Greg Lauer of Skid and Pallet, a pioneer in pallet recycling, recounts his long partnership with Rotochopper.
Greg Lauer was always interested in wood recycling, from the time he bought Skid and Pallet at age 26. That interest would eventually grow into a substantial portion of Lauer’s business, but in those early days of pallet recycling, Lauer had no clear road map to follow, only his own intuition that finding a better solution for wood waste could revolutionize the pallet industry. Before finding Rotochopper, he received a grant to buy a railroad tie shredder called the Tie Exterminator. This massive machine was able to smash pallets to pieces, but did not produce a very consistent end product, so Greg kept looking.
“Then I got a call from Vince Hundt [who was the co-founder of Rotochopper and head of sales]. Back then they didn’t have machines to demo, so I went to Minnesota, to see where they made them.”
After meeting Fred Peltz, Vince’s partner in the business and the head of manufacturing, Greg ordered a machine. “Up until then, they had only put 100 horsepower motors on the grinders, but I had a new 200HP motor in a crate. They said I was crazy to put that much power on it. We wired it up ourselves, with recycled wire from the foundry that shut down here in town.” As Lauer relates, each previous Rotochopper grinder had been customized to the owner’s needs. Each had been designed for much lower volumes of wood waste.
The Rotochopper EP166 that Greg purchased was one of the very first horizontal grinders built in the U.S. While the machine would serve Skid and Pallet well for 16 years, there were a few start-up issues. Greg recalls, “We got it set up. We were real excited. We threw three or four pallets in there, bam, it was plugged tight. I called Fred and told him. At first he didn’t believe me, but then he said, ‘I’ll be there tomorrow.’ The next day we plugged it again, Fred made some modifications and it worked perfect. Before he started working, Fred bet me a case of beer that the machine would do 30 pallets an hour. I had to pay up but I managed to drink a few of them with Fred.”
As Lauer relates, the EP-166 actually ground considerably more than 30 pallets per hour, producing 20 yards of mulch per hour. More than 20 years later, Lauer’s current grinder is processing over 200 yards per hour. Yet in the early days of pallet recycling, converting 30 pallets to a useable end product per hour was an exciting step forward.
That’s the tradition of Fred Peltz that lives on. That’s why I am proud to own the first FP-66.”
Moving up to a Diesel
Times changed. Fred Peltz, the leader and creative heart of Rotochopper, died in 2000 from an accident. Lauer notes that Fred’s passing affected him personally much more than professionally.
The rest of the Rotochopper carried on Fred’s passion for innovation, and the company continued to grow. The grinders in the Rotochopper line-up got bigger, faster, and much more sophisticated. Meanwhile, the EP-166 at Skid and Pallet kept running, year after year.
After 16 years of operating the EP-166 inside their pallet facility, Greg and his son Ben decided to move their grinding operation. “Ben wanted to grow the mulch business, and we wanted to keep the yard clean,” Lauer states simply. Along with a change in location came a change in grinders. They wanted to be able to move the grinder, so they went mobile. They bought a refurbished diesel-powered MC-266 with the patented Rotochopper colorizer system. There were some adjustments in moving from an electric to a diesel, but all in all, the move meant a lot more business for Skid and Pallet.
What’s in a Name?
For the next few years, their mulch business continued to grow. Greg and Ben were happy with their MC-266. But when they stopped to admire the big beautiful machine in the Rotochopper booth at the 2012 Great Lakes States Logging Congress, Greg was perplexed by the name: FP66. “Forward Progress? Fair Play?” Intrigued, he quickly approached the Rotochopper representatives at the booth. When he heard that the machine was named for Fred Peltz, Greg said “I felt I should get the first one. It’s people that matter to me, not machines.”
With the faster production and bigger feed opening of the FP-66, Skid and Pallet was able to pick up a biomass fuel contract at a nearby paper mill while still keeping their mulch customers happy.
“The name of this machine is really fitting,” Lauer says. “Since I got the first one from the factory, it’s had some bugs that needed to be worked out. But the people at Rotochopper stepped right in and took care of us. That’s the tradition of Fred Peltz that lives on. That’s why I am proud to own the first FP-66.”