DUNN, North Carolina — Sherrill Sewell has expanded the business and changed things up since he bought his father’s logging company, but one thing has remained the same: Peterson drum chippers.
Sherrill is a third generation logger. “I honestly never considered any other career,” he said. After working for his father for more than 20 years and moving into a management role, he bought the company when his father decided to retire. His father, Sherrill Sewell Sr., who is in his late 70s, remains somewhat involved in the business and still goes out to the logging job each day.
The company shop is located in Dunn in southeast North Carolina, while Sherrill keeps an office in his home. Custom Logging mainly works within a 40-mile radius of Dunn and cuts predominantly pine. The terrain in the region is relatively flat although some tracts may have wet areas.
Custom Logging has 17 employees. It operates one crew, and all the equipment stays on the same job nearly all the time. The company averages about 125 loads of wood per week, or about 3,500 tons. “We have equipment to log in any conditions,” said Sherrill. “Our crew is set up to do whatever is necessary.”
Custom Logging has not always done chipping. “We expanded into chipping around six years ago,” said Sherrill. “It was the best thing I ever did.” He started an affiliated business to buy timber and sell wood at about the same time.
Sherrill also added an affiliated heavy-haul trucking business. “The main objective is to have it available to move our equipment at a moment’s notice without having to interfere with the log trucks,” he explained.
Custom Logging produces in-woods chips, not ‘clean’ pulp and paper chips. “Our number one market is Enviva,” said Sherrill, the wood fuel pellet manufacturer. Custom Logging is one of the top producers of chips for Enviva. “We try to stay within 60 miles of either the Sampson or Hamlet plant at all times and haul chips to them.” The Enviva mill in Sampson County is located less than 40 miles southeast, near Faison; the Hamlet plant is located about 80 miles southwest, near Rockingham.
“We chip all residual material,” said Sherrill. “We try to keep our tracts as neat and clean as possible. We have little to no residual waste.”
Sherrill has relied on Peterson chippers since he added chipping operations. “I have always had Peterson chippers from the start,” he said. “Their customer service is the best. Peterson makes a really durable machine to work on.” The company’s current Peterson chippers were bought to replace older Peterson machines.
Peterson Pacific Corp., the long-time, Oregon-based forestry equipment manufacturer, officially rebranded earlier this year to align with its parent company, Astec.
Astec was founded as a small business manufacturing asphalt mixing and paving equipment in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in 1972. It was known for innovation and had many successful initiatives throughout the years. As Astec enjoyed steady success over time, the company acquired nearly 20 subsidiary brands across the forestry, road building, aggregate, and other industries.
Astec entered the forestry industry with its acquisition of Peterson in 2007. Since then Astec has continued to grow the forestry equipment product lines, manufacturing complete industry-leading systems, including horizontal grinders, disc and drum chippers, debarkers, and blower trucks and trailers.
Astec chippers can be used for producing biomass from logs and other wood material and for other forestry-related applications, such as processing residual materials from sawmills and other wood products manufacturing facilities, salvage timber operations, plantation tree rotation, and producing pulp and paper industry chips.
Astec horizontal grinders also can be used to recycle scrap pallets, used railroad ties, wood material from land-clearing operations, and similar wood debris, processing it into revenue-generating products and at the same time diverting wood material from landfills.
The many Astec subsidiary brands, like Peterson, operated under their original company names and with a decentralized business model until this year. All the subsidiaries now are united under the Astec brand name.
Custom Logging is equipped with two Astec drum chippers — a 2021 Astec Peterson 4310 track chipper and a 2019 Astec Peterson 4300B chipper.
The Astec Peterson 4310B track drum chipper is designed and built for producing high volumes of biomass from a wide variety of feed stock material. The machines, powered by a Caterpillar 755 hp C18 Tier IV engine, can chip brush and other woody material and logs up to 24 inches in diameter.
The Astec Peterson 4310B drum chipper utilizes a 36-inch diameter by 44-¾-inch wide drum with either six or 12 knife pockets. Traditional Babbitt type knife systems are standard equipment. Chip length can be set from 1/8-inch to 1¼-inch, depending on rotor and knife configuration.
