WHITING, Maine – Scuba diving for scallops drew Gary Gilpatrick to Maine a long time ago, but these days he makes a living from forest products – logging, lumber, and firewood.
He does it with the help of three well-known suppliers to the forest products industry – Timberwolf, the manufacturer of firewood processors and splitters; Go Fast Manufacturing, which makes equipment for the sawmill and pallet industries; and Wood-Mizer, known for its line of portable band sawmills.
Gary grew up in the Atlanta area, where he also operated a firewood business, although it was quite different. He had a connection to Maine, however. His father originally was from Washington County, Maine, but found himself stationed in Georgia during World War II. He wound up marrying a Georgia woman and spent two years in the Pacific theater and survived after earning a Purple Heart. His wife didn’t care for Maine winters, so after the war they lived and raised their family in Georgia.
Gary connected with Maine while he was in the Navy and learned scuba diving. When he was on leave he would go to Maine and scuba dive for scallops. He realized he could make good money diving for scallops if he could get his foot in the door. The work was seasonal, though, so when he relocated to Maine later he also worked for a logging contractor for about 25 years.
At 72, Gary doesn’t scuba dive for scallops anymore; he gave it up in 1999. He has had his own small logging business for many years as well as a firewood business. He added his Wood-Mizer sawmill several years ago and began cutting lumber. Gary is “probably doing a lot more than I should be.”
His wood yard, firewood operations and sawmill are set up adjacent to his home, which is alongside U.S. 1 in Whiting, a small community in Washington County. It is the easternmost county in the U.S. and is nicknamed the Sunrise County.
Gary operates his firewood business year-round, complementing it with logging and cutting lumber on the Wood-Mizer. He also plows snow. His company, Gilpatrick’s Firewood & Logging, sells 500-1,000 cords of cut, split firewood annually.
Gary has one employee, Dustin Smith, who has worked for him for about 10-12 years. Dustin works with him in the logging and firewood operations, and when those segments of the business are slow, he operates the sawmill.
“We’re very busy all the time,” said Gary.
Gary sells firewood retail to home-owners throughout most of Washington County. He also supplies 40-50 cords of firewood per year to the Cobscook Institute, which operates an alternative high school, among other things.
Gary makes deliveries as far away as Princeton to the north and Gouldsboro to the south and west; each is about 50-55 miles away. He charges a little more for deliveries to Gouldsboro because of the distance – which is a little longer – and the added cost.
About 95 percent of Gary’s firewood product is hardwood – maples, yellow birch, and some oak. For some commercial customers he supplies tamarack, also known as American larch and other types of larch and commonly referred to in Maine as hackmatack. It is a deciduous conifer – a softwood tree that sheds its needles in winter. “It has a lot of heat value,” noted Gary, “almost as much BTU as soft maple.” At the same time, it is a low-value species, so it is a cheaper source of raw material. Besides harvesting firewood logs in his logging operations, Gary also buys firewood logs from other contractors – as many as two truckloads per week.
Gary bought a Timberwolf firewood processor in 2001 – a 1999 model with only about 1,100 hours of service. It produces the same amount of firewood as when he bought it 20 years ago, he said. It has a three-strand live log deck and can handle logs up to 30 feet long. He has refurbished the firewood processor over the years as needed, doing some of the work himself and hiring a local mechanic at times for some jobs, like replacing an engine. It is currently equipped with a John Deere 70 hp diesel engine. “It’s been a great processor,” said Gary. “I still deal with Timberwolf. They’ve been great to deal with.”
The Timberwolf, using a hydraulic-powered bar saw for bucking, produces 1-1-½ cords of firewood per hour, or about 6-8 in a day. It is set up with a Timberwolf conveyor so the firewood falls into the conveyor and is top-loaded into one of his delivery trucks. If a truck is not available to be staged under the conveyor, the processor is set up adjacent to a concrete loading ramp and bin, and the firewood can be pushed with a Bobcat skid steer into the bin.
The processor is set up outdoors, but Gary built a roof over it to keep the rain and snow off the operator. Space heaters keep the operator warm in the winter.
Although the Timberwolf machine can process logs up to 25-26 inches in diameter, Gary prefers to use smaller logs to avoid having to resplit material. Logs typically are specified at 25-26 feet long and 6 inches at the top and 14 inches at the butt.
(For more information about Timberwolf firewood processors, splitters, and other equipment, visit www.timberwolfequip.com.)
Gary also does good business supplying firewood to people who camp at the nearby Cobscook Bay State Park. His fiancée, Sally, handles those customers. Campers stop by Gary’s place of business, which is visible from U.S. 1. “We get a lot of customers from there,” said Gary.
For this segment of business Gary invested in a firewood bundling machine from Go Fast Manufacturing last year after experimenting with bagging firewood for campers. One person operating the machine and loading it with firewood can produce about one bundle per minute, according to Gary. Firewood is loaded into a wheeled container that is staged next to the machine. The clear plastic wrap clings to the wood as it is wrapped under pressure.
