Multifaceted logging operation produces biofuel with Trelan 23-RC chippers.
HUDDLESTON, Virginia – Ask Bobby Nichols, Sr., the owner of BL Nichols Logging, Inc. what he does at the company and he has a straightforward answer: “I do whatever needs to be done.”
Bobby drives trucks, fills in operating equipment as needed, and procures standing timber. His son, Bobby “Bo” Nichols, Jr. works with him. “He runs a crew and looks after maintenance and equipment,” explained Bobby.
Both Bobby and Bo, who joined the business in 1990, spoke with us about the company that Bobby established on July 4, 1969. In fact, Bobby’s experience in the logging industry is lifelong.
“My father cut timber and I worked with him,” said Bobby. When one brother was sent to Korea and another was drafted and sent to Vietnam, Bobby quit school to help his father fulltime so that his father could adequately provide for the children at home. When one of his brothers returned home and began working with his father, Bobby took the opportunity to launch his own business.
“I started in 1969 with a two-ton truck – a 1954 Chevrolet – that I bought for $200 and a power saw, a Lombard,” said Bobby. The power saw was purchased with financing from the store.
With equipment set, Bobby was ready to do whatever it took. “I knew that’s what I wanted to do,” said Bobby, whose grandfather and great-grandfather had both cut timber. His great-grandfather also had a saw mill. (His own company now spans three generations with grandsons working in the business.)
Deep experience in the industry means that Bobby knows equipment and knows what he wants in equipment. “We kind of mix equipment,” he explained. Ease of maintenance and excellent performance top his list of criteria when choosing equipment.
Six years ago, BL Nichols Logging added wood chips – primarily for biofuel – to its products. The company got started with a used chipper that did not quite meet its needs in part because of its large size. When the chip market slowed, Bobby took the opportunity to reassess.
“My son looked around,” said Bobby. Bo talked with industry colleagues and discovered that several were using chippers from Trelan Manufacturing in Remus, Mich. He received positive reports on the chippers.
Eventually, Bo lined up a used Trelan 23-RC chipper. He and Bobby both liked its performance.
“It just takes wood so much faster,” said Bo. Moreover, it’s “not so big” and it can be easily moved around on site with a skidder, a 545 Cat.
So good was the experience with the first Trelan 23-RC that last year BL Nichols Logging purchased another. The second chipper, also used, was purchased from Jewell Machinery in Rocky Mount, Va. Jewell Machinery has been a dealer for Trelan since September 2013.
Being able to move chippers around quickly is important to Nichols Logging. Chips are blown right from the chippers into trailers.
Much of the chip production goes to Old Dominion, a power company in Virginia. Some also goes to MeadWestvaco, which has a boiler for onsite electricity generation.
Chip production varies, said Bobby. “The most we have chipped in one week is 90 loads. “We usually do 50 loads.”
The chips fit in among the saw logs, cut-to-length and pulpwood that the company produces. Pulpwood goes to MeadWestvaco. “We also cut timber for MeadWestvaco,” said Bobby.
Species in the mix also vary. “We cut more mixed hardwood than we do pine,” said Bobby. Since 1997, Bobby’s company has been working as a contractor for MeadWestvaco. Other work comes from referrals – word-of-mouth from customers and through the Department of Forestry, he explained.
All cuts are sorted. “We [have] one buyer for [high grade] white oak, hickory, red oak,” said Bobby.
Felling depends on two 843 John Deere machines. “I like the John Deere cutters,” said Bobby. “We’ve been real satisfied with those.” Bobby especially likes having a cab.
The terrain where Nichols Logging works can be quite challenging. When we spoke with Bobby and Bo, they were preparing to set up a site in a rugged region near the Blue Ridge Mountains. “Once it gets steep enough, we need to make skid trails,” said Bobby.
Similarly, large trees can be a test. “We’re up here in rolling hills,” said Bobby. Large trees are felled with Stihl 441 chain saws.
Huddleston, the home base of BL Nichols Logging, is in Bedford County in the south-central part of The Old Dominion. The county has about 3,400 residents. Bobby’s team generally works within a 50-mile radius of Huddleston.
