Monday, 5 September 2011

Removal of Large Sugar Gum 1st September 2011

On Thursday 1st September 2011 a team of 4 from Lachlan Valley Tree Services Pty Limited (Phone 02 6341 1458) based at Cowra came and removed the monstrous Sugar Gum tree located immediately to the north of the house and east of our smaller machinery shed. The team from Lachlan Valley Tree Services comprised Maurice (owner), Oliver (key man who scaled the tree and lopped most of the top of the tree using ropes and a light saw), Michael (experienced lopper, whose core day job is actually doing forensics on fires across most of rural NSW) and Scott (labourer – and it was his first day on the job).

The tree can be seen in this photograph prior to removal. Surprisingly it was planted in about 1948 meaning it was only 63 years old – with the growth rate having obviously been quite impressive.

The primary driver of our decision to remove the tree was concerns for our personal safety and potential damage to property due to the high risk of limbs falling. Sugar Gums are renowned for this. We also discovered during the removal process that the tree was heavily infested with white ants. The other benefits of the tree removal include:
  • Our solar hot water system tubes will no longer be shaded in the morning meaning it will be able to perform to full potential
  • It should now be possible to get some ground cover / grass to grow to the north of the house reducing the amount of dust
  • There will be a significant reduction in the volume of leaves entering the gutters, reducing the need for regular cleaning
  • Elimination of the litter that fell on the ground where we have kept our garbage bins

Countering these benefits are the following downsides of the tree removal:
  • The tree did act as a significant bird habitat and rest spot
  • We will no longer enjoy the relief from the direct summer sunlight on the north of the house
  • The tree did add value to the general aesthetics of the front of the house
  • The hollow in the trunk did at one point provide habitat for “The Boss” – a 2 metre Lace Monitor

What follows are a selection of photographs and short videos taken during the day.
One of the first steps was setting up the tree felling rope controller onto the base of the trunk of the tree. Here you can see Ollie (L) and Maurice (R) at work with a chainsaw creating a vertical flat section.

Here you can see the rope controller in close-up installed. It acts something like the things you see on sailing boats. A length of rope goes from the limb being removed, through a pulley attached to a branch close to the one being removed and strong enough to hold the weight of the lopped branch, several times around the centre of the controller, and into the (gloved) hands of the person on the ground who will be managing the descent of the pruned limbs to ensure safe landing on the ground.

Here you can see Ollie suspended by his ropes just after felling a a major limb from the tree. Michael commented to Jan at one point that Ollie is considered 'the fastest chainsaw-er this side of Katoomba. He also happens to have his own tree services business based at Bathurst, and was sub-contracted on the day by LVTS.
Here's a pretty neat shot of Ollie 'suspended' on one of the tree limbs. Note the special spikes gripping gear on his lower legs and shoes. He also happens to be highly skilled in rope working and knot tying.

The above photograph shows what was left of the tree once Ollie had done what he could using ropes and actually climbing the tree. Getting to this stage took about 1 hour in total - very quick.

Here you can see the 'cherry picker' brought into action for the remainder of the above ground lopping work. In the bucket were Ollie and Michael, with Scott (L) and Maurice (R) watching on to begin with.

Here is a link to a short (10 second) YouTube video showing one of the branches from the top of the tree being felled. If you look closely you will notice how the limb is controlled from the ground using the rope. Maurice was the one on the ground doing this. His skill in using the swing of the limb to time it so that it missed the shed was impressive. In this 8 second video you will see another limb falling directly to the ground. Sorry for the quality of the videoing in this one. It was a tad unnerving seeing such a limb falling towards me ... although I was of course very safe, being a long way back from the direct action.

In this photograph you can see Ollie doing the final cut on to fell the last of the main stem of the tree. You will also notice a rope attached to the upper part of the limb. The rope was what's called a 'bull rope' of around 30 mm in diameter. It is 50 metres in length, cost about $1,000 2 years ago and is a critical bit of gear with felling large trees. At the other end of the rope was the Bobcat being driven by Maurice. Here is a 9 second video showing the actual fall of this limb to the ground. Both Jan and I were somewhat in awe at the skill of Maurice, Ollie and Michael and their ability to 'see' in advance where each limb would fall ... and more particularly the way they communicated at all times ... being rightly obsessed about the safety of people and property.

 The Bobcat was and is one of the most handy bits of equipment for tree removal. There seemed to be not much it could not do or handle in the hands of Maurice. Here you can see him moving a single bit of trunk that would have been close to 1 tonne in weight.

 It was then on to removing the main stem of the tree which at the point you can see in the above photo was in excess of 1.3 metres in diameter. Ollie first removed the wedge you can see on the ground. Michael then used an axe to create a cut into the back of the cut, following which Ollie used the saw to cut further into the centre of the trunk.

Ollie then went to the back of the trunk and cut all the way through to immediately above the horizontal bit of where the wedge had been removed. You can see him doing this in the above photo. Michael drove a wedge into the centre of the back of the big cut to ensure continuing gap for the saw blade and to assist with the eventual felling of the trunk.

Once the cutting was done the bull rope was attached to the top of the main trunk and the Bobcat with Maurice at the helm. This 5 second video shows the main trunk coming down to the ground.

In the above photograph you can see the main trunk after it toppled to the ground as mentioned above.  

Here is a close-up of the remaining main trunk at that point. Michael and Ollie pointed out that this was a 'text book' fell of the main stem. The two 'rough bits' you can see at the extremities of what was where to wedge was removed actually physically act a hinges for safe toppling.

It was then over to Ollie to cut the remaining short section of the truck off at just above ground level. Here you can see him using the big Husqvarna chain saw for this purpose. Ollie is not at all a fan of this brand of chain saw as they can be difficult to start and lack the 'grunt' of the Stihl chainsaws. I noticed that all chain sharpening was done using a file. They don't use electric sharpeners because the grinding wheels tend to overheat the steel reducing the steel quality which translates into more rapid blunting of the cutting edge.

It was then time to reduce the bulk of the main trunk from what was estimated to be 6 tonnes. During this process one cut proved not worth proceeding with as something hard was embedded into the core of the trunk which made the chain instantly blunt. It may have been that many years ago a piece of steel or stone was left in what at that time may have been a fork in the tree. It's not a good idea to place of hit hard objects into trees that may need to be removed in the future.

Once the main trunk was reduced to a more reasonable size it was then up to Maurice and his trusty Bobcat to move it to the storage location. In this 6 second video  you can once again see just how handy a Bobcat is in the hands of a good operator.

The only task that now remains is grinding out of the stump. Maurice will return in the next week or so to do this. Jan and I have nothing but praise for the work done by Lachlan Valley Tree Services. They are not cheap but there's no question about their skill and commitment to their craft. Having all the right gear helps as well ... and being obsessed about safety as they are is paramount.

In closing, above is a photograph of the house and shed taken from the same positioning as the 'before' photo ... quite a change!

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