Massachusetts-Based Cook Co. Adds Track Grinder, Its Third Peterson Machine: Utility Work Fuels Business for Land Clearing Contractor

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UPTON, Massachusetts — It’s been a productive year for the Cook Companies., a contract land clearing business with long ties to New England and the Northeast.

Doug Cook has been operating his own business in the forest products industry since he was a young man. Now 54, he is plenty familiar with various types of heavy equipment after decades in the industry and is not usually surprised any more.

Nevertheless, when he decided to add a Peterson 5710D horizontal track grinder to his operations earlier this year, the machine’s performance made him stand up and take notice.

“We were grinding trees with the Peterson, hardwood trees,” he recalled, “and loading trailers in 15 minutes. It was pretty impressive, and I’m not easily impressed.”

Cook Company is located in Upton, Massachusetts, a small town just a short distance south of Worcester. In addition to providing land clearing services, Doug’s company also has manufactured mulch for decades.

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Doug added another product line, landscaping supplies, to the business in 2007. It was a natural extension of the company since it already had a solid history as a manufacturer and supplier of mulch. Cook sells landscape products to both homeowners and contractors.

The business moved to his current location about 14 years ago. It has facilities on 56 acres, including a 25-acre pit where wood material is hauled and dumped and mulch production operations are performed. The wood yard is equipped with equipment to dump and empty tractor-trailers loaded with wood chips or grindings. An 8,000-square-foot garage with an office has a radiant heating system in the floor that uses a wood chip boiler to produce hot water. Landscape materials and supplies are stockpiled at the same location.

The company employs about two dozen workers during slow seasons and as many as 30-35 when operations peak. Some employees shift to different duties at various times in the year as the company’s operations change with the season.

The landscape supply business is very busy in the spring, for example, while land clearing operations have a lull in the spring because of muddy conditions. “One picks up,” noted Doug, “when the other has a seasonal slowdown.”

Doug grew up in the region and got an introduction to logging when he was only 14 years old. His father owned some land and wanted to take down some timber, and Doug did the job for him with a chainsaw and operating a logging contractor’s skidder. “I was running a skidder before I had a driver’s license,” he recalled. When the logger showed up to haul away the logs, he was impressed with the work the 14-year-old did. He asked Doug, “You did this?” He later offered Doug a job.

In fact, Doug started clearing land while still in high school in the late 1970s. After finishing high school he attended the University of Maine, Orono. During the summer he continued to cut trees and sold firewood as a means of income throughout college. He graduated with a degree in forest engineering and set out to grow and expand his business.

Today, most of the of company’s land clearing jobs are commercial in nature, and a lot of the work is for government or utility projects, such as clearing land for airport construction, and clearing land for right-of-ways for gas pipelines and power lines. Although the company also does some jobs to maintain utility right-of-ways, most work is to clear land for new construction.

In recent years Doug added services to provide road board or mats at various projects where environmental issues exist so that machines and equipment can operate without disturbing the ground. For example, the service has been provided to construction crews so they can erect utility poles. The company also leases mats. Demand for environmental mats has increased significantly in recent years, indicated Doug.

The landscape supply business offers a wide range of landscape materials, including mulches, stone and gravel, flagstone, paver stones, blocks, loam, and more. “Anything to do with landscaping,” said Doug.

The company has two crews that perform land clearing work and another crew that specializes in removing stumps. About three to four people work in each crew.

Doug has an assortment of heavy equipment for his business. Trees are normally removed with one of two track feller bunchers — a Cat and a TimberPro. For big heavy hardwoods, limbs are removed on the ground with chainsaws; for smaller wood, the stems can be removed with a pull-through delimber mounted on a Hood knuckleboom loader with slasher saw. The company also is equipped with three TimberPro forwarders, four skidders, and two Hydro-Axe 621 forestry tractors with brush mowers. Other equipment includes a Cat track forest machine used for log handling and loading operations and a Cat 330 excavator set up for shovel logging. The company also has a Morbark 30-inch self-loading chipper that is usually kept in reserve as a back-up machine.

Unlike some land clearing companies that use bulldozers or excavators to push trees over, Doug prefers to harvest trees with the feller bunchers and to merchandise as much wood as possible. He believes it is important to maximize the utilization of timber.

Doug supplies hardwood saw logs to Hull Forest Products in Connecticut. Pine saw logs are supplied to Irving in Dixfield, Maine. Some pulpwood logs are supplied to Connecticut Mulch Distributors, and Doug uses some of the pulpwood logs for raw material in his own mulch production operations. He also has markets to supply chips for boiler fuel.

All residual wood material from land clearing and timber harvesting — limbs, tops, stumps, debris, etc. — is processed by grinding or chipping. All chipping and grinding operations are performed in the field at job sites.

