Bogged

Bogged, It doesn’t matter how good an operator you are we all fuck up at one time or another and anyone that tells you differently is a liar.

I myself have experienced that sinking feeling more than once and have been both a giver and receiver when it comes to being bogged.

Harvesters have a lesser risk than forwarders of getting bogged as they are generally running on their own freshly built brash mat.

In the west of the UK the soil is a lot softer due to peaty ground conditions so harvesters and forwarders are usually fitted with bandtracks front and rear. Most manufacturers offer a selection of types of bandtracks designed to work in specific terrains, I worked on a peat bog many years ago operating a Valmet 860 which was fitted with extra wide Clark flotation tracks on the rear.

It was unbelievable where I could travel with these tracks, there were large areas of pine with poor brash mats where the trees were floating on the bog. When loading the first couple of feet on the main lift ram saw the timber and grapple stay where it was as and the forwarder wallow on one side into the ground before starting to lift the timber.

It was a horrible sensation travelling across the ground and it can best be described as like being out in a boat on a stormy day.

I found the best way to load was to set the potentiometer to a crawling speed and this way the forwarder was constantly moving travelling never got a chance to settle.

When I got home in the evening I would swear that the floor was moving and got accused of stopping off at the pub as I was swaying about.

I have had a few episodes which I can now think back on and laugh at and I thought I would share some with you.

Kockums 850- Early 1980’s-North Wales

I was working on a contract for the Forestry Commission in North Wales on a peat bog near Pant Glas in Gwynedd.

With hindsight this site should have been worked with a Bruunett 678 or similar sized forwarder but as a young inexperienced contractor I had been wrongly advised by an unscrupulous salesperson that the Kockums 850 was perfect for the job.

From day one I got a funny feeling that the salesperson had not been totally honest with me as my Kockums was similar to an unruly dog and would dive into any wet muddy hole it could find. My forwarder seemed to be happiest when it was almost out of sight underground and completely lathered in mud.

I gained more experience in de-bogging techniques in my first six months with my Kockums than most professional recovery companies do in a lifetime.

As you now gather getting bogged was a regular occurrence on this site but one day my Kockums excelled itself when while bogged it decided to split the main oil hose to the oil spinner (instead of a filter) which I didn’t realise until a very unhealthy knocking noise started.

It was quite an operation to remove the engine in the middle of a midge and snake infester bog and get it to roadside by hand winching it strapped to the belly pan. We had to lay boards underneath it to clear tree stumps and prevent it from getting bogged as well.

We got the engine repaired, back into the forwarder but had to get an excavator to help with de-bogging as after being in the bog for almost two weeks suction had a good hold and we had to dig around it and lay tree stumps upside down to ramp it back up to ground level. Using the excavator boom and 5 tonne Tirfor winch with a snatch block doubling the pull we were back up and running and ready to face the next disaster.

Brunett 678-Year 1995-Ayrshire

This was my first foray into the dark side, I was operating a Brunett 678 with a reversed cab and the crane mounted on the rear bunk and fitted with an FMG 840 harvesting head. The conversion had been done by the UK FMG authorised dealer Emmex Forestry.

I was working in first thinnings (single row with selective thinnings between the rows) just outside Dalmellington on the New Cumnock road and was relatively new to operating a harvester.

It was a soft wet site and I managed to get myself well and truly bogged half way down a rack, the blame was equally proportioned between my inexperience and the very soft ground conditions.

I was working for Arthur Tulloch and back then your training consisted of “there’s the machine, here is the keys, the sizes are in the computer and I’m sure you will figure it out as you go along.”

I phoned Arthur to find out how to proceed and when he came up on site and wasn’t best pleased with me. He phoned the Forestry Commission (FC) at Heathhall in Dumfries to get a Lokomo they had available for hire delivered to us. It arrived later that day and Arthur drove down the rack attached the Brunett to the Lokomo with a chain and after  five minutes of trying to pull me out duly bogged the Lokomo.

He used the crane to try and fill in under the Lokomo’s wheels with brash. After a few minutes I thought we had discovered a new source of oil which was spraying all over my back window but realised from the screaming obscenities and flailing arms inside the Lokomo that Arthur had knocked some hydraulic fittings off.

