Vermeer WC2300 Whole Tree Chipper Is Most Recent Addition at Bennett’s Lumbering

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Maine logger Bennett’s Lumbering keeps pace with changes in industry across four decades. Vermeer WC2300 Whole Tree Chipper Is Its Most Recent Addition

BETHEL, Maine — What’s in a name? For Bennett’s Lumbering, try history, affection and a forward-looking strategy. And that’s just the short list.
There’s a reason it is Bennett’s Lumbering – and not logging – explained Don Bennett, the owner and president of the 44-year-old company. Roy Bennett, Don’s father logged at one time, among several other endeavors. In the 1930s and 1940s, Maine loggers actually felled and sawed lumber (with portable saws) at the same woodland site. Even as a youngster in the 1950s, Don encountered piles of sawdust left from such tandem efforts. In homage to his father and other Pine Tree State loggers, Don chose Bennett’s Lumbering as the moniker for the company he launched in 1968.
Things have changed a great deal since the early days of the business when Don felled trees with “an old Remington chain saw,” he said. Don adds that he “very quickly moved to a Jonsered because it had a vertical cylinder instead of a rather horizontal one.” Today, Jonsered and Husqvarna see Don’s team through on the rare occasions when they need a chain saw.
Bennett’s Lumbering has been mechanized since 1991 when it began transitioning to a cut-to-length operation. Recently, to better serve the growing bio-energy market in New England, Don added a Vermeer WC2300 Whole Tree Chipper to the equipment roster. He purchased the WC2300 from Vermeer Northeast in Castleton, N.Y.
Instrumental in the purchase of the Vermeer WC2300 was input from Don’s son, Mike Bennett, the co-owner and foreman at Bennett’s Lumbering. Research, comparison and a trial run sold Mike on the Vermeer. “It has very low fuel consumption,” he explained. And that stands as a big plus when coupled with what he had determined to be a well-built machine. A trip to the factory to see the machine being built really sealed the deal, said Mike.
“One of the things we very much liked about the [Vermeer chipper] is the compact size,” said Don. “It’s a very easy machine to have where you need it to chip. Maneuverability is a big thing.”
It takes just minutes to move the Vermeer chipper from one spot to another, said Don. High productivity also is welcome. “With small input – five- to six-inch stems, it takes 25 to 35 minutes to [yield] 34 tons,” he explained.
“The chipper is an integral part of the whole system” at Bennett’s Lumbering, said Don. Limbs and tops are aggregated in piles and then the chipper can be moved into place near the piles. Of course, tops and limbs are just the remnants from an operation that is focused on extracting all the highest quality fiber for lumber.
“Since 2004, 80 to 90 percent of our production has been for Chadbourne Tree Farms, LLC in Bethel, [Maine],” said Don. Chadbourne is a third-generation company. “They grow Eastern white pine. That’s the mission.” The round wood goes to a mill that supplies lumber to big-box retailers.
Bennett’s Lumbering is also based in Bethel, Me. Part of Oxford County in the western part of the state, Bethel has approximately 2,400 residents. Don’s company usually works within a 40-mile radius of its home base, a sweep that also takes it into New Hampshire.
With the big commitment to Chadbourne, Don spends less time on procurement today than he did in the past. Still, he explained, he does take other work. “We are always looking for some good opportunities on woodlots,” he explained.
Whether he is working for Chadbourne and following exactly the prescriptions of the foresters for that firm or tackling a woodlot project, Don is guided by the same philosophy. “It’s always been a focus of my interest – since I started, to produce a quality job,” he explained. That means having the site look good at the end of the project. But it also means something more; and that is sustainable value.
Don’s said his business card contains the nugget that “the real value of your wood lot is in what’s left.” The phrase encapsulates the essence of woodlot management, which is extracting valuable fiber at the optimal time and ensuring that new fiber is given space and good substrate on which to mature.
For the last 12 years or so, Don has had a firewood business on the side. The piece of equipment that keeps it going is a Super Split log splitter from Supersplitter, Inc. in West Bridgewater, Mass.
The Super Split log splitter got the nod from Don after a methodical search of options. “I was fascinated by the simplicity of it,” he said. “It’s very quick. It, quite frankly, does everything I need to do.”
