Monster machines on Martha’s Vineyard

Karl Kallinich, the machine's primary operator, sits in the mouth of the Beast. — Photo by Meg Higgins

Ask an Islander if there are any large scale recycling operations on the Vineyard and most would say Bruno’s Rolloff, Inc. or the Martha’s Vineyard Refuse Disposal and Resource Recovery District. A response you probably wouldn’t get is John Keene Excavation, Inc. However, the unwanted rock, earth, timber, and vegetative matter Keene takes in each quarter undoubtedly exceeds in mass and volume the combined recycling intake of the aforementioned entities.

And whereas those entities merely transfer recyclables to off-Island facilities, the various hills of material across Keene’s acreage in West Tisbury are, in part, testament to the company’s massive on-Island recycling efforts.

Though a range of heavy machinery and specialized apparatuses work to reconstitute landscape and excavation waste at the Keene premises, the machine that epitomizes those efforts is a voracious yellow juggernaut with the apt brand name, the “Beast.” Like all of Bandit Industries Beast line, Keene’s Beast was made entirely by hand in Michigan: welding, tooling, the whole thing. Weighing in at 70,000 pounds, you could put it in the pan of a titanic balance scale and in the other pan put 18 of the regular cab Toyota Tacomas that so many gardeners drive in and out of Keene’s with daily, and still not lift the Beast.

Hefty as it is, the Beast rests on a set of six wheels and can be towed with a semi, if need be. But that’s not often. Generally it sits in Keene’s yards adjacent to 20 to 30 foot jumbles of stumps, limbs, and logs licking its metallic lips. The Beast is a wood eater, an insatiable horizontal grinder. One end of it looks like a shallow dump truck bed with an intake conveyor running through it. The other end is simply a stretch of naked conveyor belt that can be adjusted to various heights. Heaps of wood get deposited in the open bed and are flung shredded off the belt at the other end at a rate that’s a bit frightening to watch.

The internal component doing all the shredding is called a cutter mill, a heavy drum studded with carbide-tipped steel teeth that can tear apart any hunk of wood up to 35 inches in diameter. An excavator with an attachment called a parrot beak must feed the Beast incessantly to keep up with its rate of consumption. Wood exceeding 35 inches in diameter (most often big stumps) is bitten in two by the hydraulic action of the excavator’s parrot beak before being fed to the Beast. The model 3680 Beast Keene’s owns runs on a 540 hp Caterpillar diesel engine that lends enough power for the machine to produce about 100 yards of ground wood chips every hour.

Big machines and big folks may very well gravitate to each other. John Keene and Peter Keene operate the Beast from time to time, as they do just about every piece of machinery in the company. They are by no means dainty guys but are definitely smaller than 6’7” Karl Kallinich, the general operator of the Beast, who at times, exercising the proper safety precautions, must shimmy under, clamber atop, or, yes, creep inside the giant horizontal grinder to tinker and adjust.

He doesn’t mind getting so very up close when need be. But it’s only on occasion that he has to because since the Beast has no cab and can in fact be operated remotely, Mr. Kallinich is able to feed the Beast and run the Beast simultaneously from the comfort of an excavator. Though Beast will dice or pulverize just about anything, including various gauges of metal, should it slip in accidentally, Mr. Kallinich is a big fan of the Beast’s magnetic belt properties. These properties keep most metals out of the shredded wood piles the Beast disgorges by pulling metals back under the conveyor belt and into a special pocket where it can be collected and disposed of. A feature John Keene is particularly fond of on the Beast is custom muffler on the exhaust, which reduces the Beast’s operational noise levels significantly.

Because it’s towable, the Beast Keene’s owns is part of the Island’s overall emergency management planning. In the event of a disaster such as a hurricane, the Beast can be used to clear vital arteries of trees, telephone poles (once separated from their wires), and has even destroyed buildings.

Hopefully Islanders and summer residents never have to witness the Beast being employed in that way. They’re thankfully far more likely to see it perched at the rear of Keene’s forward yards, chewing steadily. More likely still, they may never see the machine, just enjoy the fruits of its maw. This is because the Beast has given, and continues to give, a little bit of itself to nearly anyone who gardens on the Island, or hires gardeners and landscapers, by way of wood chips or one of Keene’s mulches using wood chips as an ingredient. Thus many, many Islanders have participated in an intra-Island recycling process of great scale, by and large unknowingly.