Contractor Adds Grinding Operations: Bay State business goes with Peterson machine to make mulch

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Smith and Sons Excavating and Forestry begins grinding and mulch production operations with a Peterson model 5710D horizontal grinder.


PEMBROKE, Massachusetts — Dan Smith has owned and operated his own excavating business since he was a teenager. He recently made the decision to expand into forestry operations, specifically, grinding wood waste material to produce mulch.

When he talked about his business decision recently, he recalled a popular 1989 movie. “You know what my theory is on this whole thing?” asked Dan. “You know that movie with the corn, the baseball field, ‘If you build it, they will come?’ “ He was referring, of course, to the film “Field of Dreams,” in which the hero, portrayed by Kevin Costner, builds a baseball field in the middle of an Iowa corn field.

“If you make a great product…do a good job and treat people right, how can it not be a success?” asked Dan.

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He’ll find out soon enough. With his investment in a Peterson model 5710D horizontal grinder, Dan’s excavating company recently added grinding and mulch production operations, and will now be doing business as Smith and Sons, Excavating and Forestry.

Dan’s home and business are in Pembroke, Mass., which is roughly halfway between Boston and Cape Cod. He grew up on a small hobby farm in the nearby town of Hanover.

Dan has purchased a number of machines for his excavating business from Barry Equipment Company Inc., located about 85 miles west in the town of Webster, just a short drive south of Worcester. When it came time to invest in a grinder, he turned again to Barry Equipment.

Dan began a business immediately after graduating from a vocational high school, where he received training in welding and metal fabrication. He began doing excavating work and installing septic systems.

He had been attracted to working with heavy equipment since he began working for local contractors as a younger student in high school. The high school had a work co-op program, allowing him to gain experience working for excavating contractors and sand and gravel businesses. The experiences also exposed to him some land-clearing work for residential and commercial development.

Just 17 or 18, he nevertheless was able to obtain financing with the help of a friend who knew a local banker. He obtained a loan to buy a backhoe and his first excavator. He launched his business with about $500 in his checking account and “a nice shiny pickup truck.”

He worked alone for about the first 18 months with a friend, Evan Kelly, joining him on some Saturdays. Evan came to work for Dan as a full-time employee in 1999 and still works for the company.

The business has gradually grown and prospered over the years. Smith and Sons, Excavating and Forestry, which has an office and repair shop in Pembroke, now employs nine people, including Dan. The employees include three other family members: his mother, Cheryl, and his sister, Ashley Curtain, who run the office, and his father, Dan Smith Sr., who retired from having his own drywall business to begin driving a truck for Dan in 2003. Of the seven people who work in the field, three work in the forestry division and the remainder in the excavating division.

Dan’s company still essentially does the same kind of work, only more of it. In addition, as noted above, he has recently expanded into wood grinding operations with his investment in a Peterson 5710D horizontal grinder. “We’re getting heavy into forestry work,” said Dan.

In addition to clearing land for development projects, Dan’s company operates a wood waste recycling yard in the neighboring town of Marshfield and is able to collect tipping fees for accepting wood material. The grinder is used to process wood material into mulch; the company’s finished product is a deep, rich, black colored mulch.

About 70 percent of the company’s business is excavating, and the other 30 percent is land clearing, wood waste recycling, and mulch production. Excavating includes such projects as building site work, excavating for pipe lines for drainage, sewer, water, and septic systems, and even some small road construction work. Other services include hydroseeding to put in new lawns. Dan has also dabbled in some home construction.

The company is equipped with a John Deere loader and dozer, a Volvo excavator, a Kubota excavator, a Doosan 235 excavator, a Doosan 225LL excavator configured for log loading, and a Doosan 350 wheel loader. Dan also has a Terex skid-steer and a Hitachi mini-excavator. “I like buying things,” acknowledged Dan. The company also has a fleet of six trucks.

For clearing land Dan’s company uses chain saws for felling or pushes trees down with the Doosan 225LL, which is equipped with a Rotobec grapple.

When he was interviewed for this article, the company had only been using the new Peterson machine about a week. It is the first grinder he has owned.

Dan explained how he decided to venture into the wood waste grinding business and mulch production. It begins with the fact that he expanded into septic system pumping in 2002. After establishing himself in that business, Dan was pursued by a larger company that wanted to buy that portion of his company, but he rejected their offers a number of times.

A friend of his, Peter Elliot, operated a grinding business in the neighboring town of Marshfield. Peter conducted his grinding operations on property owned by an old sawmill business, Copeland Lumber, using an old tub grinder. He processed the wood waste material from the sawmill as well as collecting and grinding other wood material. Peter’s business also collected wood material from its own land-clearing operations.

After Peter’s death, the owner of Copeland Lumber later approached Dan to ask if he would be interested in picking up the wood grinding operations. Dan declined, thinking it wasn’t economically feasible.

Timing is everything, right? Re-enter the competing, larger business that wanted to buy out Dan’s septic pumping division. They called again, wanting to know if Dan was interested in selling. He finally decided he’d had enough of the septic pumping business, and made the decision to sell it and venture into grinding.

He eventually ordered his new Peterson grinder, cleaned up the wood waste recycling yard, and began grinding operations. “And having a blast doing it,” he added.

