Contractor Re-enters Industry: K C Johnson & Sons Continues to Rely on CBI for Grinding Land-clearing Debris

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Virginia based K C Johnson & Sons increases production with CBI 6800B track grinder.

NOKESVILLE, Virginia — If Chris Johnson is satisfied with a brand of equipment, he tends to keep doing business with the same manufacturer.

Johnson is the owner of K C Johnson & Sons, a land-clearing contracting business. His career has been spent in the industry, and Johnson also farms and has a firewood business.

For his firewood business he has been depending on the same equipment manufacturer for nearly 30 years.

“If I like it, I stick with it,” said Chris.

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For his grinding operations, he has been relying on equipment from Continental Biomass Industries (CBI) since about 2000 and now has owned seven CBI grinders.

“I’ve been satisfied with them,” said Chris.

Chris has a CBI 6800B track grinder he bought in March of this year. He wanted a bigger, faster grinder in order to increase production. “I had some jobs with some very tough schedules,” said Chris. “I couldn’t afford any breakdowns.”

“It’s been great,” said Chris. “It runs just about every day.”

Chris, 54, owns and operates the business with his wife, Kim, the K and C in K.C. Johnson. Kim has the company title of president. “She’s the big boss,” said Chris, and runs an office out of their home, helping put together estimates, proposals, and contracts.

It is the second time around for them in the land-clearing contracting business.

Chris grew up in Oakton, about 30 minutes away in Fairfax County. His father, Charlie, started the business in 1979 and operated it with Chris’s mother, Anna. Chris graduated from high school the same year and went to work with his father. When his father died in 1988, Chris and his mother continued the business.

The company was sold in 2004. At the time it employed 43 people and had recycling operations, including crushing concrete and asphalt. The business had three CBI grinders, among other equipment, and a fleet of 12 tractor-trailers.

Chris continued to do some small jobs but concentrated on farming. He has agricultural operations on about 1,300 acres in three counties.

When the new owners went bankrupt in 2009, Chris decided to ramp up again and bought some of their equipment at auction and more from the company that had financed equipment. He also hired back employees. “Went back at it,” he said.

There is a key difference, though. “We’re staying small,” said Chris. “We’re working primarily with customers with whom we have enjoyed a good business relationship in the past.” The company is very thoughtful and strategic about growth and adding new customers. The business now has about 18 employees and 30-some pieces of machinery and equipment. It generates annual sales of about $4 million.

The company’s primary niche is clearing land for highway construction, and it doesn’t have to go far. With its proximity to Washington, D.C., Northern Virginia has been growing by leaps and bounds, including the highway infrastructure. The company just recently finished clearing land for a 36-mile High Occupancy Vehicle lane along Interstate 95. The strip the company cleared ranged from 40 feet to 300 feet wide. His company also clears land for commercial building projects – shopping centers, hospitals, warehouses, and other structures.

Most trees are felled with a John Deere 843 feller-buncher. All the small timber is cut first – trees that will be chipped. Next, low-grade logs are felled for the firewood business. Then, excavators normally go in to push down the larger timber; chain saws are used to cut out the saw logs, and the tops go to the chipper. Chris has one other piece of logging equipment, a John Deere 648G3 skidder.

Nearly 100 percent of the chipping and grinding is done on-site or removed to another job site to be processed. “We recycle everything,” said Chris.

As the contractor whose task it is to remove all the trees to get the site ready for excavation and earth moving work, Chris and company have to remove all stumps, too. Stumps go into the CBI grinder along with anything else that “won’t go through the chipper,” said Chris.

His other machines include five excavators, three loaders equipped with root takes, two bucket loaders and two bulldozers, and a wheel loader that operates in the yard.

Logs that can be merchandized are sold to brokers or direct to sawmills in the region. Some hardwood grade logs are sold wholesale for export to Europe. A mill in nearby Fredericksburg cuts softwood and hardwood logs, and another to the north in Leesburg cuts hardwood logs. Chris keeps low-grade logs for his firewood business, and anything else goes to the grinder or is processed by a Bandit 2590 chipper.

Chris has chosen not to market his grindings although he did in the past when he previously owned the business. He could find markets for them, but he would have to broker trailers or run his own. He used to own some walking floor trailers and also contracted with other truckers but decided to concentrate his efforts elsewhere. “I didn’t want to deal with the headaches,” he said, of logistics and transportation. Another reason is that he often has to operate on a tight schedule, with other contractors waiting to come in behind him when his work is completed. His crew may produce 6-10 loads of material that need to be moved off a job site that day.

Most grindings and chips are supplied free to companies that come in and haul the material away. Most chips are supplied to a Maryland company that makes a wood material for playground surfaces; some are sold to businesses that process it further into mulch, and a small amount is sold for boiler fuel. Grindings are supplied free to companies that process it further for eventual sale as mulch.

Chris used to operate a 22-acre recycling yard and produced mulch. At one point he had three CBI grinders, two in the field and one set up to grind in the yard to make mulch. He sold the yard three years ago, though, and signed a non-compete agreement that prohibits him from dealing in mulch. He now has a 7-acre yard for his firewood business and a shop and office.

For his firewood business Chris has a Multitek firewood processing machine, a model 2040. He has a long history of relying on Multitek for this specialty equipment going back to 1985.

