SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — “If you order it like this you save $9,” said Ron Rinell as he maneuvered his breakfast of eggs, ham, and a side of hollandaise sauce into position to create a delectable dish of eggs benedict. He was very happy with the meal, especially since his daughter was home from college to share breakfast with him. But he’s also very keen about getting his money’s worth, and while the eggs benedict breakfast at the world-famous Madonna Inn is delicious, having that extra $9 in your pocket makes the “self-assembled” version taste even better.
Ron could certainly afford the eggs benedict if he wanted it. He’s the owner of Bunyon Bros. Tree Service, headquartered in San Luis Obispo and serving the entire San Luis Obispo County.
Situated roughly half-way between Los Angeles and San Francisco on California’s picturesque Central Coast, San Luis Obispo (or ‘SLO’ to the locals) has something of a reputation for being the happiest town in America. Back in 1990 this was the first city in the world to ban smoking in public buildings. The downtown area is structured to promote pedestrian and bicycle traffic, a nod to the numerous biking and hiking trails in the area. All drive-thru restaurants are banned in the city, and in 2010 the smoking ban was extended to all public outdoor areas as well. Outside the city limits, there’s the Pacific Ocean to the west, mountains to the east, and vineyards all around. The local population of 47,000 love it, and the floods of tourists who visit each year seem to love it as well.
Watching Ron enjoy his breakfast while sharing stories of surfing and travel, it’s pretty easy to see he loves SLO as much as anyone. It’s certainly a great place to build an all-encompassing tree care business. Ron and his 30 employees handle everything from tree removals to land clearing, stump grinding, pruning, disease treatment, firewood, crane service, and more.
Among his fleet of machines are five Bandit hand-fed chippers and The Beast – a Model 3680 horizontal track machine that is the first to combine Bandit’s 30-tooth cuttermill with a Cat 1,050 hp diesel engine. With The Beast dialed in, he’s running chipper knives on knife cutter bodies to produce specifically sized chips for a major nationwide company specializing in playground material. Starting with whole trees, he makes the precise product his client needs in a single pass. And when other clients come calling for mulch, swapping the knives for cutting or grinding teeth is barely a 15-minute operation on the 30-tooth cutter mill.
“They want us to make chips for them for playground use,” explained Ron. “We are their source to make chips with The Beast to distribute throughout California. They want to purchase 20,000 to 30,000 yards right now, and it’s a really good, specific chip they need. This project alone was good justification to get The Beast because it would finance the machine, never mind all the clearing projects I had to turn away. We have new screens and baffles going into The Beast to make the certified chip they need, and Bandit has really helped us with the configuration to make just the right product.” And that’s the new big project Bunyon Bros. is taking on.
The company recently picked up a job for a local military base, clearing 1,000 trees in two weeks that he’ll also be tackling with The Beast. That’s in addition to daily removals and trimming projects, not to mention their work for both the city and the county — everything from parks to roadways. They are also contracted to the city, which puts them on-call 24 hours a day in case of emergencies. As a result, Bunyon Bros. is the largest tree service operation in the area. And they’re always busy.
Drought conditions drove the business in recent years. “It killed trees all over the place,” said Ron. “And now with El Nino, people are thinking they should get the big trees over their homes taken down before storms do, but they want it done right now…They’re almost angry because they have to wait.” The drought was certainly bad, although rainfall during the 2018-19 winter alleviated it after seven years.
Business has been good for Ron and his company. He’s continually added employees over the last few years, growing Bunyon Bros. into a multi-million dollar business. Part of that success is certainly due to his eye for efficiency and getting the most from his investments. He only employs the best of the best, and his philosophy for buying equipment is that he should be making 10 times the investment of the machine. That alone says something about The Beast’s earning potential for companies like Bunyon Bros. Tree Service.
The real key to Ron’s success is the same kind of determination that separates those who work to get by versus those who work to get ahead. That’s easy to understand once you hear the two-part origin story of Bunyon Bros., because it’s really something.
“I had a friend who had 7,000 acres, and his father wanted us to clear it, so we started cutting trees,” recalled Ron. “He was a professional bull rider, and his friend was also a bull rider, and I was a jock, and I had a friend who basically drank beer and cut trees. We were all sitting around the barbeque one evening, just bragging it up, comparing ourselves to ‘our brother’ Paul Bunyan and arguing about where he was originally from. We’d had a few drinks and were really getting steamed with each other when one of the guys said, ‘You each say you’re Paul Bunyan’s brother? I guess that makes you the Bunyan brothers.’ And that’s when Bunyon (with an O) Brothers Tree Service was born.”
As neat as that story is, the Bunyon Bros. of today stems from a very different set of circumstances. “I was young and dumb,” Ron said of his early days. “The guys and I dissipated for a while, and I got in some trouble. I turned it around, went to school, got a degree in international business, but when companies found out about my past, I couldn’t get a job. I’d sold all the tree equipment I’d had and I swore I wasn’t going back, but I bought the equipment back and opened my own business. I got a contractor license and went legit with the company in 2000. At that point I was basically homeless, but I had nothing else.”
Working as the sole person behind the company, Ron gradually built Bunyon Bros. to the company it is today. For the longest time he ran chippers from a different manufacturer until one of his climbers talked up the benefits of Bandit. Ron bought his first Bandit chipper in 2012 and has been relying on the company since then.
“I really like the support team from Bandit,” said Ron. “The customer service is great. The designs are great, too. We had problems on the other chippers with the throat being too large; there was too much space between the feed wheels and the drum and the brush wouldn’t feed right. I also like the four knives on the Model 1590 as opposed to the two-knife setup on others. And I love my Model 1890 – it grabs material right away, and it has 225 horsepower on a single axle with dual wheels. For transporting around these parts, double-axle machines are just too long. That makes a big difference in towing.”
With his breakfast cravings satisfied and a few phone calls answered, Ron headed off to work at a company he didn’t expect to build, in a field he didn’t want to be a part of. But in his words, it all turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
“Here I am almost 20 years later, living in the happiest place in the nation with a multi-million dollar business and an awesome daughter. Life is good!”