Forestry commentary: the bush mechanic

By: Pat Cox, Photography by: Pat Cox

Deals on Wheels' Patrick Cox gives techs/mechanics/field technicians the recognition they deserve but rarely get

Bush mechanic Alvin Gounder has covered 580 kilometres in a day

Before any of you jump off your high horse, I know the new term is ‘field technician’ and the job is a lot more technical these days, but in the interests of consistency, I’m going to refer to our unsung heroes as mechanics.

Feel free to substitute the word mechanic with technician if you see the need. While the rest of us splashed around on holiday over the festive season at the beach or some other destination, relaxing and charging our batteries, the bush mechanic has probably been putting in a huge number of hours behind the scenes getting equipment ready for 2022.

The bush mechanic has probably been putting in a huge number of hours behind the scenes getting equipment ready for 2022

Now that many logging companies have been able to grow the size of their operation, a lot have built their own workshops and employed their own mechanics. The smaller companies may not have the luxury of an in-house expert on tap and need to call in outside help through a number of providers who support the logging industry.

For the bigger logging guys who have invested in their own mechanics and workshops, it is not some chicken feed investment. One contractor I spoke to said they spent upwards of $220k on a sophisticated mobile workshop and worked with their mechanic to make sure he had everything needed to carry out repairs when working on sites.

The remote-working bush mechanics often work early morning until late at night

The remote-working bush mechanics are a very resilient bunch, who often find themselves working from early morning until late at night, often after all the crews have gone home. To ensure the bush mecahnic gets home at the end of a day, companies implement strict safety procedures to protect their valued staff, but rain, hail or shine - you will find them on the job.

Rain, hail or shine - you will find them on the job

The biggest financial pitfall for any logging company is downtime; while the wheels or tracks are not turning, the dollars stop coming in. Add to that the delay of getting an external provider to a breakdown in a hurry, and you can understand why companies that can afford it have opted to have their own mechanics.

In days gone past, when dealing with town workshops, you might have experienced a substantial wait. There are some dealerships that have lifted their game and if you have booked your machine for a service at a specific time, then the tech will be there.

Top marks should go to these companies and also to the tech for leaving town often late in the afternoon when everyone is going home. They will be out there until the job is complete.

The bush mechanic will do on average 60-plus hours per week and could travel as many as 50,000 kilometres per year. Do they get good money? Yes, they do, but it will depend on what way you want payment and what you have negotiated with the boss. Don’t undersell yourself - you keep the wheels turning in a tough industry.

Another contractor I spoke to pays his mechanic well through a negotiated deal, who is apparently earning two grand net a week. That money is hard-earned from being on standby constantly.

The boss is not interested if you are downtown at 9 o’clock in the morning having a latte with the wife. When the phone rings, it’s coffee in a takeaway cup and you’re on your bike and out to the next job.

Some of the bigger jobs like a motor rebuild will still be outsourced, as will a lot of the standard servicing. There would be a balancing act with workload and if crews are scattered over a large area, contractors will appreciate staff that have the mechanical savvy to fix some of the smaller jobs that crop up.

Even if it’s tightening a hose or carrying out a temporary repair until the mechanic arrives.
If you are in the north, then there’s a good chance Alvin Gounder has worked on your equipment. In 2005, he started an apprenticeship with Vatukoula Gold Mines in Fiji. Breaking that name down: Vatu (stone) koula (gold).

He emigrated to New Zealand in 2015 and worked for Semenoff Transport as a machinery technician, before moving house in 2017 to CablePrice, where he serviced all their construction and forestry brands in the Northland area.

Alvin has since joined Agrowquip in Northland, where he services John Deere construction and forestry equipment. He will do it all - from onsite repairs, to taking motors, final drives and other parts that cannot be sorted in the field back to the workshop for repair.

Alvin covers up to Cape Reinga, a big territory that has seen him cover up to 580 kilometres in a day. On average, he travels between 40-50,000 kilometres a year. He is one of many dedicated bush mechanics who keep your wheels turning, often while you are sleeping.

They have a very balanced mindset to work such unkindly hours and their work always has to be one hundred percent correct, which is not always an easy task. I did see a joke once. A mechanic said to a surgeon that he should get the same money as him, as he pulled motors out, rebuilt them and got them running again.

Of course, the surgeon did not agree and said he was worth more as he did all his work with the motor still running. But to the logging contactor, these people are worth their weight in gold. They work unsupervised, sometimes alone, and often miles from anywhere. We should not take them for granted, they are an essential part of the forestry industry.

I know what it is like. Many years ago on a frosty Saturday night, lying half in a frozen puddle helping a mechanic put the front diff back in a Clark 668D skidder in the middle of Kaingaroa Forest was no joke, but it had to be done before Monday, so a big shout out and a thank you to all the bush mechanics for your dedication and service. Thank you.

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