Being able to depend upon the equipment taken to distant sites is important. So is the compact size of the Trelan chippers, said Bo.
Besides its relatively small footprint, the Trelan 23-RC has other features that Bo appreciates. “Trelan is, to me, just simple to work on,” he said. “They don’t give you trouble.”
Considering the design of the Trelan 23-RC, Bo has reached a candid appraisal. “They make it simple for the working man,” he said.
There has been good interaction with Trelan, said Bo. “I’ve talked with the owner. They’re real good if you have a problem, they’ll talk you through it.”
The product line at Trelan Manufacturing spans a wide spectrum of heavy-duty whole tree chippers, including the new wide infeed models. The wide models are the 21-WRC, 23-WRC and 26-WRC. The Trelan 21, 23, and 26 are also available as loader models. Trelan Chippers range in horsepower from 450 hp to 1000 hp.
When service on equipment is required, Nichols Logging relies on Jewell Machinery. “Jewell, they do just about all our service work,” said Bo. That includes work on the loaders, which are from Barko – two model 595 and one 225.
One of the Barko 595 loaders is new. It was purchased from Jewell Machinery, which is an authorized dealer for Barko.
The service and repair operation at Jewell Machinery encompasses all brands of forestry and heavy equipment. The extensive offerings at Jewell Machinery include the service and repair of Cummins engines, remanufactured and rebuilt transmissions, welding and fabricating, and attention required by hydraulic cylinders, pumps and valves.
“Jewell has been very good about coming out,” said Bobby. “It’s been good working with them.” Moreover, he explained, Jewell understands the need for its customers to keep working.
Michael Jewell has a keen awareness of how to balance time. Michael was working fulltime at a machine shop when he started Jewell Machinery in 2000, working alone in the evenings out of a rented 500-sq.-ft building in Boones Mill, Virginia. He hired his first employee two years later when he made Jewell Machinery his fulltime job. The Rocky Mount location dates to 2006. Michael and his wife, Tammi Jewell, purchased the site along U.S. 220 because the business was growing and more space was needed.
The experienced team at Jewell Machinery includes Anthony Huff and Michael’s brother, Eddie Jewell, both of whom have extensive schooling and other-employer experience in diesel engines and machinery. Jewell Machinery recently added an e-commerce store (Forestryparts.com) and sells replacement parts for numerous applications.
Jewell Machinery began selling forestry equipment in 2013. It’s an expansion in a direction that Michael had envisioned since 2008.
Nichols Logging is a member of the Virginia Loggers Association. Including Bobby and Bo, thirteen people are employed at the company.
On the equipment roster at Nichols Logging are Peterbilt (four), Mack (three) and International (one) tractors. There are 12 log trailers, including Pitts, Big John and two new Fontaine models. There are seven chip vans, a combination of models, including two new Dorsey and one ITI. “I’ve got one brother that drives a truck,” said Bobby.
Other family members still log. “I’ve got one brother still in the logging business. I’ve still got an uncle – 80 years old – cutting timber, and an uncle 78 years old [cutting]. They work for themselves – skidder and saw. They stayed small. My father passed away at 76. He was in World War II. Then, he came back and worked in the woods all his life.”
Bobby explained he had an uncle who cut until age 82. “We’ve had good times and bad times,” he said of the logging business. “It’s been an up and down [experience]. I’ve been adding on since my son came [into the business]. He’s been in the woods all his life.”
Recently, Bo began a new venture. “My son got into the horse business – draft horse business,” said Bobby. He uses the horses to provide cart rides at venues such as birthday parties.
Bo explained how he got to know – and like – Percheron horses. “A few years ago, I went to the Virginia Percheron Association [when it was] having Plow Day,” he said. At one point, the movement under his feet got his attention. “I said to my wife, ‘Why is the ground moving?”
The answer was the six hefty Percherons, working in unison. Bo was impressed. Now, he has Percherons of his own.
“We like the outdoors,” said Bobby. “We like what we do. If we didn’t we would have quit a long time ago.”