The professional logging contractor

By: Patrick Cox, Photography by: Patrick Cox


Deals on Wheels' forestry writer spends a couple of days riding shotgun with a logging company in Hawke's Bay

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Day one, Thursday

I’ve been fortunate to have spent a couple of days riding shotgun with a logging company in Hawke’s Bay. We were on the road by 5.30am—some things don’t change—heading off up the Gentle Annie road that goes from Napier-Hastings through to State Highway One at Taihape. The drive along the Napier foreshore from Bayview was greeted with a stunning sunrise tinged with Australian bush fire smoke.

The clear-fell was the first crew to visit for the day and the logging contractor was required to drop trees in a gnarly little pinch that the harvester could not reach. Upon arriving on-site, the contractor greeted all four members of the crew personally with a good morning by radio and it was good to hear the responses, as all personnel appeared happy, even though it was just after daylight.

This, to me, was a good example of culture building, so important when creating a safe environment for your team. The contractor geared up with water pack, safety belt with all the required equipment for falling, radio in its holder strapped to his chest, and radio checks with the loader driver about truck locations, as the piece that needed felling was close to the road.

On the other hand, I was just sitting in the ute and enjoying listening to the banter between the crew. 

This crew was fully mechanised—ground-based logging with a Cat loader, John Deere Forwarder, and John Deere Harvester. They were producing 250 tonnes of logs per day on average.

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Rachel Stratford

Part of the crew was newest arrival Rachel Stratford, who was in charge of quality control.
Rachel, 21 years old, wandered over and started to have a chat with me. I could relate to what she said and I am sure many people working in the bush will.

When asked what had possessed her to work in the bush, her answer was the smell of fresh air intermingled with pine scent and the machines and camaraderie between the crew had her hooked for life, from Mangonui in the Far North to Whanganui on the West Coast where she did her training.

After trying to convince her parents that she wanted to work in the bush, Rachel went back to school.

The forestry course offered in Whanganui was a youth guarantee course costing $8000. Rachel was fortunate the government sponsored this, so she got her training for free. She completed her chainsaw tickets and level two and three in forest harvesting. She worked for Logged on Logging in Waverley and a couple of other crews in the Hawke’s Bay and after three-and-a-half years, I ran into her at her new employment in the Bay.

Even though the parents were nervous about her choice of occupation, she loved the lifestyle and would not change it for any town job. The challenge now for Rachel is to stick to the task, keep getting more qualifications, and become one of the new modern loggers.

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Just before lunch, all the trees that needed felling by hand were on the ground and we pointed the ute onto the next location. A three-man crew was working further up the Gentle Annie road, thinning for Pan-Pac. On-site were two harvesters and one forwarder—another small, neat and tidy operation.

Here we also ran into the manager of the company doing his rounds, checking audits and health and safety met the standards set in place. A quick drive around found the forwarder with a broken chain on the back wheels that was in the stage of being fixed.

He also organised the water blaster to come out from the workshop on Friday to clean the machines. The contractor also wanted to catch up on production for the week and make sure targets were achieved to allow maintenance to proceed on the Friday.

We left the bush at 1.30pm, as the contractor had an appointment in town at 3pm. On the drive back, the foreman from the crew working on the Napier Taupo road phoned to say they would have to stop work as the wind was too strong and had already blown a number of trees into the creek. Photos were taken and the forest owners were advised. That was the end of my day, but for my contractor friend, the phone never stopped ringing.

Day two, Friday

With some relief, start time was 6:30am on the second day to be at a conference room at a motel in Napier for the monthly meeting with the manager, the owners of the company, and the foreman of each crew.

These have been set up over the four months not only to enhance the performance of the company but also to meet the criteria set out by the Hawke’s Bay Forestry Awards held annually. To enter for an award, logging crews need to tick all the boxes to be eligible.

Breakfast was supplied and what impressed me the most was the presentation of the company and staff—all in clean and tidy uniform; certainly a different image than in the old days. If there were no identification on the uniforms, you might have struggled to believe that these were tough loggers.

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The meeting was well conducted by the manager, covering current and past issues with all attendees participating. From here, we headed out to Willow Flat road between Napier and Wairoa on the east coast—a good one hour 20 minutes later, we arrived at the swing yarder crew just on lunchtime.

The contractor supplied a BBQ and fresh venison sausages for the entire team members on-site. The object of taking the foreman from the other crews to this site was to familiarise them with the swing yarder operation and also carry out a steep slope assessment for the forest owners. The day rolled past very quickly, and at 3pm, the utes were pointed back to Napier.

That was that the end of the day, with a few quiet beers on the deck along with one
of the staff staying for a BBQ. He’s a seasoned logger who said that he had learned a lot that day. Did the phone stop ringing and let this logging contractor have the night off with his family? No, but I guess that goes with the territory. They are loggers and it’s in their blood.  

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