Brian Pembelton realized that in order to keep moving forward, his 12-acre woodyard needed to move into the by-products industry, so in January 2009 a Jackson 36D Wood Shaving Mill was added to run green shavings.
Amelia, Virginia—It’s the thrill, the adrenaline-rush, the victory moments that consistently drive Brian Pembelton to the finish line in both business and in hobby. As a co-owner of F&P Enterprises Brian is always looking to accelerate ahead of the pack by anticipating market changes and by racing to get there as fast as he can. At play he’s literally racing his late model NASCAR-style short track stock car.
“It’s a passion I love,” Brian explained. “I love it (racing) more than about anything but it’s an expensive hobby. Brian races throughout the summer months, about every other weekend on Saturday nights. Richmond’s Southside Speedway in VA used to be his main venue, but after winning several races and championships he’s started racing in South Boston, VA, venues in NC, and in Myrtle Beach, SC.
Though Brian prefers the track, he knows that having his hands involved in the family business is his main priority. He partners in the business with his brother, Chris, and his uncle, Ray. Between the three of them, they operate their hardwood sawmill, Pembelton Forest Products in Blackstone, VA, and their shavings mill, and a pulpwood business through F&P Enterprises, Inc. Originally the brothers’ father, Ronnie, and a partner, Billy Frank, started F&P Enterprises Inc, a pulpwood business, about 26 years ago. 10 years ago, Ronnie and Billy sold their interest in F&P Enterprises Inc to pursue other business ventures. Since then the three have also acquired the former R.W. Davis & Son, Inc. sawmill, which is now known as Pembelton Forest Products Inc.
The partners have developed a system that works best for them. Each has a specialty. Brian is exclusively in charge of running the shavings mill operation. He employs two other on-site workers, Andy Seay, his shavings operation manager, and Dean Roark, his maintenance supervisor. While Ray runs the sawmill, Chris oversees procurement for tracks of timber and logs for both operations. Diane Chiasson, the office manager, and her assistant Crystal Stanley, are responsible for administrative duties between the businesses.
“Each of us does our own thing,” explained Brian. “We don’t step over boundaries and into what each other is doing. For me to go over to Ray’s operation and check on day-to-day activities would not be operating in an efficient manner. I trust my partners and know that that they have their operations under control.”
Of their growing business, the shavings mill is the latest addition to their operation. The Pembeltons realized that in order to keep moving forward, their 12-acre woodyard needed to move into the by-products industry, so in January 2009 a Jackson 36D Wood Shaving Mill was added to run green shavings. When sales weren’t taking off fast enough the team added a Heil Dryer in October 2010. Now things are speeding on ahead with three loads of seven to eight tons each of dry shavings being hauled per day on walking floor trailers to a leading wood fibers company for bagging. Several poultry and dairy customers also come by for pickup throughout the week. Brian’s customers are from VA, MD, NC and SC.
Brian’s system is pretty straight forward. The VA Pine and Loblolly logs are delivered to the woodyard from various private contractors in VA. A Prentice 384 knuckle boom transports the trees from truck to piles. A CSI 45 Saw Buck cuts the logs to 8ft, 6-inch lengths. The logs are constantly rotated. Some of it sits for months as Brian always tries to keep plenty of wood on site. Instead of a log deck, Brian uses his Prentice 410EX knuckle boom to load the bucked logs onto his Jackson 36D mill. Once shaved the wet shavings are carried along a 30ft Jackson conveyor that drops into a 16ft Meyer Box, which regulates the flow and volume of the shavings. From the box the shavings are transported using a 40ft Jackson conveyor and then into a 20-inch air lock that drops the shavings into an 8.5 ft diameter by 25ft length Heil Dryer. After exiting the Heil Dryer, the shavings are transported to a cyclone where the steam is separated and the dried shavings are dropped into a 7ft by 7ft Husky Precision shaker, where the saw dust is shaken out. A conveyor belt takes the shavings to their storage warehouse, which is currently 50ft by 40ft by 30ft high. The saw dust accumulated in the shaker is carried along by a drag chain conveyor to a 23-ton Brock fuel bin and then it’s piped as fuel into their 12 million BTU webb burner.
Brian also has a switch that he can flip to include a mix of saw dust in his shavings if his customers prefer. According to Brian, some of his customers want saw dust in their shavings in order to keep the shavings stable during the settling process and to aid in added absorption.
“Our shavings mill is operating at 100% while our dryer is only at 50% capacity,” Brian stated. “We really need to get another shavings mill. We’re hoping to get another Jackson in the next two months.”
Brian’s mill is the largest shaving mill that Jackson Lumber Harvester produces. It sports two heads with eight blades per head. Their mill runs 20 hours per day Monday thru Friday with 8 hours on Saturday. Two additional hours per day are for running dust through the dryer and for changing the blades. Brian rotates between three sets of blades. Each set costs $1600 and lasts an average of up to one year. Cartridges for the blades cost $3200 to $3300. Dean sharpens the blades with a Piper’s saw shop knife sharpener in their 15ft by 30ft maintenance shop.
The operation currently does not debark their wood, however bark has been known to carry bacteria so his leading customers, Tyson and Perdue, test Brian’s product regularly.
“We run our dryer continuously,” Brian said. “We keep the temperature at 1600 degrees with the air running through the dryer kept at 900 degrees, to eliminate the chance of salmonella or bacterium in the shavings.”
Brian’s logs hit the mill at approximately 49% moisture content and are finished with a 7% moisture content. According to Brian his product has to be 10% or below in order for it to be bagged. He estimates that 50% of his product is for bulk sale and 50% is being bagged at bagging facilities in Jessup, MD and Marion, VA.
“Anything we can do here for bedding is what we do here…whether it’s for chicken, turkey, dairy or for horse,” explained Brian. “We make the best shavings around for poultry and dairy. At least that’s what our customers are saying to us. And believe me, the customer will let you know if they don’t like the product.”
Brian calls his Jackson Shavings Mill the “Chevrolet of shaving mills” and in his mind there “ain’t nothing better than a Chevrolet.” Before he decided upon Jackson, Brian had researched many different competitors. He chose Jackson because they had the “longest running company in the industry and they had the biggest backbone in the market.”
“Whenever I call I always get them on the phone and they can get me whatever parts I need,” stated Brian. “Working with Bill Becker has been really helpful and he comes to see me pretty regularly even though he’s from Wisconsin.”
According to Bill Becker, sales representative for Jackson Lumber Harvester Company, Inc., Jackson has been in the longest running company in the industry, since 1960, and their products are being used throughout the United States as well as internationally in Korea, Portugal, Turkey, Ireland and various parts of the United Kingdom.
“Our goal is to keep getting better. We are still experimenting to make improvements,” Bill stated. “We’re very conscious of our customers and their needs. I’ve known Brian for probably three years now and I was just there at his mill operation twice in the last two weeks. It’s running great and he’s doing a great job with it.”
As Brian looks to race into the future, his next step would be to bag his own shavings. The problem is that he has yet to find a reputable bagging company to work with. Though he has some horse people buying from him in bulk, there’s a large percentage that are buying his product bagged at other suppliers. He hopes to gain their business directly some day.
“Ultimately we need to bag our product to be more profitable,” Brian explained. “Because of the freight issue, bagging would take up less space and increase our margins. If you looked at what we already produce right now we’d be bagging about 8,000-10,000 bags per week.”
Brian’s doing what his dad taught him by trying to be ahead of what’s going on and to be the first to get there. Being ahead of the pack in both the changing shavings industry and on the race track is what Brian’s all about.