SOUTH LONDONDERRY, Vermont — Hunter Kaltsas started his contracting business with plenty of ambition and enthusiasm, and his company has evolved and grown since then. His newest business strategy has him changing over from chipping to grinding with the aid of a new horizontal grinder from Peterson Pacific, a move that has enabled his company to recycle wood debris and produce mulch to generate a new revenue stream.
Hunter’s business consists of three entities: Hunter Timber Harvesting, Hunter Excavating, and Hunter Transport, a trucking company. The companies operate out of two repair shops and an office in South Londonderry in southern Vermont. Hunter also operates a yard where contractors can unload wood material. His business also owns and operates a rock quarry, and it operates and manages a 600-acre sand and gravel pit.
The excavating business accounts for about 70 percent of revenues, and timber harvesting and trucking for the remaining 30 percent. In peak season the three companies employ up to about 50 people, and out of season, about 30-35. Currently, five people work in the logging company, about 20 in the excavation business, and 10 in the trucking unit. In addition, three mechanics work in the shops, and three people staff the office.
Hunter Timber Harvesting is equipped with a TimberPro 745C track feller buncher, two John Deere grapple skidders, two Cat 559 knuckleboom loaders with slashers, and the new Peterson 2710D track horizontal grinder. The grinder was purchased from Barry Equipment along with a Doosan 225 LL forestry excavator, which is used to feed material to the Peterson machine. The logging crew also has a John Deere 270 excavator with a Nye stump shear, a Komatsu 200 excavator with a mulching attachment, and other forestry-related attachments.
Hunter Excavating is equipped with about 15 excavating machines, three bulldozers, four bucket loaders, and mobile rock crushing and screening equipment. The trucking unit is equipped with about 10 tractor-trailers and dump trucks.
Hunter, 40, started his first business while he was a student at University of Vermont, where he graduated with a degree from the school of natural resources and also was captain of the university’s alpine ski team. “I started from nothing,” he recalled, in 2005.
He previously operated a small tree service business for a couple of years.
He explained how he got interested in excavation work and having his own business. “I was given a unique opportunity to help a friend,” said Hunter. His friend had a contract to convert some forest land to a meadow. He asked Hunter to run a bulldozer to help remove stumps and grade the site.
“I had never run a piece of equipment before,” he said. “He gave me the opportunity, and I fell in love with it. I knew that’s what I wanted to do.” It was the summer before he would attend the University of Vermont.
He launched Hunter Excavation while at the university that first year and operated it until he graduated. “Every Friday I was driving two hours to go home and work all weekend,” he recalled.
Hunter was a little older than other freshmen because he had taken off two years after high school to train for the U.S. alpine ski team. “I was a little older, more mature and focused.” In retrospect, it probably was a good thing given the hectic schedule and responsibilities he had as a student, a member of the university ski team, and operating a business. “I’m pretty happy with what I created,” said Hunter. “I think it was all worth it.”
He added the logging business after hiring his first employee as a way to keep working through the winter, when excavation work slowed. “Logging started off extremely slow,” recalled Hunter. They performed “super selective, high-value logging,” felling timber by hand with chain saws. Hunter invested in a Clark Ranger cable skidder to get the logs out of the woods.
The trucking operations that grew and evolved with the company were formally organized as a separate business unit in 2019.
Hunter Excavating does a lot of land-clearing jobs for new construction and also converting forests to meadows and constructing trails. “All of the companies sort of dovetail together,” noted Hunter. We’re able to use the logging equipment on land-clearing jobs to expedite the tree removal process.” The construction projects associated with land-clearing contracts range from building one home to a neighborhood of 10 homes, a new business building or a school. A typical land-clearing contract ranges from 1 acre to 30 acres.
The feller buncher is always used to remove trees on land-clearing jobs — even for as few as 10 trees. “The feller buncher is so safe and fast,” noted Hunter. After trying a few harvesting machines, he settled on the TimberPro 745C from Anderson Equipment in Albany, New York. “Anderson Equipment has been very supportive in our equipment lineup development,” said Hunter. “I am not exclusive to machine brand labels. I study and demo the features and capabilities of machines and how we anticipate to exploit those for positive revenue generation.” On a big job, if the volume of wood justifies it, the crew will use a skidder and loader-slasher.
After the trees are felled, the excavator uses the Nye stump shear to shear the stumps into 5-10 pieces. A rake attachment is used by an excavator, the Doosan or a Komatsu PC200, to collect the wood and keep it free of dirt and rocks.
Logging jobs range from removing a few hazardous trees near a house to bidding on timber sale contracts on the Green Mountain National Forest or state forest lands. Hunter buys standing timber and also contracts to harvest timber for mills in the region. He also harvests some timber on land he has purchased. “We’re doing it all,” he said. “We’re not locked into one mill.” He has built relationships with a handful of consulting foresters who provide forest management services for their clients. Hunter’s employees currently are busy building roads and landings to begin harvesting timber on the Green Mountain National Forest this winter.
The dominant hardwood species in the region are sugar maple, beech, ash, and other northern hardwoods. The dominant softwoods are white pine, spruce, and hemlock. The terrain is mountainous, steep and riddled with rocks and boulders.
Hunter has good markets for wood. Hardwood pulp is supplied to the Finch Paper mill in Glens Falls, New York, while hardwood saw logs are supplied to Allard Lumber in Brattleboro, Vermont. Low-grade softwood goes to Vermont Wood Pellet in Clarendon, Vermont, and softwood saw logs are supplied to Mill River Lumber, which has Vermont sawmills in Clarendon and Wallingford. Mill prices are “fair and holding,” reported Hunter.
