HAPPY VALLEY, Oregon – There’s a lot to Mr. Tree Inc. Start with the core of the business and go from there.
“We’re a land-clearing contractor,” said Wilbur Akins, corporate officer at the company that he and his wife, Joyce Leard Akins, established in 1997. Mr. Tree serves residential, commercial and industrial customers and it merchandizes all wood to the fullest extent.
Forty-five employees allow Mr. Tree to work as many as three separate jobs simultaneously. From clearing over power lines to yarder logging, there is little that Mr. Tree does not do.
Mr. Tree even does some specialty, seasonal work. “We do large Christmas trees – 80 to 100 feet,” explained Wilbur. The trees go to outlet malls. “We cut them, haul them off jobs, and decorate them [with lights and ornaments].”
Versatility defines Mr. Tree. Efficient and reliable machines are must haves. And Wilbur points to three Peterson 5710D-series horizontal grinders as noteworthy performers.
“We’ve owned many different grinders,” said Wilbur. “I had already owned approximately eight grinders when I bought my first Peterson.”
That first Peterson grinder purchase came in 2014. The most recent purchase was made in summer 2018.
Track grinders are essential to his operation, said Wilbur. “We’re on steep ground.”
More than that, when land clearing under power lines is part of a job, the tract may be narrow. “We low-boy [the grinders] in, walk them off, and use remote control [to operate],” explained Wilbur.
There’s a great deal to appreciate about the Peterson 5710D in addition to tracks and remote control. The fact that the “feed intake is one single piece” adds durability to an already strongly built machine, explained Wilbur.
Peterson Corp., an Astec Industries Co., is headquartered in Eugene, Ore. Wilbur has worked closely on his purchases with Victor Acevedo, Peterson’s northwest territory manager. With a commitment to developing processing equipment that enables members of the wood industry to extract every bit of value from fiber, Peterson is a good match for the approach Mr. Tree has.
“Every job is itemized out,” said Wilbur. “We take saw logs off, merchandisable timber, pulp wood for chips. Some of the wood comes into our facility for firewood processing [with a] Cord King.” Only then do remaining limbs, stumps and rotted wood get fed to the Peterson grinders.
Most grinder output becomes hog fuel for plants that heat with it or biofuel for electricity producers. Some of it becomes compost.
The Peterson 5710D is designed to meet very high end-product specifications. It weighs 88,500 pounds and is built to be moved. Frequent moves between jobs are something Peterson understands. And frequent moves between jobs are the norm at Wilbur’s company.
The time Mr. Tree spends at a particular job site varies. “Some sites 30 days, some 10 days, others two days,” said Wilbur. It all depends on what the customer needs and the type of site work being done. For over power line work in residential areas, the company deploys bucket trucks.
For mechanical felling Wilbur relies on a 475 Timbco, a track machine that is fitted with a Link-Belt Quantum 30-inch head. A heavy carrier and a big head are needed to take trees up to three feet.
Much felling is done manually with chainsaws, all Stihl. Wilbur noted he has been using Stihl for 30-plus years, but that he also has fond memories of the saw – and pickup – that got him started in logging.
“I just started out at a very young age,” said Wilbur. “I worked for my father and worked for other logging companies. I worked with [my father] as a young kid. He passed away when I was 13.”
When Wilbur ventured out on his own, he cut with a McCulloch chainsaw. He had long thought that he would make logging his profession, following in the path of his father.
On yarder logging sites, Mr. Tree relies on a Kobelco 350 yoder with triple drums and Acme 10 carriages. The supporting equipment includes a variety of Link-Belt and Hitachi delimbers and skidders. A Vermeer SC50TX stump remover is used on many residential jobs. The company owns seven log trucks, all Kenworth.
Mr. Tree is based in Happy Valley, Ore. Happy Valley in Clackamas County is part of greater Portland. The town has close to 14,000 residents.
Jobsites for Mr. Tree are often distant from its home base. The company has done work in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Georgia and Florida, as well as nearer to home in California, Washington and Utah. On more distant jobs – often to clean up after storms and help with power line restoration by removing trees, equipment is rented on site.
Renting grinders, however, is generally not an option, explained Wilbur. He said grinders are sensitive machines that require a firm understanding of the technology they incorporate. And many rental companies do not want to risk a renter who is not fully versed in the operation of the grinder.
Being able to take the Peterson 5710D grinders to any state is important. The grinders meet the Tier IV engine emissions requirements of the Environmental Protection Agency and satisfy the stringent air quality regulations in the Golden State.
“We’ve hauled all the grinders to California,” said Wilbur. He added “you can work anywhere” with the Peterson 5710D horizontal grinder because it meets the toughest EPA rules for engines.
The system pressure transducers and the capability for remote monitoring simplify the setup of the Peterson 5710D. With information about the engine and system parameters easily available, the operator can be sure the grinder is ready for optimal performance after each move. An access door on the side wall allows for grates to be changed and configured in the shortest possible time.
Joyce did not have experience in the wood products industry when she and Wilbur launched their business. But he said she quickly became as immersed and happy in it as he is. The couple’s two sons already work in the business. Two grade-school age daughters look forward to working in the business, explained Wilbur.
“It’s a family operation,” said Wilbur, reflecting on the nature of Mr. Tree. “Some of the guys have been with us since the start.”
Grinding accounts for about 60 percent of the business, said Wilbur. “We do a lot of storm stuff, line clearing, over wire.”
With grinders being so essential to Mr. Tree, Wilbur is happy to have three Peterson 5710D grinders in service. And he is an enthusiastic endorser of the machine.
“[The] Peterson grinders, they are by far the best grinder – the way the mill is set up,” said Wilbur. “And the service – they’re very responsive. They’ve been a great [company to work with].”
Irrespective of the type of job, Wilbur and the Mr. Tree team make certain a customer knows what to expect. “Treat every customer and their property like your own,” he said. “Make sure they are going to understand [the approach and the outcome].”
Mr. Tree is a member of ISA (International Society of Arborists) and Friends of Trees with ISA-certified arborists on staff. A tree blog at the company website provides tips on maintaining healthy trees and more.
“Working with the men in the fields,” said Wilbur, is one of the things he most enjoys about his profession. The lunch break when everyone gets to pause and compare experiences from the morning is a time he very much appreciates. Lasting ties are made.
Wilbur still works as a cutter. He said he has not been in his office more than three times in the last five years. “My pickup is my office,” he said.
That pickup is a 2018 Ford F350 crew cab fitted with saw boxes and more. “I jump job to job,” explained Wilbur. It’s important to be prepared for anything. “I carry three Stihl 661Cs with me at all times.”
Free time is a complex issue. “It’s tough,” said Wilbur. “I’m a workaholic. I like to work.” And he almost always works seven days a week.
Yet Wilbur does relish spending time with his children diving. He and the family members are Scuba-certified and they dive to look for golf balls around courses and to look at old logs.
The golf ball hunting is an old pastime for Wilbur who once did tree work around golf courses. The logs are numerous in the swamp, rivers and ponds in the region, some having fallen from rafts and some having been immersed after mills were abandoned.
Given the many facets to Mr. Tree, we wondered whether Wilbur might be looking to harvest submerged logs and capture the fiber for lumber and more. He would like to, he said. But for now, restrictions have been put in place in his region that preclude doing so. (There is concern that removing the logs will cause a disruption to the ecosystem of the body of water.) Wilbur thinks the future will bring agreement that the harvesting of lost logs can be done in an ecologically sound way. And he plans to be involved.