Whenever I hear the word Skyline I still break out in a cold sweat. I have not had a great deal of experience working with them but remember the setting up as backbreaking work.

My first experience was with the old Forestry Commission Chapel Hall Leyland Skylines back in the 1970’s early 80’s. These were good machines for extracting on wet and steep sites with smaller trees that you would find on premature clear fells and thinnings. I have seen them used for extracting bundles of pulp on steep sites that have been shortwooded. They were a slow but effective way of extracting timber that would otherwise be very difficult to work.

Chapel Hall Skyline
Chapel Hall Leyland Tractor Skyline

Jump forward to the early 1990’s, I was operating a Valmet 838 forwarder at Stank near Strathyre behind a Cat with a Timberjack head that was processing timber extracted with a Syncrofalke Skyline. This was a great, well designed piece of equipment mounted on a MAN 4WD truck with a skyline carriage that would handle big trees. It was equipped with a crane for moving the extracted trees around the truck. This design is still being adopted by many companies in Southern Europe today and is sold throughout the world.

Although I believed it was a brilliant concept, unfortunately the team running it were pulling in different directions. There was a good deal of arguing and bad feeling which had a negative impact on production. Luckily I had wood to extract on a lesser slope a short distance away and I have to admit it was good to be working on my own. I was moved to a thinning a few months later and was pleased to be away, I believe the Syncrofalke was sold not long afterwards as the original crew split up and it was nearly impossible to get good experienced workers.

Since starting the magazine I have seen some interesting skylining equipment at various exhibitions and in the forest and there will always be ground where they are needed. Examples of these are Konrad Forsttechnik, Koller, TST and RJ Fukes Forestry Engineers who design and specialise in forestry winching equipment.

I recently had the chance to see how the Dick Brothers Ltd’s new Volvo excavator mounted skyline, that was working on a steep mountainside not far from Moffat, was performing.

Although we arrived on a blustery day we received a warm welcome from the team. Jim Laidlaw was operating the winch, Richard Middlemiss and Angus Grant were choker men, Connor McGinn was felling on the slope with Sam Barbour on the Komatsu 875 forwarder and Kevin Humphreys operating the John Deere 1270G harvester.

John Deere
Kevin Humphreys on the John Deere 1270G

Truck mounted systems are ideal if there is a good forest road network but an excavator is able to traverse over rough ground in the forest to the bottom or top of steep slopes. The shorter extraction distance increases production and reduces the length of Skyline cables needed which speeds up set up and take down times. I have to admit the excavator based skyline is one of the best ideas I have seen yet.

The timber coming off the middle of the hill was not particularly big; it was being converted into pallet wood and chip wood. Timber at the bottom of the hill grows better as it is competing for light so tends to grow taller and straighter.

Sam Barbour operating the Komatsu 875

This timber was being harvested for Scottish Woodlands and the team were using a recently purchased Koller MSK Carriage which works on both uphill and downhill operations. It has two pulling speeds of 0.8 and 1.2m/sec and is powered by its own 7.5hp diesel engine. It is fitted with strong de-railing protection, a four pulley drive, emergency clamping by radio and cable break protection in the event of a mishap, unlimited spooling length, and the carriage is started and stopped via the control.

Jim had used this system before with Callum Duffy and has been operating skylines for over three years and thought that this was a productive and safe carriage to use.

When chokering the people on the hill have control of the carriage; the chokermen and winch operator were in constant radio contact with each other. The self opening chokers were brilliant and are a great help for increasing production.

There are two operators trained and certificated to use this winch, Jim and Ernie Weir. Ernie wasn’t on site when we were there but being able to alternate the work as well as cover any illness and holidays is a sensible approach and keeps the skyline operation running smoothly.

For the size of the timber their production was excellent as they had been averaging around 80m³ per day. I didn’t envy the choker men and saw man as it was about a 50° slope to walk up each day and all breaks would be taken on the hill as it was a fair walk up and down. I was pretty cold stood at the bottom with my camera as there was a cold blustery wind, it must have been a dam sight worse for them further up the slope.

A great advantage of the Volvo EC360 excavator is that at around 38 tonne with the smaller timber it didn’t need ground anchors and tie backs. The tracks were at a right angle to the direction of pull and the bucket was anchored in the ground for added stability. The 247 hp engine was on very low revs when working so fuel consumption was light.

The secret to a good and efficient skyline squad is teamwork and this was certainly evident here, I watched Jim on the winch and this was a guy who had a feel for the equipment he is using and what it was capable of. The choker men up the hill were “on the ball” and it was enjoyable to watch the trees

Jim Laidlaw bringing another drag off the hill

trundling down to the skyline, it was little and often as the turnaround time was extremely quick. No sooner had Kevin on the harvester processed one pile of extracted trees when another large pile was starting to form.

I have seen too many people far too rough on equipment when things are not going their way; this always ends in an expensive and unsafe disaster. There are far too many programmes made by irresponsible film producers portraying loggers as “gung ho cowboys” with no thought for anyone’s or their own safety. This could not be further from the truth. But I suppose when you watch a team of skilled professionals at work it wouldn’t grab the TV viewer’s attention in the same way.

The one thing I love about our industry is that every day is a school day and there is nothing better than learning off people who can carry out the work safely and to the highest standards.

Dick Brothers

Forest Machine Magazine is written and edited by a forest professional with over 40 years hands on experience. We are dedicated to keeping you informed with all the latest news, views and reviews from our industry.

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