Tennessee Firm’s Special Focus is Tough Projects Clearing Land: Peterson Horizontal Grinders and Chipper Process Whole Trees On-Site

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NASHVILLE, Tennessee — You’ve heard the expression, ‘When the going gets tough, the tough get going,’ or a variation of it.

The same might be said for Eddy Queen and his company, Queen’s Tree Surgery Inc., which is not a traditional tree service business, although it used to be.

These days Queen’s main focus is still trees, but it’s removing trees and clearing land for projects like new buildings and utility right-of-way.

Eddy and his company have developed a knack for taking on tough jobs — clearing land on steep terrain, creating or maintaining right-of-way in wet areas, removing trees in places that are hard to access, and so on.

Grinders are essential for his business, and for more than 10 years Queen’s has been relying on Peterson Pacific for industrial machines to grind and chip wood material.

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Queen’s Tree Surgery was started by Eddy’s father in 1942, and he began working in the business as a young teenager. He took responsibility for the business when he was a young adult, however. He bought a majority interest in the company at age 22, and his father died three months later. Eddy has continued to own and operate the business since then.

Throughout Queen’s history it has focused predominantly on tree service work of one form or another. These services have ranged from private work and metro brush pickup, to municipality grinding and storm work. In the past it had agreed to also provide expanded services-grounds maintenance, janitorial cleaning, solid waste removal-for certain customers.

Today, the company’s focus is on clearing land. Eddy began transitioning into clearing land in the late 1990s and purchased his first grinder to be used in land clearing jobs in 1998. “It’s kind of expanded from there,” he said.

His decision to move into land clearing was in part a reaction to changing markets. In years past his company did a lot of work for the city of Nashville, removing trees and collecting brush. In fact, his company was one of the city’s largest contractors in terms of revenues.

However, the city and other similar customers began adding their own operations to handle the kind of tasks his company was performing, eliminating the need for contractors like Eddy. “I started moving toward where I could get work that I was good at…I was pretty good at land clearing.”

The company will do jobs large or small. Queen’s will clear land to build a house, expand a subdivision, create a utility right-of-way, or other projects. However, almost of all the work is commercial in nature. Eddy only takes on residential projects if he knows the person or a family member personally.

Queen’s currently employs 13 people and has taken on projects in the past ranging in size from a couple thousand dollars to well over a million. The company normally stays close to the Nashville metropolitan area unless it takes on a large project. For example, it has traveled to Knoxville, nearly 200 miles east.

Eddy, who turned 62 in September, has three sons who are involved in the business. Josh, 32, who has a business degree, oversees production. Daniel, 31, an engineer, prepares all the company’s bids. Nathan, 29, with an environmental science degree, runs a grinder and supervises a crew. His daughter, Abigail, 23, also earned an engineering degree and is employed by another contracting firm.

Eddy has been doing business with Peterson since 2006 and currently has three Peterson grinders and one Peterson chipper. The grinders are horizontal machines. The oldest one is trailer-mounted while the newest grinders are self-propelled track machines.

“I love ’em,” said Eddy. His company received a new Peterson 5710D horizontal grinder near the beginning of September. It was ordered with Peterson’s optional tow dolly, which allows the grinder to be quickly and easily towed by a semi-tractor without the need for a low-boy trailer.

Peterson actually got its start as a heavy construction company and expanded into manufacturing in order to develop equipment that would meet its needs for land clearing and construction. Its first product was a portable chain flail delimber-debarker. The company has been manufacturing grinders since 1990.

The Peterson product line includes horizontal grinders, drum and disc chippers, flails, screens and stacking conveyors, and blower trucks. Applications include processing wood material for biomass, compost, recycling, land clearing, pulp and paper chips and microchips, mulch, and more.

(For more information about Peterson and its equipment products, call (800) 269-6520, or visit the company’s website at www.petersoncorp.com.)

“The thing I like best about Peterson is they’re dependable,” said Eddy. The fact that Peterson is headquartered in Oregon has not been an issue as far as service and support, he indicated. In fact, the company recently ordered some screens from Peterson, and they arrived in two days from a warehouse in South Carolina.

“Plus, they’ve got some great service technicians,” added Eddy. “They’re premier.” Richard Yates, an officer of the Queen’s since the 1980’s as well as a personal friend of Eddy’s, oversees the shop and usually deals with two Peterson technicians. “We think the world of them,” said Eddy. “They know their stuff.” Most problems are solved by troubleshooting over the phone, he indicated.

Although Peterson has a network of dealers, Eddy has purchased his equipment directly from the manufacturer.

