Man grinds his way to steady stump removal business

By Dan Nielsen
Traverse City Record-Eagle

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) - Mike Siler has something to grind. It's not an ax.

He spends his summer days converting stumps into sawdust.

He launched Siler's Stump Grinding as a side business while working a full-time job elsewhere in town. Seven years ago he retired from that day job to relax - and spend 40 hours a week making stumps disappear.

"I stump grind in summer and snow blow in winter," Siler said.

He has plenty of local competition, the Traverse City Record-Eagle reported.

"Every tree service has a stump grinder, but that's just a small part or their business," he said.

Siler's advantage is that he devotes his full attention to stumps. He guarantees next-day service. He has no employees.

He owns two machines designed to grind stumps. His big machine tows behind his pickup truck like a trailer. His small machine is "like a garden tractor on steroids," he said. He uses the smaller version for jobs that require a deft touch or that involve trekking over delicate landscaping.

Siler, 67, recently fired up the big machine at a house south of town. He made quick work of several stumps in a homeowner's front yard. The machine screamed like a banshee as it ripped through a massive stump, reducing it to a blanket of wood chips.

The business end of the device is a hefty steel wheel about three feet in diameter studded with replaceable carbide teeth. The bulk of the machine is the engine that powers it and a complex system of hydraulics that allow the operator to guide it in and out, left and right, up and down as the wheel spins in a blur.

Siler clamped on ear protection, started up the machine and controlled the gigantic spinning cutter with the accuracy of a dentist drilling a molar.

A full set 34 carbide teeth for the machine costs $350. A set lasts an average of 10 jobs, Siler said. He might grind through a dozen jobs without a glitch. But a random rock can destroy half the teeth in an instant.

"It's part of the business," he said. "You get mad that day, but the next day you realize you had 10 days without a problem."

He charges a flat fee of $65 to remove a single stump. Much of that fee pays for his transportation and time to get to the job site. Customers with several stumps pay less per stump. He recently charged a customer who had 100 stumps just $8 per stump.

Siler moved from Saginaw to Traverse City 30 years ago. He worked for Williams Chevrolet for 17 years as used car manager then as service manager.

Published: Thu, Jun 11, 2015