He sells firewood by the cord and moves about 1,500 cords per year. He primarily sells wholesale to about 20 businesses that sell firewood, such as nurseries. “Today alone, we probably loaded 20 cords, and it’s August.” He delivers by the semi-trailer load.

Chris tries to avoid buying low-grade logs for the firewood business, but noted, “I can’t pick and choose my jobs for the timber.” If he needs more wood, he buys firewood logs from logging contractors.

His new CBI 6800B grinder is powered by a CAT 1,050 hp diesel engine. It can be operated by remote control and normally is run that way by a worker feeding the grinder with an excavator. Production averages 200-250 cubic yards per hour, said Chris, grinding a combination of stumps and other wood material.

The grinder is equipped with an optional metal detector. The system detects tramp metal through impact sensors. It automatically lifts the feed roll, reverses the feed system, reduces engine speed, disengages the clutch, and shuts down the engine. The operator can easily restart the machine with a reset function after inspecting the grinder.

“Oh, they’re great,” said Chris, referring to the CBI staff and technicians. “We can have a problem, we pick up the phone and get right to the service department, tell them what it’s doing.” He only needed to rely on a CBI field technician once, and he happened to be in the region. Otherwise, troubleshooting has been done over the phone.

Chris has been relying on CBI for grinders since about 2000. He read an article about the company and contacted them when he was in the market for a machine. Chris had been using a tub grinder and was looking to switch to a horizontal grinder for safety reasons. Tub grinders are known to sometimes eject material, and Chris had concerns about grinding operations near the highway. Chris and an equipment operator visited CBI to tour the company’s factory in New Hampshire, meet their staff and see their equipment products, and to meet other contractors who were CBI customers.

“We were one of the first ones to buy a horizontal grinder in Northern Virginia,” said Chris.

New Hampshire-based CBI was started by Anders Ragnarsson In 1983. He came to the U.S. from Sweden and started a land-clearing business that specialized in hard-to-handle jobs. Anders realized that wood – and even waste wood material – could be converted to salable products such as mulch and biofuel. He founded Continental Biomass Industries in 1988 and spent the next two years developing and engineering the efficient, durable wood grinders for which his company has come to be known. A patented offset-helix rotor that uses kinetic energy and provides high throughput became the basis for CBI’s line of wood waste hogs, horizontal grinders, chippers and shredders.

Today CBI manufactures stationary and portable equipment. Its product line includes grinders, chippers, flails, shredders, screening systems, and attachments and accessories. CBI machines are used in various applications for the forestry, construction, biomass, and waste energy industries. Its line of portable grinders includes both trailer units and self-propelled track machines.

The CBI Magnum Force 6800B horizontal grinder was specifically re-designed for land-clearing companies and processing yard waste. It is available with an optional CAT 1,125 hp engine and has a production capacity of up to 200 tons per hour. The CBI 6800B can grind whole trees, slash, storm debris, construction and demolition debris, and regrind at a lower cost per ton, according to the company. Multiple grate and tip options are available to optimize the material being processed and customize the end product. With the fully opening, clamshell-style rotor housing, changes can be made quickly on-site.

The 6800B horizontal grinder features a high torque, hydrostatic feed system, PT Tech hydraulic clutch, and a choice of two CAT engines. The 4-inch thick, high strength rotor core is shear pin protected. The entire system is controlled by CBI’s IntelliGrind logic that incorporates feed speed that varies automatically with engine load. An optional modem communications system provides real-time system diagnostics, analysis, and operating program adjustments, allowing the operator to optimize performance while avoiding costly downtime.

For more information on CBI or its equipment products, call (603) 382-0556, e-mail, or visit the website at,

Chris, whose mother retired in 2011, farms in Fauquier, Culpeper, and Madison counties. Fauquier, adjacent to heavily populated Prince William and Loudoun counties in Northern Virginia, still supports rolling hills and farms. Culpeper borders Fauquier to the south, and Madison borders Culpeper to the west.

Chris farms about half the land he owns and leases the remainder. Much of the land he owns is in pasture to grow hay, and he also grows sorghum. The leased land is for raising cattle and soybeans.

Chris estimated that he works 70-80 hours a week between his business and farming operations, so he has little time for hobbies. However he has found time to serve both industry and community in a number of ways. For example, Chris is a Regional Vice President for a trade organization called the Land Improvement Contractors of America. He also has served on the Fauquier County Fair Board for 11 years and is active at Triumph Baptist Church in Warrenton.

Chris has found a little time for fun in attending truck-pulling contents with his son Casey, 22, who owns a truck and competes. Chris and his wife also have two daughters, Amanda, 31, and Bethany, 29, and two grandsons.

Chris has considered other manufacturers for grinding equipment. When he was in the market for a new grinder earlier this year, he demonstrated four other machines and had them on the same job site at one time. Sales representatives were there from each company, and he ran each machine, one after another. “They all had their plusses and minuses,” said Chris. But for his company’s grinding applications, Chris felt the CBI out-worked the other machines.

The close professional relationship he has enjoyed with the CBI staff was also a big factor in his decision. “It’s a lot easier when you’re comfortable dealing with someone,” said Chris, “and know the owner of the company that you do business with.” Those relationships carry considerable weight, Chris noted.