Taking a Chip Shot Wood Recovery Junction City, Oregon

By the time Denny Van Wyk was nine years old, he was running a tractor on the family farm, and by thirteen he was hauling grain to town with a semi-truck. His job isn’t that much different these days; as the owner of Wood Recovery, a whole log chipping operation, he’s “still playing with equipment” just with logs instead of in the corn fields.

Denny buys the logs, sells the chips, does the hiring, manages the operation and the trucking, hauls logs on occasion, and even runs into town for a part to keep the mill running. “The next phone call changes my day,” says. “You’ve just got to get in and make it happen.”

Wood Recovery, founded in 1991, has two active mill sites in Junction City, Oregon and Sweet Home, Oregon where they specialize in turning residual fir, pine, and hardwood into wood chips, largely for the paper industry, and hog fuel for co-gen plants. Wood Recovery recently started placing dump boxes near log decks, allowing farmers and loggers to salvage short, chunk wood that has typically been burned or turned into hog fuel.

The goal of the company is to provide the quality and quantity of wood chips and/or biomass you need in an efficient and timely manner. Having their own trucking fleet helps provide customers the security that the product will be available when needed. An average day can see both facilities sending out as many as 20 loads of chips.

Denny started Wood Recovery with his friend Owen Posner chipping peeler cores at the Bald Knob veneer mill in Creswell.
“The logs started coming in and before long we were getting logs from all over the place,” Denny says.

Stalcup, a trucking company out of Coos Bay, was handling the hauling originally; when Wood Recovery relocated their operation to Junction City, Walsh Trucking took over. Wood Recovery soon found that as production and business increased they needed more trucks, so they created their own fleet. The fleet slowly grew to include 10 chip haulers, two drop boxes and a log truck equipped with a wet kit so that it can serve as a short logger or pull an end dump trailer.

“Georgia Pacific had different paper mills that they wanted us to go to, and since we have our own fleet we are much more dependable - we can assure them that we’ll be able to send that many trucks here or that many trucks there,” Denny explains.

Adapting to changing markets

The number of regional paper mills has dwindled in recent years as the markets have shrunk. No longer are there mills in Boise, Everett, Albany, and Portland, and that resulted in a decrease of some 800 chip loads a day out of the market. At the peak, Wood Recovery served 10 customers and delivered 35 loads a day.

“We have fewer mills to go to, and I was told a couple of times that we weren’t going to be needed. . .I’ve always said that I’m stupid but blessed. I think there was one time where we slowed way down for about a month but otherwise we’ve stayed busy,” Denny says. 

Wood Recovery has been delivering chips to Georgia Pacific paper mills for the past 15 years; GP is their main customer, but they also supply Roseburg Forest Products, and KapStone, in Longview, Washington.

Primarily Wood Recovery produces wood chips to be used to make paper, but hog fuel for boilers is an offshoot of the debarking process. The majority of hog fuel is delivered to Roseburg Forest Products in southern Oregon.

Trucks equal ­dependability

“Having our own trucks certainly helps,” Denny adds. “There for a little while, when things got really busy, we weren’t very dependable having to rely on outside trucking companies. When you own the trucks you can control where they are going.”

“If you ask me, ‘Do I enjoy having the trucks?’ Well. . . not especially; they’re a lot of work,” he admits. “They’re a necessary evil.”
“When I first started, we only had two of our trucks and it was a challenge getting our quota hauled,” comments Kenny Keeler, Wood Recovery’s senior driver/dispatcher. “With our own fleet, the mills are happy because they’re getting their product on time.

The Wood Recovery fleet ranges in age from 1996 to 2009 models. “We’ve never bought any new trucks; I’m looking for ones that are three or four years old,” Denny says. “A lot of them have a lot of good life left in them. The furthest we travel is about 130 miles, so it’s not like we’re running across country with them.”

Several of the trucks in the fleet have already topped the million mile mark and are still going strong. They will only outlive their usefulness when they start costing more to upgrade than what a new truck with set them back.

Denny is still experimenting with the most effective combination in which to set up the trucks for optimal fuel economy. Among Cat, Cummins, and Detroit motors, the N14 matched with a 13-speed transmission seems to be winning in pulling the 105,000 lb loads. According to Denny, a 10-speed transmission doesn’t provide enough gears for pulling the hills on the coast range between Corvallis and Toledo where highway restrictions allow only 48’ or double trailer combos.

The majority of the fleet are Kenworth T800 models which Denny commends as being “a pretty well-built truck.”
“At first I didn’t care for the sloped nose,” he says, “but you can see pretty well in them, and they also don’t shake and rattle as badly some of the other trucks do.”

Drivers earn their keep

Drivers hauling chips at Wood Recovery jump into the loader and fill their own trailers. “When we had other people hauling for us, we used to have an operator loading trucks, but you can go an hour or more between trucks,” Denny says. “The drivers know how their truck need to be loaded so it’s easier for them to get up to weight, and also both of our mills have scales in the yard. . . so they can make their load and off they go.”

“We want guys who will take care of the trucks and who understand how to haul big loads. You don’t just take off and go flying around the corners and you don’t just stop on a dime. Drivers need to use their head and have some common sense.”

Moving forward, new ­markets

Change is inevitable in any business, and Wood Recovery is no different.

With fewer customers looking for their product, they always have an eye open for new markets to sustain their future. One such market is selling bio-mass to the Japan, which is among the world leaders in increased investment of green energy ventures. On the heels of the 2011 nuclear power plant disaster caused by earthquake and tsunami, Japan has made an initiative for 20 percent renewable by 2020.

“Years ago, in Eugene, we had The Eugene Water & Electric Board (EWEB), University of Oregon, Globe Metallurgical, a mine down by Dillard and several other places that burned (biomass), but now there’s hardly any demand for hog fuel; you can hardly get rid of it,” Denny says.
“We just do what we say we’re going to do, and we don’t complain. . .we just keep on going.” 

by / Darin Burt