The hit TV show “Tougher in Alaska” has educated many Americans on the rigors of life in our largest state. Right-of-way clearing is made even tougher in Alaska thanks to the climate and the terrain. “We work in everything from flat, hot and dusty in the summer to hills and mountains,” says Pat McCardle, who oversees right-of-way work for Golden Valley Electric Association, a nonprofit co-op that does everything from generate power to deliver it to customers to maintain its own lines. “There’s a lot of places where you can’t cross creeks unless the ground is frozen, and we work seasonally, because it gets too dark up here in the winter and the snow gets too deep. Plus, the equipment tends not to run as well when temperatures get lower than 20 below, which is common.”
GVEA crews are based in Fairbanks, but service an area about the size of McCardle’s home state of Connecticut. That means a lot of travel. “The crews spend about a month a year working away from home,” McCardle estimates.
With about 2,500 miles of distribution line and 600 miles of transmission line to maintain, the crews must work in a variety of settings. This requires a variety of equipment, from bucket trucks and climbing gear, to massive mowing and mulching machines. For the latter, GVEA has relied on Kershaw equipment for many years. It continues to use two older Kershaw 10-10 mowers and more recently has taken delivery of Kershaw’s cutting-edge Klearway 500.
“The advantage the Kershaw units have over some other units is that they’re a little big more nimble,” explains McCardle. The various units are equipped with two head setups, including a Fecon drum head and Kershaw’s rotary heads. “While a Hydro-Ax has one blade, the Kershaw’s rotary head has two blades and they’re on independent motors, so you can directionally control which way you throw the brush,” he adds. “You can get both blades spinning clockwise or both blades spinning counterclockwise, or you can spin them different directions so they’re drawing the brush in. You have the ability to really pulverize things apart and throw the debris off the right of way. And, if you’re working near a road, most of the stuff is thrown out in the woods instead of onto the road.”
GVEA uses the Kershaw units mainly on its large transmission lines. “Usually, you can get more production on a transmission line, because it’s wider and you don’t have the population density. You can get going in the morning and just mow all day long, you don’t have to worry as much about people or obstacles or guy wires,” says McCardle. GVEA also recently ordered a Kershaw SkyTrim to side-limb trees.
For times when crews must work in more populated areas, they often turn to their Bobcat 320T equipped with a Fecon mowing head. “We use it closer to town, where we don’t want to bring in a really big machine. It’s a little more maneuverable and saves a lot of time chipping,” he explains.
Read more: Right-of-Way Work