I thought it might be a good idea to sit where I was until Arthur’s normal demeanour had been resumed. After smoking several cigarettes in succession Arthur exited the cabin of the Lokomo and I said “I guess I’m not the only idiot to get bogged then” which broke the tension.

We contacted the FC to send up the crawler with the Boughton recovery winch

Valmet 860-Year 2000-Dumfries and Galloway.

I had not long got a spanking new Valmet 860 and had recently started working for the Dick Brothers ltd.  I was working on a flat wet site not far from the village of Laurieston which was mixed with pine and sitka spruce and was extremely soft. I was working along with a JD 1270 harvester and had been stuck just the once.

I was moving a lot of hag around to keep the forwarder afloat as some areas were almost a mile extraction distance across a swamp to roadside.

The harvester was way ahead of me and as it was summer and the timber was drying out Davy Dick decided to move the harvester out to another site on a shorter haul where the forwarder was chasing the harvester.

This sounded like a great plan as it would take the pressure off me and allow me to catch up with the timber on the ground.

All went swimmingly for the first three weeks and then one horrible wet and windy dark night I strayed off the brash mat slightly and within seconds was sat at a very precarious angle. I tried to straighten the forwarder up and ended up completely bogged. I was about half a mile to roadside on a pissing wet night with no torch and waterproofs (they were in my van) and faced with a mammoth trek across a swamp to roadside.

I eventually made it to my van and was frozen, wet through and in utter despair. I made my way home for a hot bath and a warm meal and decided to assess the situation in the morning before reporting back to base.

The weather the following morning was much brighter but my day got quite a bit gloomier when I saw the forwarder well and truly bogged. This was not going to come out on its own and I would definitely need another machine to pull me out.

Mobile phone service was in its infancy so after walking around the site waving my phone in the air looking for signal I eventually found an area where it would work.

I was now in a major dilemma; do I phone Davy and face the music or do I run away and join the merchant navy never to be heard of again.

I decided to face the music and in all fairness Davy was extremely calm and relaxed about it and arranged for another forwarder to come over from Hawick, about three hours away, as soon as he could arrange transport.

The following day a red and black cab Valmet 860 arrived on the low loader followed by the operator Joe (I can’t remember his surname). I met him at roadside and put shackles and the towing chain on his forwarder and set off to de-bog mine.

I was in the cab with Joe giving him directions across the main extraction routes and I was facing the rear of the forwarder but turning round every now and again to make sure we were on the right track.

I was chatting away to Joe when he started uttering obscenities and I was wondering what I had done to upset him. On facing forward Joe had decided it would be a good idea to take a shortcut across a ride covered in rushes.

His forwarder was now bogged even worse than mine!

Joe’s suggestion was to phone Davy and get another machine on site but I thought that phone call would have probably resulted in us both looking for a new job. After phoning around a few friends I found out that Richard Scott (Scotty) was working about 5 miles away in the same forest.

Scotty agreed to save the day and came along with his JD1410 and pulled me out and then I in turn pulled Joe out.

My phone call to Davy explaining what had happened was much easier to make now that both forwarders were above ground and extracting wood.

Ponsse Buffalo-2011- Aberfoyle

This incident is not about being bogged as such and is more about being recovered but let me tell you that clean underwear was needed on more than one occasion.

I was extracting on a big clear fell, approximately 20,000m³ in total, and was following Aaron Ferguson on a Tigercat LH 845C.

There was a bit of everything thrown into the mix on this job, very steep areas, rock ledges, severe drops, bottomless peat bogs and a haul of up to 2,000m to the back of the job.

It was a warren of extraction routes for the steeper areas as the forwarder was unable to reverse up them so a winding track had to be found to the top and then I could drop down the steeper drifts.

There was one area I had been eyeing up for a few days and building up the courage to extract; it was severely steep with a banked 90° right hand bend at the bottom to link back up to the extraction track.

To the side of the track the ground fell away to an almost vertical drop of 35/40 meters

I decided that today was the day and got myself positioned at the top, my plan was to get three quarters loaded and top up once I had negotiated the corner at the bottom. My first load went like clockwork, although it involved a bit of forwarder slalom skiing on the way down

I reckoned on there being about 120 tonne there altogether so off I went for my second load.