Hunter previously owned a whole tree chipper, but he decided to switch to grinding for several reasons. He could eliminate undesired burning of the byproduct of logging operations. Instead, he could process that unused, unmarketable material into a product, wood mulch. Mulch products can be used for landscaping, trail restoration, stream bank stabilization, organic soil amendments, and other applications. “We are excited about the opportunities in wood mulch,” said Hunter. “There really was never a secure market for the chips. We generate so much wood debris, the grinder seemed to be the right tool. With the chipper, we could only chip clean tops and other clean wood. The grinder can process stumps, chunks of wood, and other debris.”
He traded in the chipper on the purchase of the Peterson grinder and the excavator from Barry Equipment.
“We use the grinder everywhere,” said Hunter, on land-clearing jobs as well as logging jobs.”
Hunter established a wood yard on 13 acres and this year began taking wood debris from other contractors. The Peterson machine also works in the yard, grinding wood material into mulch. “We’re grinding and piling and blending and mixing,” said Hunter. In the spring he will begin selling mulch to landscape contractors.
Hunter bought the Peterson machine in August. He had narrowed down his buying decision to Peterson and one other manufacturer. He was aware that Peterson had a reputation.
“Peterson…has always been known as a good company for grinders and chippers,” he said. “They make extremely high-end, well-built equipment,” he added.
He was referred to Peterson and Barry Equipment by a salesman for a company that manufactures rock crushing and screening equipment. Hunter credited Brian Moore, a representative for Barry Equipment, with providing him with detailed information about Peterson and its products.
“One thing that really caught my attention,” said Hunter, “was Peterson has an air bag system that protects the machine from rocks and other contaminants. The air bag system intervenes so the machine doesn’t self-destruct. Not knowing anything about grinders, knowing they had that feature…that was pretty attractive.”
Hunter has been using the machine “steady” since he received it. “It’s bouncing back and forth,” between logging and land clearing jobs, “and we also use it in the yard.”
“It’s performed very, very well,” he said. “There were a few challenges at first. “It’s really an awesome machine. It’s performed very well for what we need.”
The Peterson machine has performed “beyond my expectations,” added Hunter.
Barry Equipment provided training and support for the start-up process. “Barry Equipment has been extremely supportive to be there every step of the way,” said Hunter, both for on-site support and over-the-phone assistance. “They’ve been phenomenal.”
At the time Hunter was interviewed for this article, the Peterson machine was grinding in the yard, doing a primary grime of stumps and other wood debris. The Doosan 225 forestry excavator, equipped with a Rotobec grapple saw, feeds the grinder. “That thing’s awesome,” said Hunter.
The Peterson machine has four screens or grates to produce wood grindings of various sizes. “That’s one thing I like about that grinder,” said Hunter, “the efficiency of changing out the screens. They did a very good job of making it pretty quick to change the screens.”
The Peterson 2710D horizontal grinder is designed for high production and frequent moves between jobs. It is available with either a Cat Tier IV 580 or 755 hp engine. The feed opening is 60 inches wide by 32 inches high; when boosted by the high lift feed roll, the feed opening’s maximum lift is 44 inches, among the highest in its class.
Peterson grinders utilize a three-stage process to produce accurately sized, consistent finished products. The large grate area and quick-change multiple grate system enable production of a wide-ranging size and type of material; grates are removed through an easy-access door on the side wall.
Peterson grinders have several features to protect the grinding chamber. Airbags hold the anvil assembly in place; the air pressure can be adjusted according to the type of material that is being processed in order to cushion against impacts. The machines feature urethane cushions and shear pins to protect the machine from catastrophic damage from rocks and other contaminants. In addition, they feature a patented system to eject contaminants to reduce or eliminate damage to the grinding chamber.
Peterson machines are equipped with the Parker IQAN system as the main computer processor and control system platform. The IQAN controls monitor machine inputs and outputs while controlling machine functions. Peterson horizontal grinders can operate material feed and track via remote control.
Peterson offers more than a dozen models of horizontal grinders of various sizes and capacities, including track machines, towable units, and stationary electric models. Based in Oregon, Peterson also manufactures disc and drum chippers, flails, screens, stackers and blower trucks.
(For more information about Peterson equipment or to locate a dealer, visit www.petersoncorp.com or call (800) 269-6520.)
Barry Equipment Co. is a family owned and operated equipment dealership serving contractors throughout New England and New York from its facility in Webster, Massachusetts. It represents manufactures of heavy equipment for construction, forestry, recycling, and biomass. The company provides full service on-site repair capabilities as well as a staff of service technicians equipped with trucks and advanced diagnostic tools to support customers in the field. (For more information, visit www.barryequipment.com.)
To attract contractors and build up a supply of wood material, the first year of operating the yard Hunter has not charged any tipping fees. The strategy has worked, and he has accumulated plenty of wood in his yard. He will institute a tipping fee in 2021.
The grinder has opened up some other opportunities. Hunter has done some grinding for a company that makes compost, and he also is experimenting with re-grinding to make animal bedding.
Hunter estimates projects and prepares bids for new jobs. He also oversees projects with other management staff as well as transporting equipment and setting up jobs and repairs and maintenance of equipment. “I wear a lot of different hats,” he said.
Hunter has worked to create a business culture that gives employees “a good family team environment,” he said. “We definitely have created a culture of hard work for sure. Most guys aren’t here just to collect a paycheck. They’re here to help grow the company.” Benefits include paid vacation and holidays for eligible employees.
In his free time Hunter enjoys spending time with his wife and two little boys, Maddox, 5, and Kingston, 3. “I love to be outside…in and around the woods, working, hiking, hanging out with my family.” He also takes the boys to the yard with him to let them see the equipment in operation.