Earl has been in the wood products industry for 30 years. For the last 20 years he has focused on helping his employer expand and fine-tune its chipping capabilities. Every step of the way, he has used and maintained Morbark equipment.
Earl supervises the entire chipping operations of Punkin Center Chip Company Inc., which is a fully owned subsidiary of Ewing Timber Inc. He relies on an array of Morbark chipping and grinding equipment to keep two, three or even four jobs running at the same time.
Earl takes the title of logging supervisor at Ewing Timber, and because of the way the two companies are structured, the title does double-duty for him in his role at Punkin Center Chip Co.
Punkin Center Chip Co. is organized strictly around chipping. 'All we own is the chippers,' said Earl. 'We secure contracts through the mills, then contract wtih loggers.' By negotiating with mills, buying stumpage and contracting with the loggers who cut and haul, Punkin Center Chip can focus exclusively on making chips for the paper industry. It does not own any trucks for hauling wood or chips.
Ewing Timber established Punkin Center Chip Co. in 1983, and it launched with a Morbark Model 27 Total Chiparvestor, which did not have a separator. In its early days, Punkin Center Chip Co. worked as a contractor, following loggers to chip tops and branches. Hardwood chips were piled temporarily on the ground, and another contractor loaded them in vans and took them to the Willamette Industries mill in Campti, LA. (Willamette is now owned by Weyerhaeuser.)
'For a long time,' said Earl, 'I was Punkin Center Chip.' He ran the Morbark Model 27 Total Chiparvestor and tended to its well being. 'I scolded people for backing trucks into it,' he said, or even coming close.
Earl operated the machine and maintained it. He got to know the nuts and bolts, hoses and hydraulics - about everything on the Morbark 27. And he really got to know the capabilities of the Morbark equipment.
He also did some serious refurbishing on the Morbark Model 27. 'That old model 27,' said Earl, 'I rebuilt it. I took it to a machine shop. We'd tear it apart. The welders would help me.' Now, he said, he limits most of his intervention on the Morbark machines to being a troubleshooter.
After 10 years or so of Earl being the only man at Punkin Center Chip Co., there was a big change. Randy Ewing, who owns Ewing Timber with his son, Brandon, decided more hands were needed in order that the company could keep growing - and Earl would not be overworked.
'Randy said, 'You need help,' Earl recalled. Consequently, from the early 1990s on, Earl has taken on the role of supervisor for Punkin Center Chip Co. In that capacity he has greatly expanded the roster of equipment at Punkin Center Chip Co., every chipper, grinder or debarker came from Morbark.
Punkin Center Chip Co. supplies both chips and hog fuel. In general, chips are sold to pulp or paper mills. Limbs, tops and bark are processed by grinders into hog fuel. Punkin Center Chip Co. has six employees and its parent company Ewing Timber, employs between six and eight people.
The model 27 Morbark that got Punkin Center Chip Co. going was in service until 1994, when it was replaced with a Morbark Model 23 WCL Chiparvestor, a chipper with a loader. At the time, explained Earl, Punkin Center Chip Co. was still making so-called 'dirty-chips' used to make paper for containers. The machine performed so well that not long afterward the company added a second Morbark Model 23 WCL Chiparvestor.
In early 1995, mills wanted Punkin Center Chip Co. to supply 'clean chips,' so the company invested in a Morbark 2455 Flail Delimber/Debarker. The addition of the stand-alone debarker made it possible for the company to produce both types of chips.
In 1996, when Punkin Center Chip Co. contracted to perform chipping on International Paper Co. land, a Morbark Model 2348 Flail Chiparvestor was added to the growing list of Morbark equipment.
The quick succession of additions did not stop there. In 1997 Punkin Center Chip Co. bought another Morbark 2455 Flail Delimber/Debarker to use in front of and in tandem with the Morbark 23 WCL Total Chiparvestor already in service. In 1998 the company bought a third Morbark Model 2455 and a Morbark 23 NCL Chiparvestor, which has no loader on it; again, Earl paired them so the stems that had been delimbed and debarked by the Morbark 2455 could head straight to the Morbark 23 NCL. With these investments, Punkin Center Chip Co. was able to run four jobs simultaneously.
The Morbark 23 NCL can be fed with an auxiliary loader or a flail debarker just as Punkin Center Chip Co. does it. It handles stems as large as 23 inches in diameter and as small as 2 inches in diameter.
The Morbark machines are designed and built for high volume production. For example, the Morbark 2455 Flail Delimber/Debarker processes as much as 100 tons of wood per hour. The Morbark 23 NCL produces up to 500 tons of chips in an eight hour shift.
By 1997, enough limbs and bark were being removed by the two Morbark 2455 Flail Delimber/Debarker machines then in service that Punkin Center Chip Co. then in service that Punkin Center Chip Co. began to grind this material for boiler fuel. Earl again chose Morbark equipment, adding what would be the first of two Morbark 1050 tub grinders. After the purchase of the third Morbark 2455 in 1998, the second Morbark 1050 tub grinder was added. Each Morbark tub grinder is positioned beside a Morbark 2455, ready to be fed and grind up everything that comes over the side of the flail delimber/debarker.
