Mean Machines - Loggers

Friday 27 April

mean machines: loggers (9/10) 19.30–20.00

This entertaining series continues with its mission – to hunt down the most exciting mechanical beasts on the planet, taking viewers inside the biggest, baddest, strongest and fastest machines around. The exciting world of logging is investigated in this penultimate edition, which features tree-chopping monsters from the cutting-edge of technology.

First up is the 13 tonne Timberjack, a machine so powerful, agile and intelligent that it can do the work of a team of lumberjacks with just one operator. Isolating a single tree, this mechanical marvel works by grabbing hold of the trunk with a telescopic grapple. It then saws it off, debranches it and cuts it down to size. Equipped with a state-of-the-art computer, the Timberjack is able to measure the timber it has procured and can tell the operator when it has cut down enough for a particular job.

It takes a year to train a Timberjack operator, and what was once a job for brawn has become a task for the brainy. Instructor Chris Thompson explains why there’s no room for mistakes when in control of the cutting head: “If you look around it, it’s full of spikes, jaws, sharp edges and jaggy things.” At 160 thousand pounds, the Timberjack costs a lot more than the average hedge-trimmer but, shifting up to 800 trees a day, it is a true mean machine.

Fifty years ago, a valley in Central British Columbia was flooded to make a hydro dam. Thirty metres below its calm surface lies a sunken forest of prime hardwood stretching for 16 kilometres and worth millions. Until now, this timber has been completely inaccessible, with scuba divers occasionally risking life and limb to retrieve a few trunks with chainsaws. But a now a remarkable new remote controlled submarine called the Sawfish has solved the problem.

The Sawfish is fitted with standard logging equipment, a camera and five powerful thrusters for extra manoeuvrability. Controlled by a skilled pilot, it grips and saws through a selected trunk, before attaching it to an air bag. When this inflates, the tree is dramatically propelled to the surface where it is collected by a barge. CEO of Triton Logging Chris Godsall explains how the company borrowed technology from the oil and gas industries: “You can go into 10,000 feet of water,” he says. For its amazing agility and clever airbag action, the Sawfish is a truly impressive aqua mean machine.

However, sometimes in the logging business innovative technology is not required – it just takes a good old fashioned saw. At Canada’s Annual Lumberjack Competition, some of the most skilful loggers in the world compete with customised chainsaws – replete with double-barrelled carburettors and motocross bike exhausts – and traditional long saws.

Canadian champion and veteran logger Matt Mooney competes with his daughter Sarah every year. The biggest tests at the competition involve slicing through thick trunks with a long saw – a feat he and Sarah can accomplish in just under 11 seconds. Not just anyone could be a lumberjack, says Matt. “You got to have the technique,” he warns. “You couldn’t just pick up a power saw and go out in the woods and start felling trees. You’d be dead in no time flat.” These champion lumberjacks demonstrate that even a simple long saw can qualify as a mean machine.

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