Delimbinator makes its West Coast debut

Logger Randy Pew feeds logs into the “delimbinator,” a machine that can delimb and debark several logs at a time. Pew demonstrated the machine’s capabilities to representatives from the Forest Service and the timber industry June 5. Photo by Debra Moore

  Forest Service personnel and timber industry leaders gathered June 5 just north of Graeagle to get their first look at the “delimbinator” — a device that can delimb a grapple full of logs at one time.

  According to Greenville logger Randy Pew, this is the first machine of its kind to operate west of the Mississippi and it is pivotal to the success of his family’s latest business venture.

  His son, Jared, has started a new logging company, J&C Enterprises. While the younger Pew is still bidding traditional logging jobs, he is also working with his father on the new venture, which involves the delimbinator.

  The goal is to remove biomass from the forest and turn it into firewood — but not in the traditional way.

  Logs would be stripped of their limbs, cut into 8-foot or 16-foot lengths and then bundled into half-cords.

  The bundles could be lifted into the back of a pickup truck with a standard grapple and driven to a home. Firewood can be cut without ever untying the bundle.

  Since the logs are from 3 inches to 8 inches in diameter, there is no need to split it further, though Randy Pew said he is aware that some people are used to working with split wood.

  “It catches fire more easily, but it burns more quickly,” Pew said of split wood. He estimated that rounds would burn 20 percent more slowly.

  “The basic idea is that nobody has to handle the wood until it goes in the stove,” he said.

  The Pews call these bundles Z-cords.

  Pew said that the family was discussing the new project around the table one evening, when his 13-year-old grandson, Zack, said, “You should call it Zack-cord.” And Z-cord was born.

  The Pews’ Z-cords take the guesswork out of what comprises a cord or half cord, since each is measured and bundled.

  The half-cords would come in 8-foot lengths, which allows for six 16-inch cuts.

  Pew said that several people have already ordered the bundles. To get more information, call J&C Enterprises at 258-7702.

  Pew thinks there is enormous potential and referenced the 6,000 cords he pulled out of the footprint of the Moonlight Fire four years after the burn.

  “There is a definite need,” he said.

  And that’s why the June 5 exhibition attracted the attention of the Forest Service and members of the timber industry.

Forest Service and industry reaction

  Randy Pew, and his son, Jared, debuted their equipment to about a dozen representatives of the Forest Service on June 5, along with Plumas Bank officials and members of the timber industry.

  Plumas Forest Supervisor Earl Ford said he invited members from each district within the forest because of the importance he attaches to this project.

  “We are looking for this kind of creativity and diversity in the forest,” Ford said. “It is in our best interest to get the biomass out of the forest.”

  Most timber contracts include a biomass component, which requires timber contractors to remove plant debris along with merchantable logs. When current timber contracts were awarded, it was assumed that the debris would be taken to a cogeneration facility to be turned into energy. But that market has taken a downturn, with many facilities closing and those that are operational nearing capacity.

  Such was the case for Nathan Bamford of the Oroville-based timber company J.W. Bamford Inc.

  He purchased the timber contract known as Otis Ranch north of Graeagle. It’s a fuels reduction project that includes 6 million board feet of timber and 100,000 tons of green biomass.

  Bamford said he planned to haul the biomass to the cogeneration facility at Honey Lake, but had recently been told that his opportunity had been put on hold.

  “If I can’t get it out (the biomass to a cogeneration facility) then I have to haul it out, stack it on private land and burn it,” he said.

  When Pew called to ask Bamford if he could try out his new concept on the Otis Ranch sale, Bamford said that he was excited by the opportunity.

  “This is an important first step,” he said.

  Even though Pew’s project will address much of the biomass, it doesn’t remove it all. There will still be odd pieces of logs, limbs and foliage.

  He had proposed chipping these and spreading the chips in the forest, but that technique doesn’t always comply with the terms of the timber contract.

  Two Forest Service employees charged with overseeing contracts, including Elaine Gee, said that the option wouldn’t exist in some contracts as written and each would have to be considered individually.

  Ford listened to what his contract people had to say and then said, “We’re not trying to close off any option.”

  He said he liked the potential for firewood cutters and the idea that the chips could be used in the forest.

  When asked if contracts could be modified, Ford said he would consider it.

  “It’s a benefit to the contractor; it’s a benefit to the Forest Service; and it’s a benefit to the American public,” Ford said of the project.

  George Terhune, a financial backer of the Pews, said that as the operation is refined there would be even less waste. “This is going to be a pretty good operation by the end of the month.”

  The machinery had just been put in place hours before the demonstration, and it was the first time that Randy and his son Jared had operated the delimbinator and slicer.

  But those in attendance saw firsthand the project’s potential and how it could help remove biomass from the forest.

  This is good news for other timber contractors. During a recent meeting of the Fire Safe Council, the problem of biomass removal topped the list of topics to be discussed.

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