Dwight Bryant grew up poor on Whitwell Mountain.
But life's been good for the 65-year-old businessman, who is CEO of a thriving machine shop in Virginia. So about a year ago, hoping to boost his hometown's economy, Bryant opened a plant that manufactures fire logs called Prologue near Whitwell, Tennessee in the scenic Sequatchie Valley west of Chattanooga.
The plant, inside a new, steel-sided building on Valley View Highway, turns hickory sawdust and shavings from a nearby tool handle-maker, Seymour West Link Handles, into extruded fire logs.
Not just any ordinary fire logs, Bryant says.
"There is no better product on the market," he says.
Prologues are ideal for use in barbecue grills and smokers, Bryant says, because the manufacturing process doesn't use any glue or chemicals.
The logs also burn hotter than other fire logs, don't spark or spit, he says, and are clean to handle and free of bugs because of the extreme compression and heat involved.
The hickory wood shavings and sawdust move through the plant in a closed-loop air system. The process gets the sawdust to a consistent size and dries it out. Heat and pressure hold the logs together.
The plant, which employs a manager and two full-time employees, can crank out 5,000 logs a day. Bryant hopes to increase that to 20,000 logs, and add equipment and employees.
Amazon.com sells a 10-pound, six-pack of 8-inch-long Prologues for $9.99. Amazon recently listed the Prologue as the "Number 1 new release" in the category of fire pit and outdoor fireplace parts.
Bryant said he invested about $2 million in the Prologue plant. Bryant imported the fire log-making machinery from England. It's designed to make logs out of leaves, and Bryant hopes to do that one day with oak leaves.
He initially got interested fire logs because there's a leaf problem in Newport News, Virginia, where Bryant owns Innovated Machine and Tool Co., a business that he founded in 1985. It employs about 70 people who fabricate enclosures and panels for computer data servers. Eventually, Bryant also plans to open a machine shop on the Prologue site.