So what keeps the link between Punkin Center Chip Co. and Morbark so strong? It's simple, said Earl. 'They make an excellent machine. If you just do a little maintenance, they will run forever.'
In March, Earl sent the Morbark 2348 Flail Chiparvestor to the Morbark factory in Winn, Michigan to be rebuilt. The machine will be outfitted with all new high-tech pumps and motors. Once refurbished and upgraded, it will be put back into service.
The Morbark 2348 Flail Chiparvestor is a versatile piece of equipment. It can work in the varied species encountered by Punkin Center Chip Co. Flail speeds can be regulated, so the machine can be easily adjusted to work well even when species and environmental conditions change. The Morbark 2348 also handles young trees well. It is another high volume producer, yielding about 80 tons per hour under optimum conditions.
'We have been well pleased with Morbark,' said Earl. Although he could not recall how the association between his employer and Morbark first began, he remembered a conversation that Randy had with Morbark representative Tom Keelean that got things rolling.
To move the Morbark equipment between and within job sites, Punkin Center Chip Co. has four Mack trucks. There is also a bulldozer on each job site. In April, two jobs were in progress. The company had a Caterpillar D5 high track dozer on one job and a Case 850G on the other.
Punkin Center Chip Co. employees maintain virtually all the equipment. Some times a motor will be pulled and taken to another mechanic for special work. The company some times relies on Al Whitman, a local mechanic, for assistance.
The history of chipping at Ewing Timber's Punkin Center Chip subsidiary and the history of Ewing Timber overlap some with the path that Earl followed to get to the companies. The story of Ewing Timber begins in 1948 when Randy's father, L.C. Ewing, started the company after completing military service.
Ewing Timber began as a dealer of pulpwood in Chatham, LA. L.C. bought timber, short wood (5-foot lengths) and transported it. Eventually, Ewing Timber began moving tree lengths.
Earl was already with Ewing Timber when the company made the transition from short wood to tree lengths. He began working at the company in 1973 in a wood yard in Bryceland that Ewing operated, loading first short wood and later tree lengths onto rail cars. In 1982, Ewing Timber closed the wood yard at Bryceland. By 1983, the chipping operation had started and Ewing Timber moved away from dealing in short wood. When prices for hog fuel dipped in 1987, the company looked at making chips for paper mills. Soon after that, the list of Morbark equipment began to grow.
A native of Bryceland, La., Earl said there is a connection between the town where he grew up and his future in the wood products industry and with Ewing Timber. 'As a kid, I would play at the railroad yard where I later loaded short wood for Ewing Timber,' he said. One thing had changed by the time Earl started working at the Bryceland yard: wood was no longer loaded by hand.
After graduating from high school in 1967, Earl attended Southeast State University in Magnolia, Arkansas on a football scholarship. He was drafted in 1969 and served in Vietnam, then worked in the oil industry for a few years. His wife told him about a job opening in the wood yard at Ewing Timber, where her cousin worked in the yard until it closed in 1982.
Punkin Center Chip Co. generally works within a 70-mile radius of its home base in Jonesboro, La. Ewing Timber, which is also based in Jonesboro, works in a wider radius of approximately 100 miles.
Northern Louisiana is hilly. The undulating tracts of land are filled with mixed hardwood species. The Morbark equipment of Punkin Center Chip Co. handles hardwoods and plantation pines equally well, another reason it is a good fit for an area where both sorts of trees are harvested.
The town of Jonesboro, located 40 miles southwest of Monroe in north-central Louisiana, has about 5,000 residents. Earl's hometown of Bryceland has a population of 103 and lies about 30 miles northwest of Jonesboro. Punkin Center Chip takes its name from a segment of the community where Ewing Timber currently operates.
Randy's son, Brandon, currently runs Ewing Timber day-to-day, while Randy, a former state senator, is busy campaigning for governor. Among the many experiences Randy brings to his gubernatorial candidacy are his service to the forest products industry. He is a past-president of the Louisiana Forestry Association and a past chairman of the Louisiana Forestry Commission. At his campaign web site, Randy includes a photo of himself in which he is wearing a hard hat and standing beside a loaded log trailer.
Randy was elected to three consecutive terms in the state legislature and served as senate president during his last term. He surprised many colleagues in 1999 when he announced he would not run for reelection - even though that is what he promised his constituents.
In his supervisory role at Punkin Center Chip Co., Earl often has the chance to reach out to others and share insights, suggestions, as well as all that he has learned during his years in the forest products industry. 'I like all of it,' said Earl. 'Working with the guys, instilling in them, teaching them.'
'We have to care about what we are doing,' Earl added. It is imperative to 'have pride in what you're doing. Otherwise, you are just floating along.'
There is another part of his job that Earl enjoys. He often works with timber companies, driving out to their lands and also signing contracts.
Away from work, Early and his wife like to go riding on his Honda Gold Wing motorcycle, touring the Texas hill country and other beautiful vistas. At home, they live on a lake where it is easy to relax, said Earl, and where he can also fish.