Fence Company’s Success Breeds Challenge: Montana Business Finds DuraTech Grinder the Solution for Trim Ends, Forestry Applications

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LIBBY, Montana – Even success brings challenges. Such was the case with Luck-E-G Post and Rail, which manufactures fencing material.
The company, recruited to relocate from Idaho to Libby, Montana four years ago, has flourished since. Success brought a renewed challenge, however: how to deal with residual material generated by the company’s operations. The solution turned out to be a DuraTech Industries tub grinder.
The Kootenai River Development Council (KRDC) is a private, nonprofit economic development organization serving the greater Libby area. It recruited Luck-E-G to relocate from Idaho to the Libby area in 2004, helping with arrangements to procure raw materials.
Luck-E-G grew substantially since then, according to Paul Rumelhart, executive director of the council, and residuals become a challenge for the business. “Trim loss became a huge issue,” he explained, because about 20%-30% of the material is defect and must be trimmed.
As the company began accumulating trim ends, some were used as firewood, but Paul and Steve Garayalde, the owner of Luck-E-G, began researching other potential markets for the wood fiber, particularly businesses that could use it for raw material in pulp production or for hog fuel. They talked to a number of businesses in the region, and the response was favorable.
At the same time, they explored the feasibility of providing grinding services for logging projects in the nearby national forest lands. The Kootenai National Forest contains some 2.1 million acres. About 800,000 acres of the national forest is located in the wildland urban interface, Paul explained, which is the 2-mile buffer area between private and federal property.
“The Forest Service is aggressively pursuing hazardous fuel reduction timber sales in those areas to protect private property,” said Paul. Included in those projects is the need to remove the slash and other debris from timber harvesting operations. “There is a need for a small grinder to go on small timber projects and grind the slash,” Paul added.
The council purchased a DuraTech model 2009 tub grinder, and it leases the machine to Lucky-E-G for grinding operations. The DuraTech machine is used about 20% of the time for grinding trim ends at the mill, and the goal is to use it about 80% of the time for the logging projects. Steve is soliciting contracts for grinding services for the national forest timber sales.
The research paid off. Today, Luck-E-G uses the DuraTech machine to grind trim ends, and it supplies the wood grindings to all of the businesses they originally contacted as part of the research by Paul and Steve. “We’ve just had it a couple of months, and we’re learning how to do this as I speak,” said Paul.

Grinding Trim Ends,
Debris from Logging
A big factor in the decision to buy the DuraTech 2009 model was the size and compactness of the machine, which is small enough to be towed by a dump truck. “But it still will produce some 35 tons of material per hour if everything is right,” noted Paul, “providing you have the right equipment to load it and the piles are stacked properly.”
“There are a lot of grinders available, and a lot of them are very, very big,” noted Paul. “They can also really go through the material, but their operating costs are extremely high, so we’re trying to think smaller and wiser on some of these projects.”
Libby is in western Montana, about 120 miles from Glacier National Park. The council recruits new businesses and provides technical assistance to existing companies. It owns a 400-acre former sawmill site with rail infrastructure, and three logging businesses operate on the site now. One is Luck-E-G and another is Smurfit-Stone paper company. Vaagen Brothers Lumber also operates a merchandising yard at the site.
“They’re finding some of the best opportunities for this material now is to grind it onsite and load it right into the chip van to take to market,” said Paul.
On small logging projects on private land, it doesn’t make economic sense to bring in, say, a track-mounted grinder or chipper for an hour’s worth of work. That kind of equipment and service may cost close to $1,000.
The DuraTech is much more portable and affordable. “You can move this equipment around with a dump truck,” said Paul. “It’s only a singe axle, so it’s possible to go down the road with ease. You don’t have to have a lowboy carrying it around. It’s also remote-control operated so one person can basically operate the grinder.”
Most timber sales on the national forest are fuel reduction projects, noted Paul, and specifications recently changed. Previously, trees with a top 6 inches or less in diameter were left in the woods. The specification has been reduced to 2-1/2 inches. The material must be removed from the forest.

