Clean chips for the pulp and paper industry as well as biomass or boiler fuel quality chips have become an increasing focus of the company in recent years, and along with it, chipping operations.
PANTEGO, North Carolina — Stephen Tucker knows it’s important to find a market for every stick of wood when he buys timber. Whatever kind of tract – plantation pine, mature hardwood forest, mixed stand – it is, he and his partner, Joedy Cahoon Jr., have to find a home for every tree.
“We market every (wood) product,” said Stephen, who owns and operates Tidewater Land & Timber with Joedy.
Whether a tree yields a hardwood or pine saw log, material for low-grade lumber, pulpwood, other forest products or simply logging slash that can be processed into boiler fuel, Stephen’s role in the company includes finding the right market for all of it.
Clean chips for the pulp and paper industry as well as biomass or boiler fuel quality chips have become an increasing focus of the company in recent years, and along with it, chipping operations. One of the company’s important supplier partners is Trelan Manufacturing, a manufacturer of whole tree chippers, represented locally by Trelan Southeast.
Tidewater Land & Timber is based in eastern North Carolina in Joedy’s hometown of Pantego, which is divided by the Pungo River. The Pungo empties into the Pamlico River not far from its entrance into Pamlico Sound, bounded to the east by Hatteras Island.
They formed the company essentially to be the timber buying arm of Joedy’s logging business, J&R Cahoon Logging. Tidewater Land & Timber buys timber and uses logging contractors to harvest the timber and supply it to various mills – merchandizing the wood for the best markets in saw logs, pulpwood, and chips. “We do it all,” said Stephen, “logging and chipping.” The company has grown steadily since they launched it in 2004 and currently uses five other logging contractors in addition to Joedy.
Tidewater Land & Timber covers a large territory, Eastern North Carolina from the Virginia state line to the north and as far south as Jacksonville, home to nearby Camp LeJeune. The company operates as far east as the coast and as far west as the I-95 corridor, although it goes beyond the highway, too. Every week Tidewater is supplying wood to about 20 companies in the region’s forest products industry.
Stephen’s typical work day depends on “what day it is and who calls first,” he said. He travels throughout the region to meet with landowners, making arrangements to buy timber, showing tracts to the logging contractors and planning jobs with them, and dealing with mill representatives on supply agreements. One employee, Rob Pennington, works with Stephen and also buys timber. “He goes in one direction, I go in the other,” said Stephen.
Stephen and Rob also handle all payments to landowners and the logging contractors. “It’s a lot to keep up with,” he said.
On the rare occasion he is in the office, it is located with the office for Joedy’s company in Pantego.
The partners got started in chipping as a way to utilize and market non-merchantable wood. In addition, more and more landowners expect all the residual material to be chipped in order to leave a clean job site.
Tidewater owns three chippers in all. Two are leased to logging contractors that cut for them and one is used on J & R Cahoon Logging along with a chipper Joedy owns. Two of the other contract loggers also own and operate chippers.
Stephen and Joedy bought a used Trelan chipper about six years ago to be used on any job where it was needed. “Every job we did had a chipper on it,” said Stephen.
“It turned out, it worked pretty good,” he added.
In fact, they were so pleased with the machine they invested in a new Trelan 686 3-knife chipper at the beginning of the year. They leased the new Trelan and a Peterson Pacific Corp. chain flail debarker to one of their contractors, Coastal Carolina Logging.
They have had the used Trelan chipper refurbished and are in the process of selling it. “The used one is still in great shape,” said Stephen. Although the machine still ran well, several factors entered into their decision to invest in a new machine. One key consideration was the fact that the engine on the old machine was no longer under warranty, and a new one would have warranty protection.
Michigan-based Trelan has been making chippers for more than 40 years. It offers three models based on the company’s patented chipper design: the disc is mounted at a positive, forward angle. This design feature allows the anvil to be mounted horizontally; it also aids in drawing material toward the center of the disc, creating the best use of its extreme inertia. The benefits of these design features include long, uniform knife wear, excellent chip quality, a large opening for limbs, and less horsepower required.
Another benefit of the Trelan design is the placement of a side anvil in the chipper, which helps chip uniformity and reduces the amount of stringy and undesirable chips. The angle enables placement of the rear pivoting top feed wheeler closer to the disc, which improves control over raw material.
Trelan offers three base models, all with wireless remote control standard. Engine options range from 540-800 hp.Trelan also offers optional attached knuckleboom loaders to make its chippers self-loading.
The Trelan 686 features a 68-inch diameter chipper disc and is equipped with 2, 3 or 4 knives. The unit purchased by Tidewater Land & Timber is powered by a Cat 800 hp diesel engine. It features a wider opening than the Trelan model 23 they previously owned, and it also has a solid mass disc.
When the partners considered buying their first used Trelan chipper, Joedy pointed out that it was simpler than other machines and built for durability. “It’s pretty easy to maintain,” said Stephen.