I had pushed some of the brash in front of me on the steepest section with my first load but thought no more of it as I set off for my second load.

As I started my descent there was a big tree stump hidden by brash underneath me and as my forwarder bellied out on it and took off like a bob sleigh on a cresta run and I had no control over the forwarder or my bowels.

The forwarder was off the brash mat now I was careering over the stacked timber at a high velocity of speed heading for a bloody big drop which would have seen the demise of my Ponsse Buffalo and probably myself as well.

As I overshot the severe turn my forwarder started to slow and I managed to get it stopped about 1m short of the drop.

After getting myself together and once my hands had stopped shaking enough to use the phone I called Aaron for assistance, he was about 20 minutes away from where I was.

Aaron wasn’t sure whether he would be able to pull me as it was very steep but he had the advantage of hanging his boom and harvesting head in front as a counter balance.

He started to pull me and I was moving back up the slope slowly when he decided to slew round to see what was happening.

Our wire strop wasn’t that long and as he slew round I saw the Tigercat start to lift on the front tracks and for a split second I thought it was going to end up on rear bunk with the dipper boom and LogMax head inside the cab with me.

Luckily Aaron realised the same and continued his slew all the way round and back up the hill facing forwards again.

He had managed to catch it before it tipped onto me.

He continued to gently pull me until I managed to get back on the brash mat and when I was down the bottom he grabbed the wood off the steepest part and threw it down to the bottom of the slope so I didn’t have to try that again.

Ponsse Ergo- 2013-Aberfoyle

This time I am not the villain which makes a change.

There is some background to this incident; this operator had not long started with us and he was the “numero uno” harvesting operator in the whole universe and beyond according to himself.

He was so far up his own arse it was unbelievable, yes he could cut wood but his presentation of timber  and brash mats were some of the worse I have ever experienced. His harvester was relatively new but he was experiencing a lot more downtime than any other harvesting operators I have followed and the amount of hydraulic oil he went through I surmised that he could have done with his own supply from the North Sea to be able to keep the harvester working.

My production and income were greatly reduced due to his incompetence

I like to think I can get on with most people but with this operator communications between us broke down altogether. It wasn’t just me as he had antagonised many other people to the point that his phone calls were ignored if he required help or assistance.

I was arriving at roadside with my first forwarder load on a Monday morning when our chainsaw operator approached me. He said ”Don’t shoot, me I am just the messenger” and explained that the harvester had got stuck on Saturday night and would need pulling out.

I unloaded and picked up strops etc for de bogging and headed up to where he was stuck. It was about 1,500 m from the forest road and he had walked out after getting stuck in the pitch dark with no torch, the site was steep and wet so it must have taken him quite a while to get to his vehicle.

He had got stuck in an area of windblown timber which had been down for some time. The timber was still solid some had blown down and the rest had snapped off part of the way up. Most of the branches and tops were dead but the timber was still good and solid. He was harvesting downhill to a stream at the bottom from the main extraction track about 100m down a 20° slope. Many of the trees had blown over with the roots still attached but some of the others had snapped off about half way up. They were reasonably sized trees and the ones snapped off had to be cut off a bit higher above ground than normal due to the gritty conditions.

He had finished harvesting the drift and was reversing back up to the extraction track when he got stuck

Firstly I decided to go and get a forwarder load of fresh brash so I could get a bit more grip on the greasy surface before I started pulling him. Unfortunately he was really hanked on something underneath and I couldn’t budge him, I got another load of brash to try and fill in under his wheels to see if we could get the harvester to climb up and clear the obstacle he was hanking on.

I couldn’t budge him and had now been trying for about 3 hours. The only solution I could see to get him out was to go down the harvested row next to him, move some of the produce and blown stumps and jump over to his row and pull him downhill.

What happened next was unbelievable; he said there was no need for that as he could still move forwards under his own steam, I couldn’t believe he had wasted my full morning and walked all the way out when all he had to do was move some wood and a couple of stumps to track over to the next row and then drive out unaided.

Writing this today I still find myself shaking my head at his utter stupidity.

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