Developing a Market
“We’re trying to develop a market for that material instead of simply burning it or grinding it and broadcasting the material throughout the forest,” said Paul. “We want to create a market for that biomass. This is also an environmentally sound thing to do.”
The DuraTech model 2009 tub grinder is powered by a Caterpillar 325 hp electronic diesel engine. The engine can use a blended fuel so the machine can run most of the year. Winter normally is a productive time for logging because the ground is frozen, which aids mobility of the equipment and helps conserve the forest floor.
“This piece of equipment really fulfills a needed niche, including the goal of reducing the number of wildfires in the region,” said Paul. “The fuel load is unbelievably high. We fought fires in the past and didn’t let fires do what they could do naturally.”
Based in North Dakota, DuraTech Industries manufactures a line of tub grinders, including self-propelled models on track carriers.
The DuraTech model 2009 is an efficient, economical machine for grinding jobs that do not require a high horsepower grinder. The engine, which meets Tier III emission standards, is connected to the heavy-duty mill with a PT-Tech self-adjusting, microprocessor-controlled clutch with built-in torque limiter and brake for superior engine and drive line protection. The mill is a 40-inch rotor mounted in a 4-1/2-inch diameter shaft; it can be equipped with 20 fixed or 40 swinging hammers. Other features include rotary self-cleaning screened air passage to engine and cooling system, command console, a 30-inch-wide belly belt, stacking conveyor, and more. Options include remote control, tub cover, magnetic roller and more. The model 2009 is available in towable and self-propelled, track-mounted versions.
The council acquired the grinder with the aid of a federal wood biomass grant. The lease payments it receives from Luck E-G are set aside to pay for eventually replacing the grinder.
Paul is optimistic about the future for wood fiber. “To me there’s little doubt there will be a tremendous future for wood fiber.” With the renewed focus on energy issues because of the escalation of prices for oil and oil products, wood for fuel is getting more attention as well as using wood fiber to produce ethanol. The national forest obviously is one abundant source of wood fiber. A major difference compared with fossil fuels, however, is that wood fiber is a renewable natural resource. Sustainably managed, he noted, forests can continuously provide wood fiber into the future.

Partnering with DuraTech
Al Goehring, marketing manager for DuraTech Industries, recalled when he was first contacted by the council about grinding equipment.
“They were looking for a machine which was mobile and could be taken directly to the site,” said Al. “I think they also mentioned they didn’t want something they’d have to load onto a truck. They wanted a grinder they could hook to a dump truck and pull, yet it had to be a machine that still had the capacity to do what they wanted. They have all that in our machine.”
Grinders have various production rates, noted Al. Production rates are based on a number of factors, especially the type of wood material that is being processed.
“There are machines out there doing a lot more than that, but the product can vary from being just boughs to long, thin trees and everything in between,” he said.
The Forest Service used to allow loggers to pile up slash and burn it, noted Al, but no longer. Now they are required to dispose of it in some other way, such as grinding or chipping.
An interesting feature of the DuraTech machine that appealed to Paul and Steve is the enclosed engine compartment with self-cleaning air intake screener. The engine and air intake system are not exposed to debris. With the engine compartment fully enclosed, the air goes through the intake screener before entering the engine air cleaner and cooling system, which helps minimize maintenance.
Luck E-G Post and Rail manufactures fence posts and rails for ranches, farms and other applications. The company sells to both retail and wholesale customers, including companies that buy its materials to make rustic furniture.
The company’s raw material is small diameter logs. The business was started by owner Steve’s father in 1976.
“People don’t realize how much fencing is used in orchards and vineyards,” said Steve. “There are a lot of different uses for such wood material. I just try to cut to order as much as possible and give my customers what they want.”
Other businesses in the forest products industry “are still trying to figure out how” to utilize small diameter logs, he said. “We’ve been doing it for 30 years.”
“We’ve been involved with small diameter wood for so long we didn’t figure we were going too far out of the box by getting into the grinding,” he added.
Steve’s company has been using the DuraTech grinder since summer and will probably begin using it on Forest Service jobs next year, he indicated.
“The economics are close with all this,” said Steve “When they write it into the contract that grinding is mandatory, the economics must be worked out one way or another. Either they charge us less money for the logs we grind, or we receive more money for the hog fuel we’re supplying. As mills shut down and there are less residuals out there, the market also grows for being able to go out and do in-woods grinding operations such as ours.”
“With the experience I have with small diameter wood and the economic development council as a partner on this, we went after the grant and decided to make a go of it,” said Steve. “We are still a ways from in-woods grinding being profitable. We did this project to bridge the gap and get out there and do something that really isn’t being done extensively now. We’re hoping that by going with a smaller size grinder, we’re filling a niche and it turns out to be more proper-sized grinder than some of the big ones out there.”
“For an in-woods type of an operation, the big grinders can do 20 loads or more a day, but there is a logistical problem in bringing in enough trucks. The smaller grinder runs at a lower cost than some of the bigger ones. We’re loading our DuraTech tub grinder with a Kobelco 190 with a six-way blade and a clam bucket. It seems to be a very effective way of loading. However, stumps aren’t always out of the way in a manner to get the equipment positioned properly to load the brush piles into the grinder. These are some of the things we are finding out as we get into this operation. By doing this experiment, we may pave the way for others getting out there.”

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