Nothing Cheesy about this Operation
Wisconsin company turns DNR requirement into a thriving wood waste operation.
It’s believed by many that everything happens for a reason and that, even though we fail to immediately see the purpose behind an event or an action, something good will come of it. Such was the case for Zblewski Brothers, LLC. Operating a growing tree service company in the late ‘70s, they’d become accustomed to bringing wood waste from their projects back to their property to stockpile and burn. While effective, the activity eventually caught the attention of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) which told them that, because of the growing volumes, an alternative method of wood waste disposal would have to be found. To some, this would have been a deterrent to continued operation; to the Zblewski’s it ushered in a new era of growth. As the company nears its 35th year in business, it has embraced a number of different grinding and chipping technologies over the years, currently operates a Morbark 6600 Wood Hog to replace the large scale bonfire, and has become the go-to source for landclearing in central Wisconsin. Though they haven’t formally thanked the DNR, the thought is there.
Excellence in Iron
Based in Plover, WI, just outside Stevens Point, Zblewski Brothers has a rich history, much of which revolves around a continual effort to make the wood waste recycling process better through continued improvement in its equipment. According to owner Roger Zblewski, that effort started in 1978, shortly after the no burn notification from the DNR.
“When we realized that we would no longer be burning debris, we went to a Morbark office that was located in Tomahawk at the time and looked at a small gas powered chipper,” he says. “Knowing what we had to do in terms of volume, I told the salesman I didn’t think that was going to do it. We decided to get a larger diesel instead and haven’t looked back since.”
He adds that a close relationship with Morbark developed, and years later when the company was working on an early design of a larger chipper, Zblewski was invited to the plant in Michigan to look at the unit, identify any problem areas, offer any suggestions to make it better, etc.
“That’s really what we like about the company,” he says. “They reach out to users like me to see what we think or what we’d change, and then incorporate our suggestions into their new designs. I’m fairly sure that doesn’t go on everywhere else in the industry.”
As Zblewski Brothers’ business grew from a tree service company to one with more of an emphasis on land clearing, so too, did its choice of equipment. While chippers were fine during those early years (the company had worked its way up to a 36-inch model), larger diameter debris and a growing volume made additional moves necessary. Zblewski says a horizontal grinder made the most sense.
“By this time — it was around 1998-we had found local paper plants who were interested in our material and, for them, material size was not really a concern since they were reprocessing the material through a hammermill at their plants. So we once again turned to Morbark and this time purchased a 5600 Wood Hog. The horizontal grinder gave us the volumes we needed to keep them supplied. With that move, I guess we were officially in the recycling business.”
The company relied upon that 5600 for more than six years until volumes again grew to such an extent that an additional upsizing was needed. In 2004, they took delivery of a 6600 Wood Hog which is still in use today and which Zblewski says has been an amazing machine.
“The 6600 has been outstanding for us since we bought it — and we are coming up on eight years of solid use,” says Dennis Zblewski. “A good deal of that satisfaction is, obviously, because Morbark builds machines to stand up to punishment. But I also know that we maintain our equipment better than most. By comparison, we knew a local company that had an identical machine to ours and ran it into the ground by not doing any maintenance on it at all. This is a lot different from a payloader in which the only thing that takes any punishment is the bucket. On a grinder, the whole machine is constantly working for you and it needs attention. After all this time, ours is faded, but it still runs like a top.”
Roger Zblewski stresses that they traded in their 5600 only because they needed additional volume, not because there was anything they didn’t like about the unit. “In fact, not too long ago I heard that that same machine is currently at work making boiler fuel in far northern Canada. You just can’t keep a good machine down.”
While they do accept material from area businesses and residents at their eight acre site, the overwhelming majority of the material they get comes from their own landclearing projects. Zblewski says they generally operate within a 100 mile radius of their location and have a couple of options for handling the onsite debris: they can either process and load the material at the site, or haul it back to their location to be run through the grinder. Onsite work, he says can be equally varied.
“Landclearing work varies from job to job,” he says. “But ideally we like to get in there with an excavator and our grinder, process the material, load it into trucks and send it off to the mills. Occasionally, we run into logs that need downsizing on the spot and for those cases, we contacted Wally Robison, Morbark’s regional sales manager, who hooked us up with a Morbark stump shear that we call the ‘dinosaur nose.’ It will split almost anything and really helps keep efficiencies up for us.”
The grinding operation has grown to such an extent that, what was once an offshoot of the tree service company, is now generating roughly 500 tons of boiler fuel per week.
“We are fortunate to have a customer who will take just about everything we can give them,” says Zblewski. “Mind you, because so much of the waste we handle is diseased wood, all of our material goes strictly for hog fuel — there really is no other use for it at that point. However, we take the fines that are generated as a part of the grinding process, compost them and create a rich black dirt which we sell in bulk to area residents and companies. It’s a nice additional source of revenue from what was once just a waste product.”
All in the family
As the name implies, Zblewski Brothers is truly a family affair. Joining Roger in the operation are his brother Fred; sons Jon and Dennis; his wife Millie who manages the office and daughter-in-law Jaclyn who works part time in their office. Jeremy Weber and Scott Skibba, laborers, round out the Zblewski Brothers team.
“Even Jeremy and Scott, who are not relatives, have been here long enough to feel like family,” says Zblewski. “We all take a lot of pride in what we do and I think that’s part of the reason we’ve been able to do this for so long. We’ve also been fortunate to have a great relationship, not just with Morbark, but also with Nortrax, our equipment dealer. Bruce Stitely, our Nortrax rep, is a former Morbark employee and has been calling on us in one form or another for more than 20 years now. That means a lot in terms of understanding our grinding needs and getting things done. All told, we’ve been really blessed to have had such great relationships over the years and look forward to what’s to come.”
For more information about Morbark products, visit their website at www.morbark.com.