Designed for a one-person operation, the semi-automatic Super Split log splitter depends on mechanics, not hydraulics. Pent-up energy unleashed from two flywheels supplies the force required to split. A Super Split splitter can be equipped with either a gas or an electric power source to pump up the flywheels with potential energy. With its tremendous power advantage, the one piece pinion gear (when rack is engaged) transmits its force to the log at 12 to 24 tons. The result is a splitting action. The entire cycle takes about three seconds, including one-half second to recover, making it very fast.
The firewood Don produces is especially matched to a customer’s needs. “I work very closely with the people I split wood for,” he said. “There are questions I ask…about length, species, handling size.” Even shape enters the picture. The Super Split log splitter “gives flexibility” to tailor firewood to requests.
“What we try to produce is a consistent, customer-oriented firewood,” said Don. Beyond that, though, “you can be creative with it.” Some buyers want squares or triangular pieces. The geometric shapes stir conversations around the hearths at the many inns that buy from Don.
About 200 cords of cut and split firewood are delivered each year. In addition, Don delivers another 100 to 200 cords of tree-length firewood. He makes deliveries with a Chevy Silverado ¾-ton pickup and a towed dump trailer from Valley Industries. Trucking for the main logging effort at Bennett’s Lumbering is hired out.
Both Don and Mike belong to the Professional Logging Contractors of Maine. Father and son have worked together for more than 20 years, as Mike began working with his dad during summers when he was still in high school. Two other employees are part of the Bennett’s Lumbering team.
Mike runs the Tigercat 822 feller buncher. “I had always been interested in the track machine, the Tigercat 822,” he said. “This machine has the 5702 saw head. What I really like about it is that it has hydraulic cylinders.”
The agility of the Tigercat is an excellent fit for the steep slopes where Bennett’s Lumbering often cuts. All of the equipment in use at the company is chosen with getting a job done right. “We just take great pride in land and the landowner’s property,” said Mike. “I like to leave it looking like a park.” The site should be as inviting as it is productive after a selective cutting is completed, he explained.
Today, in addition to the Vermeer WC2300 whole tree chipper and the Tigercat 822, Bennett’s Lumbering relies on two grapple skidders, a 648 G John Deere and a 460D Timberjack, as well as a 245B Tigercat loader on a Pitts trailer and a CSI 264 delimber. The product mix at Bennett’s Lumbering includes white pine logs, hardwood logs and pallet logs.
With the growth of bio-generation power companies in the region, being able to supply fuel chips has become very important. “Once we’ve done quality pullout of all material, we save the tops for chipping in the Vermeer 2300 chipper,” said Don. “We are very pleased with it. This is a great machine.”
The infeed system on the Vermeer WC2300 is designed to reduce the handling of raw material. Dual-infeed conveyor chains run at variable speed to keep pace with difficult material. They get a big assist from the integral grip bars on the conveyor head pulley, a sloped infeed table and an infeed roller that has crush capability.
A native of North Newry, Me., a town just north of Bethel, Don worked at a paper company for four years following high school before deciding to found a logging enterprise. “I felt like I wanted to use my muscle,” he said. “At the end of the day, I wanted to see something I’d done…something creative.”
In fact, Don likens the process to painting, another of his creative outlets. “You have to love what you do,” he said. “I wouldn’t do it any other way.”
Drawing and painting (primarily landscapes) tap some of the same thought processes as developing strategies for harvesting wood, explained Don. Three-dimensional thinking applies to both endeavors. And as Mike takes over more and more of the operation of Bennett’s Logging, Don plans to do more painting – perhaps including some cartoon figures that will be of interest to his grandchildren.
“I’m at a point in my life where I just enjoying watching nature around me,” said Don. “I enjoy trips to logging shows, family.” The Bennett family has a gathering one day each week devoted to cherished banter.
Besides his family, Don has another great passion. “My real love is being in town government,” he said. “For the past about 16 years, I’ve been a member of the planning board. Presently, I’m a selectman.”
The board of selectmen on which Don serves is elected and he was first elected to the five-person group 12 years ago. “I do take pride in that” service,” he said.