Move into Mulch Production Is Paying Off for Iowa Contractor
Timberline Magazine, timberlinemag.com
October 2020, Volume 26, Number 10, pages 1-3
BONDURANT, Iowa – Double-ground hardwood mulch, colored double-ground hardwood mulch, and Munchkin mulch – J. Pettiecord Inc. makes a lot of mulch.
Mulch, however, is a relatively new venture at J. Pettiecord. “We started into the mulch business two years ago, and it has been getting busier every year,” said Nick Wylie, chief operating officer of the company.
A specialty contractor in the niche of environmental and construction services, J. Pettiecord has a robust repertoire. “We do heavy land clearing and grinding, environmental remediation, hazardous materials response, demolition, heavy-haul trucking, dump trucking, roll-off dumpsters, snow removal, and we are a wholesale mulch supplier,” explained Nick.
The company is equipped with three Peterson 5710D Horizontal Grinders that are essential to the mulch-making component of the business. “We purchased our first Peterson grinder in 2007 and have been customers ever since,” said Nick. The company has several other Peterson machines, too.
Peterson, an Astec Industries Co., is headquartered in Eugene, Oregon. “Peterson is a great supplier to us, which is why we have done business with them for the past 13 years and bought many machines from them,” said Nick.
A Peterson 3310 Drum Chipper, a track machine, produces wood chips. The chips are used to produce the company’s certified playground mulch. Chips also are supplied to farmers to be used in bioreactors to reduce nitrates in water run-off from their fields.
J. Pettiecord also has a Peterson BT40 Blower Truck to apply mulch on large projects for landscapers.
There’s another important benefit to having three identical Peterson 5710D horizontal grinders — beyond their high performance. “It is very convenient for us to have three grinders with all the same parts,” explained Nick.
“We use our grinders for both a primary grind from our land-clearing projects and for doing a double grind to make our mulch products,” said Nick. In addition to the three Peterson grinders, J. Pettiecord owns a Komptech Crambo 6000 slow-speed shredder.
Mulch production allows J. Pettiecord to ensure the most is made of all the wood fiber acquired through land-clearing projects. Most of the trees that are removed on the projects are hardwoods
“We do land clearing in Iowa and surrounding states,” said Nick. “Most of our other services are in the Des Moines area.”
J. Pettiecord is headquartered in Bondurant, Iowa, a small community a short distance northeast of Des Moines. The company has an office and shop on a 7-acre site. The 30-acre site where it produces mulch is located near Earlham, about 40 miles west and on the other side of Des Moines.
The company makes several different mulch products with the Peterson grinders, and it takes full advantage of the flexibility the machines allow with choices of grates [screens]. For a consistent size and appearance, hardwood mulch is processed through a 2-inch grate.
“About 70 percent of the mulch we sell is colored,” said Nick. “Most of that is brown. “We use a Sahara X1 colorizer to color our mulch.”
Colored mulch is safe for people, pets, and plants. Brown mulch is most in demand, but black and red mulch are sold too.
J. Pettiecord also offers a mulch that is certified for covering playgrounds, and it is a big seller, noted Nick. The endearingly-named Munchkin mulch meets ASTM F2075-15 and F1951-14 specifications for playgrounds. The playground mulch can be delivered and installed with the Peterson blower truck.
“We are also starting to get into compost production,” said Nick.
The same machines that perform land-clearing tasks are used to feed wood material to the grinders. “We have a fleet of excavators with hydraulic thumbs that we use to do our land-clearing projects and to load the grinders,” said Nick. “We also have three excavators with wood shears that we use to downsize larger trees before they go into the grinders.” The excavators are a mix of Caterpillar and Komatsu machines, and the wood shears are Morbark.
“We have a fleet of walking floors that deliver our mulch to our customers,” said Nick, specialty Mac trailers. “We also use roll-off trucks to deliver smaller loads.” The company also provides dumpsters on-site to customers to collect and haul away debris.
The Peterson 5710D Horizontal Grinder is designed for high-volume producers. It has the highest power to weight ratio of any Peterson grinder.
Peterson has been designing wood processing equipment since 1981. And 1981 is the same year Jeff Pettiecord launched his company, working alone with a dump truck and a tractor backhoe. J. Pettiecord was incorporated in 1987.
Nick explained that Jeff’s father was a contractor, and Jeff always wanted to be a contractor. Jeff and Nick became partners in 2008. Jeff’s initial vision for the company has not changed. It is to work safely, to work hard, and to work well.
“I am 39 years old and have been with J. Pettiecord for 20 years,” said Nick. “I grew up in Johnston, a suburb of Des Moines.”
During his first year of college at Grand View University in Des Moines, Nick worked for the city of Des Moines and played baseball for the college.
After his freshman year, he no longer played baseball, and he became an employee of J. Pettiecord, where he worked full-time while he also completed his college degree in business. Soon after he joined J. Pettiecord, Nick was involved in estimating and other front-line tasks.
“Most of the work we do is as a subcontractor,” said Nick. “Our philosophy is to be the low-maintenance contractor and supplier to our customers. When they hire us, we want our customers to know the work we do will be handled and handled well.”
Because J. Pettiecord can process wood land-clearing debris into a product it can sell, the material does not have to be landfilled. That saves money for the general contractors that hire the company because they don’t have to pay tipping fees to dispose of the debris.
A lot of contractors that subcontract with J. Pettiecord want to use resources efficiently to obtain points for LEED certification (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). LEED is an initiative of the U.S. Green Building Council that encourages businesses to verify their activities make the best use of natural resources.
The Peterson machines actually help contractors achieve those objectives because the wood debris is recycled, processed into a wood fiber material that can continue to be used.
In addition to horizontal grinders, disc and drum chippers, blower trucks and screens, Peterson also makes stacking conveyors.
The precision with which the Peterson 5710D Horizontal Grinder can perform allows for a range of specifications in output to be met. The Peterson grinders can be operated by wireless remote from the cab of a loader; a loader operator can coordinate the function of two machines working in tandem.
The operator of the Peterson 5710D receives a constant flow of information regarding the efficiency of the grinder and its performance. The information about the engine and other components is presented on an IQAN control panel and allows the operator to make adjustments.
A Peterson 5710D weighs 88,500 pounds. It has a 60-inch by 40-inch feed opening, large enough to handle stumps. It is powered by a Tier II or Tier IV Caterpillar C27 1050 hp engine. Peterson offers a tow dolly to make highway transportation simple.
The Peterson 5710D grinder has a quick-change grate system — with grates moving through the access door on the side wall — so the machine can be changed over readily to produce a different size product. The system of grates enables the production of materials to precise size and specification, and making a change to a different product quickly.
The heavy-haul trucking component of J. Pettiecord enables it to move grinders to job sites, meet its subcontracting requirements, and more. The company specializes in moving oversize loads across the Midwest. It is permit-experienced and ready to move everything from crane parts to cell-tower buildings.
J. Pettiecord employees overall are pretty versatile. They have the opportunity to learn on the job and grow as Nick did. “We have around 70 employees these days,” said Nick. “We hire some operators, but just about every field employee has to have their CDL. We really like to promote from within and have new employees work on many different projects to learn everything they can about our work.”
“My favorite thing these days is to watch our great employees work,” said Nick. “I still get to spend some time in the field, and I love teaching new guys how to run equipment and job sites.”
In his free time, family is the focus for Nick. When he is not working, he spends time with his wife and two young sons. “Both my boys love the heavy equipment and like to come to work with me.”