The company’s other two chippers are drum-style chippers. Disc chippers produce a better quality clean chip, said Stephen, and the Trelan disc chipper is “way cheaper to operate” because of its simplicity. “We think it’s the best disc chipper in the business.”
Trelan’s longevity is an important selling point, said Steve Ford, a representative of Trelan Southeast, which sold the machine to Tidewater Land & Timber. “It’s a simple machine,” he said, “not a lot of moving parts or bells and whistles…We’ve got customers out there with over 20,000 hours on the disc.” The previous model owned by Tidewater has about 10,000 hours on it, he noted. “And it was still running good.”
Steve called the Trelan 686 a “pretty nice machine to make a 7/8-inch clean paper chip.”
“It’s versatile,” he added, and can produce either clean pulp and paper quality chips or fuel chips.
Tidewater Land & Timber has been “an excellent customer to deal with,” said Steve.
Trelan Southeast is a division of Ditch Witch of the Carolinas. Besides it headquarters in Charlotte, it operates three full-service branches in South Carolina and has a parts-service facility in Forsyth, Ga. The company’s territory includes Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and northern Georgia.
“We got to know Steve really well,” said Stephen, when he represented a different manufacturer earlier. “He’s the best there is as far as customer support…He does all he can do to look out for the customer and back them any time there is a problem.”
Coastal Carolina Logging typically uses the Trelan to produce clean chips from pine material. For hardwood, it will shut down the flail and chip for boiler fuel markets. About 65% of chip production is for the pulp and paper market and the remaining 35% for the fuel chip market, according to Stephen.
Among its mill customers, Tidewater Land & Timber supplies clean chips to the Domtar mill in Plymouth as well as the KapStone paper mill in Roanoke Rapids.
Coastal Carolina Logging is based in Ernul, located near New Bern, and is owned by J.C. Lockey Jr. “He maintains the chipper and the flail,” said Stephen. “Looks after them like they’re his own.” Coastal Carolina Logging performs all routine maintenance and service on the machines. The company does first-rate work on logging jobs, Stephen reported.
J.C. previously worked for Joedy and supervised a crew for him, and Joedy and Stephen helped J.C. establish his business by acquiring some equipment and making it available to Coastal Carolina Logging.
Eastern North Carolina has abundant forest resources. The tracts of timber Tidewater buys may range from mature hardwood forests to mature pine forests, pine plantations that need thinning, 20-year-old re-growth that needs to be chipped and replanted, mixed stands – you name it. “We buy anything we can make a nickel on,” said Stephen.
“We pretty much do everything except hard core swamp shovel logging,” he added.
On the day he was interviewed, Stephen was driving to Jacksonville to take a look at a job.
“You’re going to drive 50-60,000 miles a year, no matter what,” said Stephen.
Stephen, who is a registered forester, tries to keep contractors busy during the winter working further up in the piedmont, which is higher and drier.
Joedy’s logging business employs about 20 people. The company is equipped with three cutters, five skidders, three loaders, a chipper and nine trucks. In addition to running his company, he also helps his mother, who also operates a logging business.
Although Stephen and Joedy have been in business only since 2004, they have known each other most of Stephen’s entire working career. Stephen, 46, and Joedy, 58, knew each other since Stephen began working as a contract logging administrator for Weyerhaeuser after earning a forestry degree from North Carolina State University; Joedy was running his mother’s job (Cahoon Logging Co., Inc.), which contracted with Weyerhaeuser.
Stephen lives in Robersonville, a little more than 30 miles east of Rocky Mount.
The business partners socialize together at times and enjoy hunting and fishing together, said Stephen.
Stephen went to work for Weyerhauser’s Timberlands division when he came out of N.C. State in 1993, overseeing contracts with logging companies. Four years later he moved to the company’s pulp and paper mill in Plymouth, which is about 65 miles east of Rocky Mount, where he was a raw material procurement rep for the mill. (The mill was acquired by Domtar in 2007 and now produces fluff pulp.)
They formed Tidewater Land & Timber in order to try to have enough timber for Joedy’s business to produce about 100 loads of wood per week. “Now we’re doing 500 loads,” noted Stephen, and keeping a half-dozen contractors busy. “I think it’s pretty successful.”
The region has abundant forest resources, acknowledged Stephen, although it has witnessed its share of ups and downs in the forest products industry, too. After the housing bubble burst in 2008-09, demand for pine logs dropped off. There have been other setbacks for the industry, too. For example, in 2010, International Paper shut down its mill in Franklin, Virginia, and Domtar converted its mill to all fluff pulp which is 100 percent pine. These changes reduced hardwood usage in Eastern NC by some 2.3 million tons annually. That essentially eliminated the hardwood fiber market until Enviva opened its first of three pellet mills and began operating in late 2011.
Logging capacity caught back up in 2016, observed Stephen, and supply is outweighing demand and price. “It’s been kind of tight the last year or so.”
Tidewater is a member of the North Carolina Forestry Association as well as the Carolina Loggers Association.