Astec Peterson knife assemblies are manufactured from the highest quality alloy chromium steel for uniform production of wood chips with a high percentage of accepted chips and minimal losses. The drum chipper grate system provides consistent chip sizing. The 4300 drum chippers come standard with a six pocket drum rotor with one babbitted knife per pocket. A 12-pocket drum rotor is available for producing microchips. Two discharge spouts are available on all drum chippers: an end-load spout to fill top-closed trailer vans and a top-load discharge for emptying into open top trailers.
Horizontal grinders and drum chippers are two of the top forestry equipment lines produced by Astec Peterson. The company offers a wide range of models with various sizes and capacities, including portable and mobile versions. Applications for these machines include land clearing, recycling organic and waste wood, and producing chips for the pulp and paper industry, feedstock for the wood fuel pellet industry, mulch and related products, and biomass.
A significant advantage of Astec Peterson grinders and chippers is the impact release and impact cushion system. These features protect the machine by removing contaminated or uncrushable material that could otherwise cause damage and allow for non-stop grinding, decreasing downtime. The impact release system technology, which saves contractors time and money, is unique to Astec equipment.
(For more information about Astec Peterson machinery and equipment, visit www.astecindustries.com or contact your nearest Astec Peterson dealer.)
Astec Peterson or Simonds knives are used on the chippers, and Sherrill sends them to a New Jersey company, U.S. Blade, for resharpening.
Sherrill purchased the Astec Peterson chippers from Gregory Poole Equipment Co., which also represents Caterpillar. “I really like dealing with Gregory Poole mainly because of Collie Wallace,” said Sherrill. Collie, a sales representative, has known him since Sherrill was a boy.
Collie, 73, has been an equipment salesman since 1973. A native of Alabama, he has been around the forest products industry since he was a teenager. His father and an uncle owned a sawmill together and his father later operated wood yards, including one that Collie managed when he was in his early 20s.
Collie, who has worked for three different equipment dealers in his career, began doing business with Sherrill’s father when Sherrill was a teenager.
Wood markets in eastern North Carolina are “very stable,” noted Collie. Healthy export markets for cut-to-length pine and hardwood logs have helped his customers for about the past 15 years. The strongest export markets currently are in Europe.
Enviva’s pellet mills also have been a boon for loggers in the region. “That’s a very, very important market,” observed Collie, who noted that Enviva has four mills in the region. Enviva’s wood fuel pellets are also exported to Europe.
Gregory Poole Equipment has 10 locations in southeast North Carolina, and Custom Logging is located near some of them, “so getting parts is easy,” added Sherrill.
Custom Logging is equipped with John Deere machines for its timber harvesting operations, including tree loaders, three feller-bunchers, and four skidders. A Cat bulldozer and excavator are used for building roads and other site preparation tasks.
The trucking unit has 10 Kenworth semi-tractors, 15 Peerless chip vans, eight Pitts log trailers, and seven low-boy trailers.
Custom Logging supplies chip-and-saw and pine logs to a Georgia-Pacific mill in Dudley as well as pine logs to Lampe and Malphrus Lumber Co. in Smithfield, hauls of less than 40 miles. Hardwood saw logs are supplied to Turn Bull Lumber Co. in Elizabeth City, a haul of nearly 200 miles one-way; low-grade hardwood logs are delivered to a wood yard in Centerville for Smoke House Lumber Co., which produces silt fence stakes and firewood and has an affiliated pallet business.
At the time Sherrill shared information about his company, Custom Logging was working to clear-cut an old growth tract of about 50 percent hardwoods and 50 percent pine.
Sherrill, who is a member of the Carolina Loggers Association and is a ProLogger certified by the North Carolina Forestry Association, has a stable group of employees. “We don’t have a lot of turnover,” he said.
Sherrill and his wife, Miranda, have three children: Maggie, 19, Sadie, 17, and Jack, 15. All three teens help in some aspect of the business. Maggie and Sadie both help with invoicing and bookkeeping for the trucking business, and Jack helps on logging jobs as he is available.