In the early 1970s, North Carolina was experiencing a farming boom, and many people were converting large tracts of land into farms. William Sawyer Sr. saw an opportunity to start his own business and formed Sawyer’s Land Developing, Inc. After 45 years and hundreds of thousands of cleared acres, the company remains a leader in the industry.
“There was a big push for farmland, and many areas were being deforested to meet that demand,” recalled William Sawyer Jr., who took over for his father as President in 1992 and became Owner of the Bellhaven-based business after William Sr. passed away in 2014. “Dad bought some equipment and started the business. Two of his first projects were 20,000-acre farms, some of the largest in the area at the time.”
Today, land clearing remains a central component of the company, which expanded its services to include heavy highway projects. Sawyer’s Land Developing has 45 full-time and as many as 20 temporary employees during busier times. It specializes in clearing and grubbing land then building roads and canals on-site.
“Usually, we are the first people on site,” explained Sawyer. “We remove the trees, stumps and other debris and get the site cleared and ready. If the job requires a road to be built, we can handle that as well.”
Although the company’s time is split between private, land-clearing contracts and projects for the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT), the types of work are similar and require more than just cutting down trees.
“If a site has trees that can be logged, we’ll have a company come in to remove them, and then we’ll finish clearing,” explained Sawyer. “However, it’s more than clear-cutting an area. We have specific procedures for how we sort and burn the brush we’ve removed. Also, if the spot is in a wetland or other protected environment, we may have to cut and remove the brush by hand in order to conserve the area.
“One advantage to doing this type of work for such a long time is that we are familiar with these policies and the techniques necessary to finish a job,” he added. “Most people who drive past our sites can’t really imagine the effort that went into developing them.”
In a typical year, Sawyer’s Land Developing handles approximately 10 to 15 projects, ranging from yearlong wetland restorations to three-day right-of-way clearings. Two of the company’s current assignments require it to clear large tracts of land both effectively and meticulously.
One of the firm’s largest undertakings was for a mineral company. Sawyer’s Land Developing completed a 3,700-acre wetland restoration that took three years to finish. It built large spillways that were used to drain on-site ponds for sand and other material that will be used in various ways at the site. The company cleared a 700-acre section and removed a foot of topsoil. Sawyer’s Land Developing also worked on a 24-acre parking lot.
“Our work at that site accounted for nearly 70 to 75 percent of our business at the time,” estimated Sawyer. “It was a very large job, and we liked working there.”
In addition to that massive undertaking, Sawyer’s Land Developing completed a 16-mile stretch of land for the NCDOT in 2016.
“We cleared land for 12 miles of new road and widened the area around four existing miles,” said Sawyer. “We removed a 250-foot-wide section that ran the entire length of the project. Then we took all the material we collected, piled it, shook the dirt out and burned it. The entire effort will span five years, but our phase was done by the end of 2016.”
The Right Equipment
Sawyer says that having the proper equipment is major advantage for his firm. Linder Industrial Machinery Company and Sales Rep Jared Gray ensure that Sawyer has all the Komatsu pieces he needs to stay on top of the industry.
“We’ve been running Komatsu equipment for years,” reported Sawyer. “We were one of the first in the area to use Komatsu. The machines have been awesome for us. They have great fuel- efficiency, and they are very reliable.”
With the help of Linder, Sawyer’s Land Developing has built a fleet that includes six HM400 articulated trucks, seven PC210LC excavators, a PC360LC excavator, five D85 dozers, two D65 dozers and a D61 dozer.
“We started using the HM400s about four years ago, and we couldn’t be happier,” noted Sawyer. “The efficiency of the trucks is outstanding, and we have experienced little downtime. The excavators have plenty of power, the swing is faster compared to other brands and the visibility is great. Also, the dozers’ undercarriages hold up better than the competitors’.
“On top of their efficiency and durability, all of the Komatsu machines are comfortable,” he continued. “We appreciate that. When the operators are comfortable, they get more done.”
Another vital piece of equipment for the company is a KG blade. The angled blade attaches to the dozer’s c-frame and also features a single spear to help split stumps and remove debris.
“The spear splits the stump and the blade helps pull it out of the ground, then we come in with root rakes behind our dozers to pile everything together,” said Sawyer. “We’ve been highly efficient with this process. With the KG blade, we can clear more than three and a half acres of 15- to 20-inch stumps a day.”
When it comes to service, Linder is also there for Sawyer’s Land Developing. Linder handles the maintenance on the rental machines, and also maintains Sawyer’s leased machines for the first 2,000 hours of operation. For the Tier 4 machines that Sawyer owns, Linder provides complimentary scheduled maintenance for the first three years or 2,000 hours through the Komatsu CARE program. Sawyer also purchased extended warranties to ensure that Linder continues servicing his machines.
“We must have our equipment up and running,” stated Sawyer. “We do maintenance on a majority of our machines in-house, but we can get behind, so it’s nice to know that Linder is going to handle a portion of our fleet. Linder and Jared are excellent. They’ve been going above and beyond for us since day one.”
KOMTRAX, Komatsu’s telematics system, is also a useful tool for the company.
“It has helped us to understand how our equipment is running,” said Sawyer. “We know where it’s at, how much it runs and how long it idles. It’s beneficial to have that information.”
Hard Work, Great People
Sawyer says that there are no shortcuts to success. His company’s reputation has been built with a commitment to quality results and great employees.
“The Lord has helped us find success, but we also put in a lot of hard work,” said Sawyer. “We want to make sure that we’re on top of things and finish on time and in a professional manner. Because of that, we have developed a good reputation, and many customers come to us through referrals. That says a great deal.
“Another important part of our success is our people,” he added. “We have top-notch supervisors and operators who do a wonderful job. Supervisors Larry Gibbs, Maurice Mackey, Martin Jones and Will Beacham, as well as Safety Coordinators Randy Moore and Jonathan Smith really stay on top of things for us.”
With a dedication to hard work and terrific people, Sawyer believes the future is bright.
“This isn’t an easy business, but it’s what we do,” he said. “We are dedicated to it, and I think that will keep us successful in the future.”
This article originally appeared in the LinderLink Magazine, which is produced by Construction Publications, Inc.
Our newsletter right to your inbox.
See stories from other regions.