Innovation Makes Batey Sawmill a Leader
Batey Sawmill, Iowa Company Is a Premiere Producer of Soft Maple Lumber
By Staff Writer
Date Posted: 12/1/1999
MT. PLEASANT, Iowa When Robert "Bob"Batey started his sawmill business in 1987, he had a handset Frick mill and a five-mancrew.
Little did he know that in a mere 13 years Batey Sawmill would becomeone of Americas largest producers of soft maple lumber.
He did know when he started his mill, however, that he would need greatpeople, the best logs available, and the right machinery in order to be successful. Hisapproach paid off, and Bob still emphasizes these factors today as Batey Sawmill continuesto expand and prosper.
Batey Sawmill is located in Mt. Pleasant in southeast Iowa, a region offlat lands with some slightly rolling terrain. Bob described Mt. Pleasant as "a niceplace to live, exceptionally clean with good churches and schools and a good place toraise a family." Mt. Pleasant, a town of about 8,000 is the home of the Midwest OldThreshers Reunion, which is held every Labor Day Weekend and is exceeded in attendanceonly by the Iowa State Fair. The community also supports operations for Blue Bird MidwestSchool Bus Co. (one of the largest school bus factories in the world), Pioneer and Cargillseed companies, a Motorola two-way radio plant, a plastics company named Lomont,Heatilator Co. (a leading manufacturer of prefabricated fireplaces), Hon (a maker of metaloffice furniture), Nypro (a manufacturer of parts for writing pens), Ceco BuildingSystems, and Goodyear. There also are three large direct mail businesses, a Wal-Martdistribution center, and Iowa Wesleyan College, which is Americas oldest collegewest of the Mississippi River. The competition for employees is "fierce," Bobsaid, and local industries are finding it more difficult to hire new employees.
Some would argue that Mt. Pleasant is not a good location for a sawmillbecause of the competition for labor; some may even say it is terrible. But Bob says,"If you get handed a lemon, make lemonade."
Thats what Bob has done. He has assembled what he considers to bethe finest group of employees one could ever hope for both in the mill and in the woods.Although he is a strong proponent of having the right machinery, Bob also believes youmust have the right people and reward them well. In the course of being interviewed for TimberLine,Bob said, "I want every loyal employee mentioned in this article. They are the reasonfor our success!"
A successful sawmill operation starts in the woods, saidBob, company vice president. His son, Gary, a stockholder who also holds the company titleof vice president, directs timber purchasing, barging, and logging operations. Garypersonally purchases over 10 million board feet of standing timber a year. Most millswould hire several people to do the work that Gary does, noted Bob, who credited him withdoing an outstanding job. Eric Nielson, a forester, recently joined Batey Sawmill toassist Gary in several special projects.
The vast majority of logs 80% to 90% is soft maple, withan average diameter of 17 to 18 inches. Other species sawn at the mill include walnut, redoak, and white oak. The mill buys the tracts.
Two independent logging contractors, Cecil Scranton and Claude Siedel,keep the mill supplied with logs. Nearly three-fourths of the logs are harvested byCecils crew of eight men, and Claude and his son account for a large portion of theremainder. Cecil recently invested in a John Deere grapple cut-up system that has boostedproduction.
Most logging is done in bottom lands and swamp lands along theMississippi River. Logging in these areas would be very difficult and perhaps impracticalfor many contractors. However, most logging crews do not have Bob inventing, designing andbuilding machinery for them. Bob and his company designed and built a flotation-typeprehauler and a barge to meet head-on the challenges of logging the lowlands in anenvironmentally responsible way. The prehauler uses flotation tires to reduce disturbanceto the forest floor. The equipment and logging methods conserve natural resources, whichpleases the landowners, and also enable the contractors to produce large volumes of logs.
The prehauler is a very practical machine that can transport a fulltruck-load of logs out of low lands. It has proven itself very productive and profitablefor Batey Sawmill. In fact, a few years ago a major logging equipment manufacturer showedan interest in building and marketing a machine based on Bobs concept.
The barge allows the loggers to load wood, transport it, and unload itin as little as 2 feet of water. Powered by a diesel engine and equipped with a Hoodknuckleboom loader, the barge will convey 18,000 board feet of logs in only 4 feet ofwater and up to 9,000 in just 2 feet. It has proven invaluable in keeping a steady flow ofsoft maple logs going to the sawmill.
All hauling is done with the companys eight Macroad tractors. (Lumber products are shipped by contract carriers.) The Macs "make agood woods truck due to the fact that they sit up high, have air-ride suspension and goodfuel economy," said Bob. Batey Sawmill also built five four-bunk, spread-axle logtrailers; each is equipped with an on-board scale which were built by Batey Sawmill.
