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Restless Nature Gets Retired Farmer into Pallet Business: Baker Products Cant Cut-Up Line Gets Monster Pallets Going
Monster Pallets: Julian Drake started a pallet company in his 60’s when most people are more interested in retiring; the company uses Baker Products equipment to manufacture pallet stock from hardwood cants.
By Tim Cox
Date Posted: 6/1/2009
DRAKE, South Carolina – Julian Drake was not made for the rocking chair. He has worked hard all his life and has no plans to stop now. When most people his age are taking it easy in retirement, Julian decided to start a new business – a pallet manufacturing business.
Julian, 68, was born and raised on a family farm in Drake, S.C., about 35 miles north of Florence. He worked alongside his father and uncle, learning the business of farming and running a cotton gin. When he began farming on his own, he grew cotton and soybeans, bought and sold grain, sold and spread fertilizer, and owned and operated the cotton gin.
Over the years Julian developed an uncanny ability to design and make anything he needed on the farm or in the cotton gin. With his mechanical ability and since his 100-year-old home is located miles from the nearest fire station, Julian developed and patented several pieces of firefighting equipment. That success led him to start a fire truck and equipment company.
After selling the fire equipment company and retiring from the fire truck business, Julian began to look at other manufacturing businesses and ideas. He talked to his son, Rogers, about various business ideas. Julian wanted to start a business that would deal with industrial customers, not require a lot of travel and create manufacturing jobs in his home, Marlboro County.
Based on Julian’s manufacturing experience and the availability of a rent-free building Julian owned, Rogers suggested his father look into starting a pallet manufacturing business. The Drake area is centrally located to lots of hardwood stock, and various manufacturing businesses are located within 50 miles. Also, the labor market is good.
“We decided to open Monster Pallets,” said Julian. His farm had housed an old plywood mill, and he was able to use the building for the pallet plant. “It’s a great feeling to know this building came to be as a sawmill over 80 years ago, and here we are today making wood pallets,” said Julian.
They decided on operating a plant that would process hardwood cants into new pallet stock. Rogers helped his father research machinery and equipment for making pallet stock and assembling pallets. He looked on the Internet, including the Pallet Enterprise Web site (www.palletenterprise.com), and made a lot of phone calls. They narrowed it down to Baker Products.
They made a trip to visit the Baker Products plant in Ellington, Missouri. “Baker was the way to go,” said Julian. “Once we got down there and saw the machinery and how it was manufactured, the decision was confirmed,” he said. “We bought the whole cut-up line from them and put it in.” He also purchased all the material handling equipment from Baker Products.
With his experience in farming, the cotton gin and firefighting equipment, Julian is knowledgeable about machinery and equipment, and he was very impressed with the Baker Products factory operations and the industrial quality of the company’s equipment.
Julian started Monster Pallets in mid-2007 and hired eight employees. The company is capable of producing 20-25,000 pallets per month. The focus of the business has been specialty and custom pallets. “We did pretty well at that,” Julian said, when he started the company. Monster Pallet also has some high-volume customers that buy several footprints or sizes in large, consistent quantities. Julian established a warehouse and distribution center in Charleston to service warehouse and manufacturing operations located near the ports.
He buys hardwood cants, usually
In addition to the cut-up equipment, Baker Products supplied all the material handling equipment, which included the cant unscrambler with package deck, v-deck and dealer deck, a trough conveyor, an incline conveyor to carry cant end trims into a steel hopper, a three-strand transfer with staging, live head and rolls, an off-stacking transfer conveyor, stacking racks and an unscrambler feed for the notching machine.
Pallets are assembled by hand with two Bronco Pallet Systems nailing stations. The Bronco nailing stations consist of a jig set at an incline to make it easier to insert pallet components. A pneumatic nailing tool is suspended overhead. After the worker nails the bottom face of the pallet, he turns it over, inserts the top deck boards, and finishes nailing the pallet. The nailing stations have a stacker on the back to automatically stack the finished pallets. Julian and his employees also built a couple of tables used for assembling pallets.
The company uses Stanley-Bostitch pneumatic nailing tools and collated nails. Julian buys saw blades and notching tools from Baker.
Julian supplies some of his waste wood material to paper mills and gives some of it away. He is looking at the possibility of using it for feedstock for a wood fuel pellet mill.
Julian is considering investing in an automated nailing machine and also may add a pallet heat-treating system.
Julian helps run the shop equipment and is responsible for sales. He calls on local businesses and has a Web site to market the company. The Web site, www.monsterpallets.com, was designed and is maintained by his granddaughter, Bailey, 16.
The company’s customers are primarily manufacturers with specific custom pallet requirements and warehouse businesses that receive floor-loaded goods in shipping containers; the goods must be removed from the containers and loaded onto pallets.
One thing about the Baker line of equipment that particularly impressed Julian was the heavy-built construction. Some machinery in the cotton gin was anchored to the floor, he noted. When he received the Baker equipment, Julian noticed that some machines did not have fittings or holes to anchor it. He called his Baker representative, Clay Hedrick, and asked him about it. Clay told him the machines would not ‘walk’ or move on the plant floor and therefore would not need to be anchored. “It has not moved,” said Julian. “That amazes me every day.”
When the equipment arrived, Baker provided Julian with preliminary drawings, and he had an electrician run power to the main boxes. The Baker equipment is fitted with openings for fork tines so the machines can be lifted and set in place with a forklift, which was what they did. All the electrical plugs are color coded. It took Julian and two helpers only a half-day to put the machinery in place and make the electrical connections.
“It was done,” said Julian. “Plug it up. Let’s go.”
“We haven’t had a minute’s problem,” he added. One hydraulic valve went bad. He called Baker and got the part the next day. “I slipped it on in less than 10 minutes. That was the only problem we had with it.”
In addition to the quality and performance of the Baker Products equipment, Julian has been especially impressed with the knowledge and quick response of the Baker Products staff.
In the future Julian plans to add automatic nailing machines and a pallet heat-treating system so he can keep lowering his costs while delivering the quality his customers have come to expect.
“I have some grandchildren,” he said. “Maybe when they grow up, they’ll be interested in running a pallet business.”
“I have to work,” said Julian. “I’ve got to go.”
Baker Builds Machines to Process Logs, Cants, Lumber into Cut Stock
Baker Products, based in Ellington, Mo., is a leading supplier of machinery and equipment to the pallet and other wood processing industries.
The company was founded by Ed Baker, who first operated a pallet manufacturing business.
Ed was a pioneer in developing the thin-kerf horizontal bandsaw for resawing cants into pallet deck boards and stringers. He developed the horizontal bandsaw resaw for his own pallet plant, and other pallet manufacturers began asking him to build machines for them. He founded Baker Products as a machinery business in 1988.
The company and its product line have grown significantly in the intervening years, and Baker Products now is headed by Mike McNail, president.
Baker Products can supply individual machines or complete equipment lines to remanufacture cants and rough lumber into pallet stock as well as scragg mills to process low-grade or scragg logs. The company manufactures a line of portable band sawmills and other lumber remanufacturing equipment, including edgers, planer-moulders, chamfers, board de-dusters and much more. Baker Products manufactures material handling equipment to move and convey logs, cants, lumber and residual wood material, such as slabs, edgings, trim blocks and more.
Baker Products has been especially associated with its successful thin-kerf bandsaws for resawing cants and rough lumber into pallet stock. The resaws are available as a single, stand-alone machine or in multiple configurations or heads that will completely resaw a cant into deck boards or stringers in one pass down the entire resaw line.
For more information, visit the Baker Products Web site at www.logtolumber.com or call the company at (800) 548-6914.