In 2000 Luke Squiers, rural Tama, started in the logging business. In 2014, along with his father Brian, Luke added a "Blockbuster Firewood Processor."
"On good diameter logs, I can cut six pickup loads (of firewood) an hour," Luke said then of the $52,000 machine, manufactured in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa.
Since November, their business, Central Iowa Firewood, has taken another big step forward. Luke bought the former Vanwall Equipment- John Deere location on Business Highway 30 on Tama's east side in mid-2016.
Central Iowa Firewood owner Luke Squiers and two of his children, Malachi, 5, and Audra, 3, at one of two kilns used in the firewood preparation.
News-Herald photos/John Speer
Equipment was then added to expand their business of wholesaling and retailing the firewood. Hy-Vee in Iowa and other states and area Fareway stores are among the wholesale customers.
Luke says wood-fired cooking in restaurants is a growing area for their firewood supply business as well.
Firewood can also be purchased directly by individuals and businesses at the Central Iowa Firewood location.
Now there are six employees who place firewood into retail packaging on a conveyor system and three more logging timber. They process 1,105 bundles daily.
The individual packages are shrink wrapped on pallets and stored before shipment to retail outlets in Iowa and nine surrounding states. Much of the interior of the former implement building is filled to the roof with pallets of firewood awaiting pick up.
Firewood can include oak, maple, hickory and a variety of others. The individual bundles contain over .7 cubic feet.
With the firewood used in outdoor residential fire pits as well as campfires and fireplaces there's three peak seasons, Luke identifies - Memorial Day, Labor Day and Christmas tiime.
While the process may appear at first to be somewhat simple- it's more involved. there's government regulations to be met and processing of the firewood to be undergone.
The step-by-step process Luke says starts with the trees being cut and the logs brought to the Tama location. Most of the logging is done within a 40-mile radius of Tama, but he has done logging in adjoining states, Luke says. The logs then go through the firewood process and the newly-added "tumbler" which Luke says sorts the split wood into usable firewood, waste and scraps. The tumbler device is the first for the Blockbuster manufacturing firm.
The split wood then goes into one of two kilns with each holding the equivalent of 12 pickup loads of firewood. This is where the government comes in.
To rid the firewood of any insects so it may be shipped across state lines, there's a requirement of heating it to 140 degree for one hour. At Central Iowa Firewood it is "cooked" for 30 hours at 300 degrees, Luke says to assure it is "certified " by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The kilns also reduce moisture content making the wood much better to burn, Luke says. The Tama location is subject to yearly USDA inspection.
The kilns are fired by natural gas. When the operations were at their rural location, bottle gas was used.
After the kiln process, the firewood moves inside the building and is dumped into a bin where those working on the conveyor hand sorted into the conveyor racks. It is then bundled and placed onto the pallets.
As a nod to the environment and economy, two wood-fire outdoor furnaces have been installed to heat the former implement building. The waste wood is used for fuel and is fitting for Central Iowa Firewood Bible verse motto "Let your light shine before others" Matthew 5:16.