Retired Surgeon Creates Second Career with Surgical Land Clearing
Few land clearing companies have as interesting a journey as Surgical Land Clearing. Not long ago, John Moore, Owner of Surgical Land Clearing in Dothan, Alabama, retired after more than 25 years as a general surgeon practitioner. "I was 55 and staying up all night started to wear on me," he says. "I was fortunate enough to financially be able to retire."
Retirement meant that he had plenty of time to work on his small farm, and so he did. He began clearing the undergrowth and fence lines on the property. It was at this time he started looking into compact track loaders to help with the effort. He researched different models and put his name on a list to rent a compact track loader from a local distributor.
Unfortunately, the opportunity was never realized. "I waited two months for an opportunity to rent a machine through a local distributor program,” explains Moore, “and the unit caught on fire just before it was my turn to rent it. That is when the distributor stopped the program."
He continued to look at different compact track loader models, and his research took him to AGF Machinery, LLC, a Terex Compact Equipment distributor in Dothan. There he found an old friend and exactly the machine he was looking for.
"John and I have known each other a long time, and he knew of AGF Machinery's reputation for strong service," says Hugh Swicord, Sales Manager for AGF Machinery. "He was looking for a forestry machine for his farm, and I also had a business opportunity in mind for John."
Swicord showed Moore the 111 hp Terex PT-110 Forestry Compact Track Loader. The unit is designed specifically for forestry applications and offers a high engine peak torque and 45-gpm hydraulic oil flow to meet the special demands of land clearing. This impressed Moore, but his attention was drawn to a specific set of features of the forestry unit.
"For me, safety is a high priority, and the safety design really impressed me with the Terex PT-110 loader," says Moore. "I really like the hydraulic reversing fan and that it can be set it up to automatically reverse at 5-, 10- and 15-minute intervals. This allows the fan to blow the debris off the engine compartment to free up airflow back into the compartment."
Impressed with both the safety and performance of the PT-110 compact track loader, Moore purchased the unit and took it back to the farm for his land clearing projects. He also helped some of his friends with their land clearing needs as his comfort level grew with operating the machine. It wasn't long before Moore saw the business opportunity with the loader, and he explored starting a land clearing business with the aid of Swicord and AGF Machinery.
Learning the Business
"I knew there was a need for a commercial land clearing company in this area," says Swicord, "and Moore was the right person to fill this open niche." However, there was one drawback. Moore had no experience running a land clearing business, just the fun of clearing out his own property and that of his friends.
He started learning from ground zero – how to invoice customers, expenses involved in machinery maintenance and how to profitably bill out his services. "Basically, I had to learn how to run a small business," explains Moore.
He worked with AGF Machinery for guidance on considerations for billing out his services to include machine upkeep. "We took him through some of the maintenance, operating and wear expenses, like the time for cleaning the tracks, sharpening the planer attachment and routine maintenance," recalls Swicord.
Moore was confident that he had an excellent support partner in AGF Machinery. "AGF Machinery has an excellent sales and service staff," he says. "Hugh and Jeff Washington (Owner of AGF Machinery) were instrumental in helping me to start the business. Joey Dees (Service Manager for AGF Machinery) gave me his cell phone when we first met, and I can call one of the most knowledgeable mechanics I have ever met 24/7 to keep me up and running. Without these two items, we would not be in business."
Moore had the right machine. He had the right service support partner. And he was learning the business side of land clearing. He added a final piece to the puzzle when his son, Pat, decided to join the business. With everything in place, he placed an ad for his services in the paper, and Surgical Land Clearing officially opened for business.
Five Acres in 7 Hours
AGF Machinery's business assessment of the Dothan market was correct. Since opening, Surgical Land Clearing has had a backlog of business. The ad, word-of-mouth and leads from AGF Machinery have been enough to make the company profitable.
Surgical Land Clearing has provided a variety of clearing services in the Dothan area. They have worked for farmers, reclaiming farmland, and have cleared undergrowth from acreages for hunting ranges. Work has also come from property developers, clearing land for new housing developments and building retention ponds.
Surgical Land Clearing was hired to clear a 5-acre plot of land that was completely overgrown with native vegetation in preparation for new house construction. "The property was full of invasive Japanese Privets, sweet gums and willow trees, along with native vines and vegetation," says John. Prior to Surgical Land Clearing removing the undergrowth, there was barely a path for walking through the acreage.
One of the tricks John and Pat have learned is that the cutting head attachment makes all the difference. They use a Loftness planer attachment, designed specifically for the Terex PT-110 Forestry machine.
"The planer’s teeth cut right through the undergrowth and trees up to 8 inches in diameter without allowing the vines to wrap around the rotor," explains John. Pat adds, “It significantly increases our efficiency in cutting the material and allows us to clear more area in a shorter period of time."
The high-flow hydraulic system of the loader also aids in boosting performance and efficiency. Separate hydraulic functions and a 45-gpm flow rate allow this compact track loader to power through difficult cuts. "Even if the cutter head bogs down in the heavy undergrowth, this does not affect the performance of the arm movement or tracks," says Pat.
Pat began cutting through the vegetation at 9 a.m. Starting at one end of the property, he left the cutter head slightly raised off the ground. "We do this to avoid striking any unexpected debris, like chunks of concrete, that weren’t picked up upon initial inspection," says John.
They learned quickly not to tear into clearing a property too fast just to get a job done in a shorter period of time. This created excess wear and damage to the cutter head attachment. "It's trial and error," adds John.
"We have so much fun operating it that we lose track of time when running the machine," says Pat.
Both father and son tag-teamed the 5-acre project to give each other an occasional break. By 2 p.m., John reported that 90 percent of the initial clearing was finished, and the two would have another two to three hours to complete the job. At the start of the project, the two-man land clearing crew anticipated that the job would take between six to eight hours to complete.
"The efficiency and performance of the Terex machine is unmatched, and there is a dramatic difference with what we do with this machine versus what our competition is doing with a lesser machine," says John. “We would have to set aside two to three days to complete this project with a competitive machine."
By the end of the day, Surgical Land Clearing completed yet another land clearing project. The satisfaction can be seen on John’s face upon transforming the unusable space and reclaiming it to give a fellow Dothan citizen a lot for new home construction.
When asked what he likes better – his first love as a general surgeon or his second career as a land clearer – he responds fondly. "Both are very rewarding," he says, “but it's like comparing apples to oranges. This new business is an incredible opportunity, and I am blessed to be able to get up and have something to look forward to every day."