There are several other companies that manufacture firewood bundling equipment, and Gary compared different ones by watching videos on YouTube. The Go Fast unit features an electric motor with a commercial gearbox to wrap bundles at the appropriate speed.
The wrap cycle on the standard Go Fast machine is 13 seconds. It uses 12-inch-long tubes of stretch wrap and can produce bundles 10-24 inches long and up to 10 inches tall. Go Fast can customize the machine for the length of stretch wrap, wrapping speed, and bundle size.
Go Fast, which manufactures equipment for the pallet and sawmill industries, also offers a multi-head trim saw for cutting slab material to firewood length.
(For more information about Go Fast and its product line, visit www.gofastmfg.com.)
Gary invested in his Wood-Mizer LT50 portable sawmill a little more than four years ago. The LT50 is one of the models in Wood-Mizer’s series of hydraulic sawmills. It is designed for high production with advanced hydraulic log handling, fast powered head controls, board return, Accuset® 2 computer setworks, chain log turner, and much more. Powered by a gas or diesel engine or 3-phase electric power, it can cut logs up to 36 inches in diameter and 21 feet long. Production is up to 700 board feet per hour, according to Wood-Mizer.
“It’s a great unit,” said Gary, who chose a Yanmar diesel engine to power the sawmill. Gary also buys his blades from Wood-Mizer and sends them to Wood-Mizer for resharpening. “And they do a good job.”
He decided to add the sawmill because he was harvesting a lot of white cedar, which is plentiful in Maine, but mills were not offering good prices for the logs. “I can get a lot more money for the wood by milling it into lumber,” said Gary. He also cuts some bird’s eye maple and tiger maple.
“It complements the business,” he noted. “If business is slow we can saw lumber. It’s proven to be a great thing.” He has mainly been using it to cut rough 1×4 and 1×6 lumber and some 2×4. He is considering buying attachments from Wood-Mizer that will enable the mill to produce lap siding and shingles.
(For more information about Wood-Mizer sawmills, visit www.woodmizer.com.)
Originally he was going to sell the mill’s production wholesale to a company in northern Maine, but he changed plans. “There’s so much business here for local retail lumber,” said Gary.
Lumber prices have escalated during the pandemic, he noted. He sells mainly to contractors and subcontractors who are doing small jobs as well as homeowners for do-it-yourself projects. His lumber business has grown entirely by referrals and word-of-mouth.
Gary has a few firewood customers who come by with a trailer or truck to pick up their own firewood, but he discourages it because loading a customer takes time away from running the firewood processor.
He has two trucks for making deliveries. While one is out delivering firewood, the other is set up under a conveyor that carries finished firewood and top-loads it into the truck. By the time the delivery truck is back, the other one is about full.
Each truck is a small dump truck. One holds two cords, and the other holds three. One truck is equipped to unload one cord, two, or all three. “It saves time, fuel, and money.”
Gary even sells end pieces, chunks of wood. It is tossed into metal baskets and sold by the basket. He used to package the chunks in bags, but it was too time consuming.
The firewood business in Washington County has grown, observed Gary. When he bought his Timberwolf machine 20 years ago, there were only about 4-5 firewood processors in the county, he said. Now there are 15-20, he estimated.
Nevertheless, his demand for firewood has continued steadily. “Our phone rings off the hook,” he said. “We sell firewood year-round.”
Gary logs on a relatively small scale. A 40-acre woodlot is a typical job. In fact, he hasn’t cut any in the last year, citing “issues with labor.” On small woodlots he may buy the overstory or larger timber and firewood timber. Markets for logs include a large pulp and paper mill in Baileyville, which is a little less than 40 miles north. There also are several sawmills in Washington County.
Gary normally hires subcontractors to cut his woodlots. He has a 1984 John Deere 540B cable skidder to skid the logs to a landing and usually hires someone to operate it. “We keep it up,” he said. “It does a good job.”
At the landing, he has a Western Star truck with a loader on it to stack the logs and load them on trailers. He also uses the truck and loader in his wood yard to unload trucks.
Cable skidders “are a dying breed in Maine,” acknowledged Gary, because a lot of loggers have transitioned to cut-to-length machines.
Gary makes good use of his residual materials. He chops up slabs from the sawmill and sells it for kindling wood. He recently contracted to sell his sawdust to a company that mixes it with waste fish material from processing ‘farmed’ salmon and processes the mixture into fertilizer.
Like his father, Gary is an out-doorsman. He has done a lot of hunting and fishing over the years, but he has largely given up hunting to focus on fishing for smallmouth bass and trout. “I really enjoy bass fishing,” said Gary, having grown up in the South and fished for bass. There are a lot of lakes in Washington County, he noted. Gary has a bass boat. “Every chance I get, I’m going bass fishing.”
One thing that has been impressed on Gary doing business over the years is customer relations. “You’ve got to consider that the customer is always right,” he said. “The customer is the base of your business. Anytime a customer has a problem, I make sure they’re satisfied. They’re going to pass on their experience to the next person. You’ll eventually prosper if you treat people that way and make them satisfied.”