertical wheels on each side and two top-feed wheels set on a diagonal. This design effectively crushes and compresses limbs, guiding them to the oversized drum. The drum is equipped with eight 12-inch-long knives to reduce the material into uniform chips that are ejected through a high-velocity discharge system.
Lyle is the second contractor to purchase a Bandit Model 3590. “We bought it from Hammond Tractor in Union, and they assured me they would be able to service it. So far, they’ve been up here once to do a few updates. We are very satisfied working with them. Parts availability is no problem because if Hammond doesn’t have something we need in stock, we have a direct number to Bandit’s parts outlet, and they can ship direct to us overnight.”
When he talks about the business, Lyle emphasizes that it is “our company,” not his. “Having good people you can trust really means a lot,” he said. “Everyone who works here is very proud of the company because we live and breathe that philosophy. Everyone is proud of their equipment – whether it’s one of the older machines or one of the newest.”
The pride and sense of ownership among company employees is evident Friday afternoons, when the workday ends in the early afternoon and many of the men wash their pickup trucks at the company’s shop. “One of the guys started to do this, and it quickly caught on,” Lyle said. “It’s a kind of social hour where the guys talk about the week’s production, and bragging rights mean a lot. You will hear a lot of, ‘How much did you do this week,’ and ‘I did this much this week.’ ”
Employees perform scheduled maintenance on all company equipment. “Equipment that is not on the road gets maintenance every 200 hours, and they are serviced in the field,” Lyle explained. “Once they have worked 1,000 hours, they get maintenance checks in the shop.”
Lyle tries to hire as many young people as he can. “Experience is really not an issue because we train in-house with certified logging professionals,” he said. “We try to employ as many people in Washington County as possible because it is such a poor county. We feel a deep commitment to the people and to the economy of this county.”
Lyle underwent a five-way heart bypass operation last year. “Since that time, my wife and I set aside one day a week on the weekend which we designate as family day.” He spends time with his three daughters and their families, including two granddaughters. He and his family enjoy boating on a lake during the summer.
“When I started out in this business, my thought was that if I could have myself a new pickup every three years and take a paycheck home, I would be happy,” Lyle said. “So far I have succeeded in that goal.