Getting home before 7 or 8 p.m. is unusual for Randy Mitchem, who operates Randy R. Mitchem, Inc., a land clearing business in Baker, FL, with his son, Austin. It’s downright unheard of for him to be home at just past 2 p.m. So, when he sauntered in his front door around that time one afternoon, it’s understandable that his wife’s first question as “What broke down today?”
Making Quick Work of Florida Vegetation
Mitchem does site work, clearing yards, house slabs, backfill and more. He fills in time between clearing jobs by mulching for residential lots and driveways.
In the Florida panhandle, there’s no shortage of oak trees, palmetto bushes and underbrush so thick you can barely see 10 ft. ahead of you. Because the BLACKHAWK is specifically designed to tackle stringy, fibrous and fast-growing vegetation, Dave Habbard at Synergy Equipment encouraged Mitchem to give the mulching head a try. The engine had barely cooled after his first day of demoing the attachment before Mitchem knew he had to buy it.
The BLACKHAWK’s rotor is optimally sized for quick spool up and immediate recovery, and features a lacing pattern to process material efficiently. With a 76-in. cutting width and a maximum flow range of 45 gpm, it can quickly process standing vegetation and pick up felled material to ensure no unprocessed material is left behind.
Mitchem estimates he can mulch a 50-ft. pine tree in 45 seconds to a minute, limbs and all. A 16-in. oak tree takes a little longer but can be downed and mulched in roughly three minutes.
Mitchem recently used the CTL and attachment to tackle two 24-in. water oak trees situated just 15 ft. from a house and patio. In just twenty-seven minutes, the trees were gone, the house and patio were unscathed and Mitchem was packing up his gear. He left behind a neat pile of mulch, with the trees reduced to equally sized, finely chopped pieces.
Mitchem was also hired to cut in a driveway for a residential waste company and its fleet of 10 garbage trucks. The dirt was sandy and the owner was going to line it with gravel – a time-consuming and costly endeavor. When Mitchem asked if they didn’t mind driving on wood chips, the owner noted that the option would allow him a few years of drivable material while he saved up to pave.
Mitchem cleared the driveway easily enough, felling oak trees and mulching them into a crisp, drivable surface. But the limb of one oak tree, measuring 18 in. thick and situated about 7 ft. off the ground, stretched across the driveway’s 30-ft. expanse.
Rather than leave and come back with a chainsaw, Mitchem lined the CTL up with the limb, raised the mulcher head and drove up to the tree, mulching the limb as he went. Because the knives in the BLACKHAWK generate a cutting action, Mitchem was able to make a precise cut, comparable to a chainsaw, without having to get out of the loader cab.
Mitchem estimates he gets 220 to 240 hours out of the attachment’s knives before he has to switch them over. As for maintenance, he touches up the teeth every other day with a die grinder.
When the teeth are nearing the end of their work life, Mitchem turns to what he likes to call “dirty jobs.” Such jobs involve clearing un-level yards or woods where he can’t pick out cement bricks or other damaging litter beforehand. The teeth still cut and mulch, but the stakes are lower if a tooth chips or breaks. When it comes time to change teeth, it takes less than two hours.
The Reach for New Projects
Mitchem’s success with the new CTL and mulcher head encouraged him to add another mulching attachment to his fleet – a Fecon Bull Hog FMX36 for his Bobcat E55 compact excavator. The added reach of the excavator combined with the performance and heavy-duty build of the mulching head has allowed Mitchem to reach new projects he previously couldn’t.
In one case, Mitchem was hired to mulch his neighbor’s backyard, including on either side of a creek where the ground was sandy and steep. Because the CTL weighs about 16,000 lbs., it would have torn the yard to pieces, plus was too wide to lay flat on the slope. Mitchem returned with the excavator and smaller mulching head, which allowed him to tilt to accommodate the slope and bank.
Mitchem cleared a 50-ft.-wide path running for 300 yds. on either side. The 36-in. Bull Hog turned the brush into a finely processed mulch that now serves as a flank for the creek, as well as prevents the bank from washing away in the Florida rain.
Whether it’s the Bobcat E55 with the Bull Hog FMX36 or the Takeuchi TL12 with the BLACKHAWK mulcher head, customers are taking notice. They like the way the end product looks, and Mitchem likes the way he can zip in and out of jobsites easily, especially with the CTL and mulcher head combination. With faster on the job performance and less downtime, Mitchem can mulch more efficiently, meaning he can move on to the next job more quickly – or even come home before dark.
“Fecon got it right on that machine,” he said of the BLACKHAWK. “I haven’t found anything it can’t handle.”
He jokingly added that he hoped Fecon would raise the price so he could corner the market now that he owns one.
Written by Jim Wahl, Wahl Marketing, and edited for publication by Becky Schultz.