Sawdust and mulch are hauled in three Keith walking floor trailers. Boblikes them because the drivers do not have to wait to get unloaded. A few minutes afterengaging the walking floor, the trailer is emptied and the driver is back on the road."Keith live floor trailers have definitely been very profitable for our mill,"said Bob.
Bob and his talented crew have built a lot of the millsmachinery. In fact, Batey Ltd Sawmill has an almost complete in-house machine shop and thetalent to use it.
(Bobs son, Tim, is also very mechanically inclined. Tim is theowner of Blockbuster Inc., which builds firewood processing machines. Blockbuster, locatedless than a mile from Batey Sawmill, is known for its line of rugged, productive, firewoodprocessing machinery.)
At the yard of Batey Sawmill, another machine designed and built by Boband company employees works like a charm. Bob calls the machine the yard dog;it is a Hood knuckleboom loader mounted on a garbage truck. The yard dog does all the loghandling, and, according to Bob, it "does a great job." It loads, unloads, sortsand hauls up to 3,000 board feet of logs per load, all from the loader seat.
Bob is a firm believer in Hood loaders. For his particular needs, Hoodhas proven to do a good job of handling Batey Sawmills knuckleboom tasks. Inaddition to the Hood loaders on the barge and the yard dog, Batey Sawmill has five otherHood loaders in service in the woods or at the mill.
Loading of lumber and byproducts is handled by three four-wheel-drivearticulated loaders Case models 18 and 20 and a Timberjack 8,000-pound loader. Bobdescribed all three machines as "very productive, requiring minimalmaintenance."
Batey Sawmill is located on 25 acres and is a very clean,neat, and efficient operation.
The most impressive area is the main sawmill building. If you were todescribe it in as few words as possible, they would be "very fast and veryefficient."
The yard dog places all logs on the in-feed deck of the HMC debarker.(White oak and walnut veneer logs are sorted out and sold to various veneer buyers.) TheHMC is old, but it still performs well every day. Bob would recommend the HMC rosserheaddebarker to any sawmill. "They are very rugged and very productive and definitelybuilt to last," he said.
After debarking, logs go to a Corley Special 30 head-block carriageretrofitted with a patented machine on each of the three head-blocks called a TurboTurner.Completing the line are a Corley chain log turner, a 60-inch solid tooth head saw with a30-inch top saw, a Helle two-saw vertical edger, a shop-built hydraulic drive, and aMcDonough 54-inch vertical linebar resaw.
Bob and his crew are very selective when they buy machinery. He spokehighly of Corleys quality. "Corley quality, service, and parts availability areexcellent," he said. Batey Sawmill uses a solid tooth circular head saw becausecustomers like the smooth bandsaw-type finish it leaves on the lumber. It also providesbetter sawing feed speed. The top saw comes in handy for sawing many of the huge, primesoft maple logs with swelled butts. Speaking of the two-saw Helle vertical edger, Bobsaid, "You cant beat em."
The McDonough vertical linebar resaw is "a real workhorse,"said Bob, who recognizes McDonoughs leadership as a supplier of band headrigs andband resaws. Batey Sawmills production doubled overnight after the 54-inch McDonoughwas installed.
The mill has unusually high production and does it consistently withnoticeably little slamming while turning logs and cants on the carriage. Inseven and a half hours of actual sawing time, production averages around 30,000 board feetdaily when sawing soft maple in up to 20/4 thicknesses.
When recently sawing 8 1/2-foot white oak tie logs, production reached28,500 board feet per shift 9,000 board feet of ties and the remainder in 4/4 sidelumber. The mill did not run the resaw because the tie logs have very little grade. Whenasked how they did it, Bob replied, "With TurboTurners and our sawyer, BenPeiffer."
The three TurboTurners from D.Y. Manufacturing were added earlier thisyear. The mill previously had old style carriage-mounted turners that workedwell, and Bob was pleased with their performance. When asked why he bought TurboTurners,Bob was eager to explain why.
"When I originally talked to the salesman at D.Y.Manufacturing about TurboTurners, they told me that TurboTurners would reduceslamming from turning logs on my carriage by about 80 percent. The companysaid that fiber tear from turning logs and cants would be practically eliminated at mymill, and that maintenance on my carriage and chain turner would be greatly reduced. Thesalesman said the average mill that installs TurboTurners is increasing production by 10to 20 percent with an average payback in three to six months.
"Quite frankly, I didnt believe the claims. I thought theywere simply too good to be true.