Copeland Lumber does custom sawing of hardwood and softwood logs to make rough-cut lumber. The wood recycling yard is set up behind the sawmill. The yard comprises about 2 acres while the sawmill and its operations account for about 3 acres.

Dan confessed that he did not do a great deal of analysis to determine his rate of return on investing in a grinder, although he knew from the association with Peter that the grinding operations and mulch production could generate substantial revenues. Plus, he had his own business savvy to rely on from the past two decades. “I’m just hoping for the best,” he said.

“I just dove in with two feet,” added Dan.

Dan began doing business with Barry Equipment about 18 months ago when he bought his first Doosan excavator from the dealership. “I absolutely love the guys from Barry Equipment,” said Dan. “They’re very family-oriented, excellent people.”

Still, Dan wanted to investigate other options for grinding equipment. “I really like them, but I wanted to learn some more.” He considered at least two other manufacturers of grinding equipment and one other dealer.

“I just ended up going back to Tom (Barry) and Peterson.” And after he began operating the grinder, “I’m really happy I did.”

Dan did not demo the Peterson machine, as he did another manufacturer’s brand, but Tom took him to visit a few customers with Peterson grinders to see them at work and to confer with other contractors who owned them. Barry Equipment also loaned him an older model to use temporarily until his new machine arrived.

The Peterson 5710D is a track-mounted horizontal grinder designed for high-volume producers with very demanding end-product specifications. Powered by a Tier II or Tier IVi Caterpillar C27 1,050 hp engine, the 5710D provides the highest power to weight ratio of any Peterson grinder. With a feed opening of 60 inches by 40 inches combined with Peterson’s high lift feed roll, the 5710D can readily reduce a wide range of wood material, including stumps.

The control panel features a large LCD display of information for the operator for efficient operations. System pressure transducers and remote monitoring capability simplify set-up and provide complete engine and system parameters. The 5710D can be operated by wireless remote control by a worker running another machine to feed it material, such as a wheel loader. The quick-change multiple grate system makes it easy to customize grate configurations to produce a wide variety of finished products; grates are removed through an access door on the side wall.

Peterson also manufactures drum chippers and disc chippers, flails, blower trucks, stacking conveyors and screens. For more information about Peterson, visit the website at

While 99% of Peterson products are painted their signature blue, Dan had his Peterson grinder custom painted black to match his other equipment and trucks, which are black and emblazoned with the company name in gold lettering. “While I can’t imagine anyone wanting a Peterson grinder in anything but our bold blue, I have to admit Dan’s 5710D is quite striking in its custom black paint!” said Michael Spreadbury, Marketing Manager for Peterson. “We rarely build machines that are ordered in a custom color, but this machine has such an aggressive presence in black that we actually shot a group photo with our employees and Dan’s machine to celebrate this event.”

The Peterson 5710D horizontal grinder has done everything Dan expected, and then some. “It has far exceeded my expectations,” said Dan. “It’s just incredible.”

The machine monitors and optimizes grinding performance, temporarily slowing down the feed speed as needed to adjust to the material, noted Dan. “It just kind of does your job for you,” he said.

The company uses the Doosan 225LL excavator with Rotobec grapple to feed wood material to the grinder. The excavator operator runs the grinder via remote control.

Dan plans on selling his mulch production wholesale for now and indicates he has good markets. Premium, richly colored black mulch is a “hot item around here right now,” he said. His finished product will contain no grass clippings or leaves or other debris.

“There’s plenty of demand for it,” said Dan, who already has begun producing his finished product. “I’ve got my fingers crossed.” He has begun operating the grinder 8-10 hours a day and envisions putting it to work about 40 hours per week.

The company is coloring the mulch with a dry, pelletized colorant manufactured by T.H. Glennon Co. Inc. that comes in 1,100-pound bags. (Massachusetts-based T.H. Glennon also supplies liquid colorants as well as a system that attaches to a grinder to add liquid colorant.) An excavator is used to place a bag on top of a pile of grindings and break it open. The excavator turns the colorant into the grindings to thoroughly mix the two. The mulch will be allowed to sit for the colorant to continue to break down and do its job.

The wood goes through two grinding processes. The first grind reduces the wood material to a size of about 3 inches. After it has been colored and allowed to settle, it goes through the grinder a second time with a different screen to produce a finer, smoother mulch. The staff at Barry Equipment was a “huge help” in educating Dan about the production process, he said.

Barry Equipment sells and services machines and equipment for grinding and chipping wood material for such applications as mulch production, pulp and paper, biomass, and construction. It represents the Peterson and Doosan brands as well as Rotobec grapples and attachments and Edge material handling equipment. It is a family-owned and operated equipment dealership serving customers throughout New England and New York.

Dan’s company has a website,, and a Facebook page, Smith & Sons Excavating and Forestry.

Dan’s principal hobby is his family. He has three sons ranging in age from 4-9. “We all do motocross,” he said, ‘dirt bike’ motorcycle racing. He converted an old truck into a motorhome, and they use that to travel around to a few racing circuits. The family also enjoys snowmobiling together. “We just have a good time,” said Dan. His family lives on a small farm with a couple of “pet” beef cattle.