Each land clearing crew is equipped with a Peterson whole-tree drum chipper — the company has a Peterson 4310 and Peterson 4310B. The stump crew is equipped with Cat excavators for pulling out the stumps, and the Peterson 5710D machine for grinding the stumps. An excavator-mounted shear made by Vail Products is used to break apart stumps; Doug designed the stump shear and obtained a patent for it. The Hood knuckleboom loader or a forwarder’s knuckleboom crane is used to feed material to the chippers while excavators load stump material into the grinder.

Doug bought his first Peterson chipper about four or five years ago when he needed to add a chipper as business picked up. He already knew of the Peterson brand. He also received a ringing endorsement for Peterson from another forest product company he did business with in Maine. “They work on pennies a ton,” observed Doug, referring to the Maine company, which makes chips for a paper company. The Maine contractor was extremely pleased with the machine and its low ownership and operating costs.

“I looked into it,” said Doug. “That’s when I bought my first Peterson. I’ve been happy with them.” He subsequently purchased the second Peterson chipper and this year invested in the Peterson grinder.

The cost of owning and operating the Peterson machines is significantly lower, according to Doug. “I really noticed the difference.” One reason is because the Peterson machines consume less fuel, he said.

“Knives seem to last longer, too,” he added. How frequently the knives are changed on the chippers depends on the wood material and conditions. Working with good, clean wood, they may last 10 days. Doug chose Peterson track machines because they are more versatile and can access areas where it may not be possible to haul a trailer-mounted machine. “We get in some crazy places on these pipeline projects,” he said.

He ordered the Peterson 5710D grinder because he was contracted to clear land for a utility right-of-way, and the company he was contracted to prohibited the use of a tub grinder due to safety concerns. He ordered the Peterson 5710D grinder with double grousers so the tracks would have more ‘bite’ when maneuvering on hilly terrain.

He described one job where the Peterson grinder particularly proved its versatility. The company was working on a right-of-way that was perpendicular to the road with a steep bank on both sides of the road. Fortunately, they were able to gain access to the right-of-way from another road and maneuvered the grinder to the top of the steep embankment. The grinder was positioned so the outfeed conveyor reached out over the embankment. Open top trailers could be filled with grindings while parked on the road within reach of the outfeed conveyor. The maneuverability of the grinder eliminated the need to build an access road for the trucks up over the embankment along with a landing area. It also eliminated the associated costs of that work.

Doug purchased his Peterson equipment through Barry Equipment in Webster, Mass. “They’ve been wonderful,” said Doug. “They’ve been there for support.”

Barry Equipment is a full service dealership. In addition to representing Peterson, the company represents Doosan, Yanmar, Rotobec, Palfinger, and Okada lines of machinery and equipment. Barry Equipment has customers throughout New England and also New York.

After Doug bought the Peterson grinder in the spring, he soon had it working on a “very demanding project.” The company was removing trees for another contractor who had 220 workers ready to come in after the trees and stumps were cleared. The grinder required servicing per the warranty, and it was the July Fourth weekend. Barry Equipment sent two technicians to the job three states away and worked through the holiday weekend to complete the warranty work. “That was pretty impressive,” said Doug.

Back at the wood yard, the company also has a Hogzilla tub grinder that is used for regrinding wood material and blending material. The company makes colored mulch with a Colorbiotics coloring system and mulch colorants.

The company has a full-time forester, Grant Richards, who oversees most of the jobs. Garrett Thomas oversees the landscape supply business.

Although for years Doug operated a feller buncher and a chipper, now he spends most of his time preparing bids for jobs. He also is frequently around the garage — where three mechanics work — and wood yard, overseeing operations.

Doug buys a small amount of standing timber, but not much. Mills are far apart, and it is hard to supply wood at competitive prices with the high transportation costs he faces.

Doug serves on the board of directors of a trade organization, the Massachusetts Forest Alliance, which advocates for the forest products industry, including timber owners, loggers, and mills. “It really helps and promotes good forestry and forest products,” said Doug. The alliance recently has been advocating for renewable energy credits for biomass, which state officials want to eliminate even though other states are adding them. Eliminating the energy credits would dampen fuel markets for biomass.

In his spare time Doug enjoys skiing, playing hockey, and saltwater fishing.

The company’s land clearing services include layout and surveying, logging and tree removal, grinding and chipping, brush mowing, excavating and grading, and more.

Doug’s business has worked for the Federal Aviation Administration and Massachusetts Air National Guard, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and various state agencies.

(Oregon-based Peterson manufactures grinders, drum chippers, disc chippers, flails, blower trucks, stacking conveyors and screens. For more information, visit, call 800-269-6520, or contact a Peterson dealer.)