"It was obvious after observing the TurboTurners that their claimswere correct. After replacing my old style carriage-mounted log turners, Iveincreased my production by 10 percent. My payback was under 13 weeks! Its absolutelythe best buy Ive ever made on any piece of machinery, without a doubt."
TurboTurners are patented because they are different from othercarriage-mounted turners, such as underhooks, underdogs, cant flippers, and others. Theydo not throw logs and cants away from the carriage knees like other turners. Asawyer can turn logs and cants on the fly as soon as the head saw is clearedon the carriage return; he can spend more time sawing and much less time turning. Anotherbenefit of TurboTurners is that they virtually eliminate defacing. TurboTurners will turnsmall logs, knotty rough logs, logs with sweep, and logs and cants to 30 inches.
"TurboTurners will turn the biggest or smallest log or cant yousaw and will do it without hesitation as soon as you clear the saw," said Bob."Its really fast and efficient."
"I would buy TurboTurners again, even if I knew I would not getany production increase, because TurboTurners have made my sawyers job so mucheasier and have eliminated most of the wear and tear on my carriage and my chainturner."
"Any competent sawyer can learn to use TurboTurnersvery fast," said Bob. "I am convinced. I also think TurboTurners would reallyshine when training a new sawyer because they are so much easier for a sawyer than havingto wrestle logs all day with a bar or chain log turner."
The mills lumber flows to an 80-foot green chain with anunusually large number of separations. This enables the company to fill every order toexact customer specifications for green and kiln dried orders.
Bobs daughter, Sally Johnson, a stockholder who holds the companytitle of secretary-treasurer, oversees sales of lumber and all byproducts. "Sallydoes an outstanding job and has developed excellent relations with all of ourcustomers," said Bob. "She is a super salesperson. I really appreciate the jobSally does for our company."
Sawdust is sold for horse bedding, and bark is ground into mulch in aHaybuster Tub Grinder, which Bob called an "excellent machine that grinds bark into ahighly saleable product for our mulch customers." Waste wood goes through a 48-inchFulghum chipper and is sold for boiler fuel.
A Wood-Mizer LT40HD sawmill is used for all walnut. It was retrofittedwith cradle turners that doubled its daily production to 3,000 board feet. Three workerssaw walnut on the Wood-Mizer. Overrun on the Wood-Mizer is "impressive"according to Bob, and easily pays for sawing costs.
The filing room is equipped with an Armstrong circle saw grinder and anArmstrong roller for the mills 60-inch solid tooth head saws. A Hanchett levelingbench is used for the 8-inch bands of the McDonough linebar resaw. A Hanchett knifegrinder is "older than dirt but works like new," said Bob, and is used forsharpening chipper knives. Hanchett quality is "impressive," he added.
Dry kiln capacity soon will be at 70,000 board feet. A new shop-built45,000 board feet kiln will compliment the 25,000 board feet Converta dry kiln. AWilliamson and Davies boiler heated with a sawdust gasifier provides steam to the drykilns and heat to the shop and planer buildings.
Batey Sawmill also has two buildings for storing green and kiln driedlumber, a 2,000-square-foot office, a machine shop and maintenance building, a buildingfor planer operations, and a building that houses the employee break room.
Bob credits his wife, Iola, with much of his success. "She isdefinitely the better half of our marriage," he said. "Her strong business senseis a contributing factor to Batey Sawmills success." The Bateys enjoy workingwith local community events and spending time with their children and grandchildren. Intheir spare time, they enjoy fishing and flying a Cessna 172.
Bob is known as an inventor and a forward thinker. Heenjoys working with the men at the machine shop on new ideas that will make the mill moreefficient. In the future, he wants to continue the focus on improving overall operatingefficiency.
Bob and Gary also would like to help Cecil, their main logger, toacquire a Timco feller-buncher next year to compliment his John Deere grapple cut-upsystem. They have studied the feller-bunchers on the market and are very impressed withthe results that loggers are achieving with Timco feller-bunchers, which Gary called a" hoss of a machine."
When asked about his biggest challenge, Bob said it was finding andkeeping productive people.
The reason for Batey Sawmills success is the innovation of itsmanagement and employees, said Bob. "We are willing to do things other millswont do to please the landowner and our lumber customers."
Bob and Iola singled out three employees who have served the companyfor many years: Melodee Yaley, who manages the office, and Mike Taylor and Leroy Coleman,who helped to design and build the sawmill.
Batey Sawmill is well equipped with the right machinery and the rightpeople to meet the challenges it faces in the future and to remain one Americas topproducers of soft maple lumber.
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