THEODORE, Alabama — When storms strike, that’s when Hauling Away LLC goes to work. A contracting business that specializes in removing debris from storms and other disasters, it recently added a Ponsse Cobra harvester to increase versatility in cleaning up damaged trees.
Hauling Away is owned and operated by Nick and Sara Pratt. Sarah is a 51 percent owner, so the business is a certified Women’s Business Enterprise and Women Owned Small Business. She runs the company office while Nick oversees day-to-day operations.
“I make sure everything is up and running,” said Nick, 39.
The business is based in Theodore, Alabama, a small town adjacent to the southern tip of Mobile, only a couple of miles from Mobile Bay. The company has a shop and office, a large storage facility, and another building dedicated to housing cranes. It also has a 30-acre site where it can haul wood debris to be processed by grinding. The company currently employs 54 people, although that is subject to change depending on contracts and the demand for services.
“We do disaster clean-up,” said Nick, “so we’re constantly moving places.”
Hauling Away’s services include trucking, debris removal, marine debris removal, grinding, and more. Other services include replenishing beaches with sand, demolition, temporary flood control, site management, procurement, and management and consulting.
The company has 40-50 pieces of heavy equipment, mainly Cat and John Deere excavators and wheel loaders, as well as a fleet of 36 trucks. For example, Hauling Away is equipped with numerous Cat 330 and 335 excavators. The company also has three Diamond Z grinders: a model 7000 horizontal track grinder and two model 1463 trailer-mounted tub grinders.
The inventory of equipment includes specialty trailers, trucks, barges, and various support equipment. Hauling Away assembles its own specialty trucks and offers services to build custom trucks. The company also is a dealership for Rotobec grapples.
Nick and Sara launched their company in 2011. Their business has close ties to another company, CrowderGulf. Headquartered in Mobile and with satellite offices in five other Southern states, CrowderGulf specializes in providing disaster recovery services throughout the U.S. Services include removing debris and coastal restoration. CrowderGulf has helped communities and local governments recover from some of the worst disasters in the U.S., ranging from hurricanes and tornadoes to the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill and more.
Nick has worked as a project manager for CrowderGulf and now is director of operations in addition to overseeing Hauling Away. In addition, Hauling Away is the primary debris removal contractor for Crowder Gulf.
About 50 percent of Hauling Away contracts are for removing and hauling debris, estimated Nick. Land-clearing and clearing or cleaning up marine areas account for most of the company’s remaining business.
“We do a lot of right-of-way clearing,” said Nick, “and removing debris out of ditches.” The work consists of mainly clearing these areas of downed and damaged trees caused by disasters, like storms and flooding. It could be a right-of-way for a road or a utility line. A typical job may be 10-20 acres to clean up.
“Just about everything we do is related to some kind of storm,” added Nick.
Nick invested in a Ponsse 8-wheel Cobra harvester five months ago from Equipment Linc Inc., but he already had experience with Ponsse. Hauling Away has owned two Ponsse forwarders, an 8-wheel Buffalo machine and a 6-wheel Buffalo machine, for several years.
The company specially modified the forwarders, essentially equipping them with an open-top trailer for hauling debris.
Nick has experienced “a lot of success” with his Ponsse forwarders, said Cameron Ernest, a sales representative for Equipment Linc. “He really wanted the harvester. When he got the right job that required it, that’s when he bought it.”
Nick has been using excavators, some with Rotobec grapple saws or other specialty attachments, to remove damaged trees. He decided to add the Ponsse Cobra because it was a “good fit” for a job. Since he already had a relationship with Ponsse and Equipment Linc, he did not consider other brands of cut-to-length harvesters. “I like the Ponsse,” said Nick. “It’s very smooth to operate, and it’s a very durable machine. The resale value is good on them. They don’t have a lot of downtime, either.”
The Ponsse machine has distinct advantages over a typical excavator in some work settings, noted Cameron. In Nick’s case, the Ponsse could work faster and get more work done than an excavator while at the same time leaving less of a mark. Cleaning up downed trees in a neighborhood, for example, a track excavator can damage curbs and sidewalks and tear up lawns. The Ponsse Cobra harvester, moving on wheels and exerting less ground pressure, eliminates those kinds of damage. In addition, The Ponsse Cobra harvester has a longer reach with its telescoping boom. “An excavator is not nearly as versatile as the Ponsse,” noted Cameron.
“I think he’s ecstatic with it,” added Cameron. “It’s exceeding his expectations.”
Hauling Away also does clean-up and debris removal work in sensitive areas, such as golf courses and parks, noted Cameron. “In those applications (the Ponsse) would be the preferred method for tree removal.”
Equipment Linc is located in Maplesville, Alabama, and is a dealer for forestry, agricultural, and commercial equipment. The company is an authorized dealer for Ponsse, Barko, CSI, Rotobec, Chambers Delimbinator, EcoTracks, CSI, and Big John Trailers, among others.
Ponsse promotes the Cobra harvester as a versatile machine that can work efficiently in varying conditions, from thinning to clear-cutting. It is a durable, economic machine. The Cobra features an accurate, easy-to-use crane, good balance, an efficient working pump and powerful 6-cylinder engine. The Cobra is powered by a Mercedes-Benz 280 hp engine, and the hydraulic system features Ponsse’s OptiControl. The operator cab is spacious and comfortable; it features ergonomic controls to work in comfort and the Ponsse Opti information system for managing the machine and work. The machine can be matched with one of several Ponsse harvester heads and two crane options.
Ponsse, based in Finland and with global operations, specializes in manufacturing cut-to-length logging machines and harvester attachments. The company’s North American headquarters is in Rhinelander, Wisconsin. (For more information about Ponsse machines, visit www.ponsse.com or call its Rhinelander office at (715) 369-4833.)
The Ponsse Cobra was at work on a project at the time Nick was interviewed for this article. It was working to remove storm-damaged timber on about 20 acres. At least one of the Ponsse forwarders also was on the same job, and an excavator was on the site to remove stumps.
Stumps normally are put directly into a Diamond Z 463 tub grinder, said Nick. They do not need to be split or sheared into smaller pieces before grinding.
There usually is not much of a market for the wood grindings generated by a debris removal contract, so they typically go to a landfill to be used for cover material. “A lot of times when a storm happens, the wood market gets saturated,” noted Nick, “and there’s nothing you can do with it. It doesn’t have good value.”
Nick praised his employees. “We have a lot of excellent guys who are able to go out and perform,” he said.
“We do not have very much turnover,” he added. “I just think that’s a good sign of our success, that we don’t have much turnover.” He attributed the company’s ability to retain employees to a “good working environment.” Hauling Away offers employees a 401(k) retirement savings plan and health insurance.
In his spare time Nick has several boats and enjoys boating and fishing, freshwater and saltwater.