CLEAN SHAVE Nordstrom first conceived the cutter in 1991, after logging efforts declined.

A Kingston, Idaho, logger once blamed environmentalists for timber work shortages. Now, he can thank them for opportunities in a more prosperous career in brush and shrub clearance.

In 1991, when the local logging market deteriorated, Dick Nordstrom developed a mechanical brush-cutter bearing his name. There are three units now in his fleet. Starting with a Caterpillar excavator 322BFC base, Nordstrom replaced the factory bucket with a custom-designed, 3-ton cutting head. Attached to the excavator's 35-ft boom, the work-tool attachment includes a 480-rpm, 1,100-lb disc with 24 replaceable 61/2-in. blades.

The 60-year-old Nordstrom says he has just signed a contract with Ground Force Manufacturing of Post Falls, Idaho, to sell cutters overseas. Each unit is priced at about $500,000.

Operating in high and low modes, the 35-ft boom comes down on trees and stumps up to 16 in. in diameter. A 125-hp Caterpillar 3056 auxiliary engine powers the cutting disc, which rotates 270° side-to-side. With the boom swinging back and forth, the unit cuts a 70-ft-wide swath through brush as the tracked undercarriage creeps on grades up to 55%.

Rather than stripping the land, the cutter shaves away brush and debris 6 in. above the ground, leaving light vegetation behind for wildlife.

Northwest Machine, Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, converts the machines for Nordstrom. Rental cost is $450 to $1,200 per acre, depending on ground conditions.

Nordstrom and his son, Jay, who manages field operations when the cutters are at work, found a list of willing clients in the Northwest. In Sun Valley, Idaho, a Nordstrom cutter recently carved a 6-mile-long, 140-ft-wide firebreak to protect the ski resort's luxury homes and condominiums. Sun Valley fire chief Jeff Carnes estimates the cutting machine's rental cost was less than one-tenth the $5,000 per-acre cost of hand clearing. A federal Bureau of Land Management grant included $48,000 for the brush cutter's rental, plus $40,000 for other area fire work. Carnes says the 30-day project was completed in one-third the time it would take hand crews to work in hip-high brush.

The cutter has tackled larger jobs in Washington state, where it recently chewed through 400 miles of brush for Avista Utilities' maintenance crews.