“My favorite machine may be the chipper,” said Eddy. The company’s Peterson 4310 whole tree chipper is also a self-propelled track machine. “It’s lighter, tracks faster, uses half the fuel at twice the production. What’s not to like? But we can’t use it everywhere; that is why we have three Petersons grinders and one Peterson chipper.”

Besides the Peterson grinders and chipper, Queen’s has an assortment of other machines and equipment. The mixture of equipment enables it to clear land and manage vegetation in a variety of ways, from large scale tree removal with heavy equipment and grinding or chipping wood debris to forestry mulching.

On jobs where stumps are to be removed, excavators and dozers are used to remove the trees, including root
balls. These trees, including root balls, can typically then be fed through the grinders without any further manipulation or processing. “It’s way more efficient,” noted Eddy.

For projects where there is a requirement to minimize ground disturbance and no crucial need exists to remove the stumps, a John Deere 759J track feller-buncher is used for felling trees. “This kind of site is where the chipper really shines,” said Eddy.

Most grindings or chips that are produced are used on site for erosion control. Eddy also supplies grindings and chips to companies that produce mulch. He has semi-trailers equipped with walking floors for easy unloading. If they send trucks to pick it up, he supplies it for free.

Queen’s has two forestry mulchers, a Prime Tech and a Gyro-Trac, track machines that have a mulching head on the front; the machines are used mainly for clean-up tasks on a project, indicated Eddy. Queen’s is also equipped with a Fecon mulching head attached to an excavator for trimming and-or removing hard-to-reach trees.

The company has seven excavators in all, including three Volvo machines, two John Deere units, and a Kobelco and a Hyundai, plus three bulldozers, two Caterpillars and a John Deere.

Several knuckleboom loaders are used primarily for picking up rocks or other debris at a job site, and piling it and loading it to be hauled away. The company has five tractor-trailers and two low-boys for moving equipment.

The company still has bucket trucks, chipper trucks and skid steers for doing tree work, but with the limited number of employees Queen’s normally does not take on small jobs.

Queen’s has extensive experience clearing and maintaining utility right-of-way and has worked throughout the Southeast. It has cleared land for new gas pipeline right-of-way and also has experience removing and trimming trees and other vegetation of existing right-of-way. Besides offering services to remove or manage trees and vegetation on steep ground, the company also can work in areas with wet conditions using mats and low ground pressure equipment.

Queen’s currently is tackling a couple of projects for Nashville International Airport. The company is removing or trimming trees near the end of a runway. It is also removing trees to widen an unimproved road that provides access for law enforcement and security vehicles in order to make the road usable for construction vehicles. Queen’s is providing additional services to line it with riprap and fill it with asphalt millings. The two projects comprise about 10 acres.

In recent years other projects have included reclaiming a right-of-way for a natural gas pipeline. When he was interviewed for this article, Eddy was preparing to bid the next day on a project in Knoxville to clear land along a 1-mile-long strip for a new overhead utility line right-of-way. “It’s really bad terrain,” he said. “A bad situation.”

Those tough jobs are good for his business. “That’s normally what we do,” added Eddy, projects to clear land that are more difficult and challenging. “If it’s kind of easy, we don’t get it.” There is much more competition among contractors for jobs that are easy to do, he noted, so he looks for tougher projects on difficult terrain or circumstances.

The Knoxville project is along the side of a state highway and is sloping ground. It also has several bluffs 20-25 feet high on the edge. “They need a road built in there so they can put up utility poles,” said Eddy. The project is only 6.5 acres but Queen’s was awarded the project over a dozen other contractors who attended a mandatory pre-bid meeting because Queen’s was the only bid submitted.

The company had to downsize during the recession, but it was able to shed jobs through attrition, not layoffs. Eddy cut back to four days a week in order to keep employees working. However, some employees later quit because of the reduction in hours. The business resumed a five day work schedule a few years ago and currently is working six days a week when needed.

“We’re a drug-free Tennessee company,” said Eddy, who submits to drug tests himself. “If I’m going to make my employees drug-free, I feel like I owe it to them to be drug-free,” he said.

The company awards yearly bonuses at Thanksgiving. “They’re rather hefty normally,” said Eddy.

Eddy, who is a certified arborist along with his son, Daniel, has never put much emphasis on marketing his business, an issue his sons have raised with him.

“I’m kind of letting them run it,” he said. He told them, “You want to market it, market it.”

The company has gotten business over the years via word-of-mouth referrals, a sales representative, or people seeing the company at work on a job.

Eddy has a second home on a lake. “I love going down there,” he said, where he enjoys taking the kids out on the water, settling down with a book and enjoying the quiet, or maybe the occasional morning spent fishing.