In the early days of the profession, a dependable chain saw was probably about the most that any tree care pro dreamed of owning. That’s still a must-have, but advances in technology and safety mean there are now many more types of equipment (including tools, gear, etc.) on the market to help get tree work done more effectively, efficiently and safely. With this in mind, Tree Services asked several tree care pros what equipment they wish they had in their arsenal and how it would help them on the job. Their answers provide an interesting look at what’s hot at the moment (knuckle booms and tracked lifts) and general trends in how companies are approaching tree care work these days.
1. “I would just love to have a knuckle boom.”
“There are always things that we are eying!” says Noel Boyer, owner of All About Trees in Springfield, Missouri. “One thing that I would just love to have is a knuckle boom — that would be incredible,” he says, noting that it’s probably not a realistic purchase, at least for the next couple of years because of his business philosophy of paying cash for equipment. “I could go to the bank today and get the money to go buy one, but that’s not how we run,” he explains.
Boyer says that, for whatever reason, he’s been doing more removals lately than he typically handles, so a knuckle boom crane would be a tremendous help. “We have a couple of grapple trucks, a couple of mini skid-steers and last year we bought a bigger chipper with a winch, so we’re set up for removals … but a knuckle boom would sure make tree removal work easier, and also storm work where trees have fallen on houses — we could just back up to the house and start picking pieces off of it.” Boyer currently subcontracts a crane for removals, “and this year we’ve used a crane more than we ever have in the past. Some of the jobs that we used the crane on could have been done with a knuckle boom, if we had one,” he notes.
One thing that Boyer is in the market for this year is a new chip truck. “I’m looking for a little bit higher-capacity chip truck to go with the higher-capacity chipper that we bought last year,” he explains. That is in keeping with his strategy of constantly upgrading his equipment. “Every year what I try to do is to get just a little bit nicer, newer, better, stronger, faster stuff,” he says. Case in point, the Vermeer SC852 stump grinder that he purchased this year: “It’s cutting our stump grinding time in half, which is awesome,” says Boyer.
2. “I could see putting it to use every day.”
David Raines, owner of Raines Tree Care in Rogers, Arkansas, has the same major wish as Boyer: Raines says he’d love an Effer-articulated (knuckle boom) crane, as that company offers models designed specifically for arboriculture. “Something like that would be amazing,” Raines explains. “Just the efficiency that they provide is amazing, [along with] the access they offer.” Raines says his company does a fair number of crane jobs, but contracts with a service to bring in a standard crane and operator for those projects. The cost of purchasing an articulated crane would be substantial, though, he says. “The companies I’ve seen that own those, if they’re not doing tree jobs, someone is using it to set trusses on buildings, or for some other purpose. They’re renting it out — you don’t want something like that sitting around,” he says.
Raines says he has also been eying a tracked man lift; he’s examined several models at conferences and trade shows, noting that there are many good models on the market, though a CMC 83HD unit (from All Access Equipment) stood out to him. Raines says this is something he could envision purchasing in the near future. Particularly because he says that the heavily wooded communities where his company works have seen a lot of tree decline in the past five years, due to drought and construction damage. “A lot of them have a fungus called Hypoxylon, which is a very fast-decaying, rotting disease,” he explains. “So, a lot of trees are pretty unsafe to climb. The cool thing about the tracked man lifts is that you can get them though 36-inch gates. You can also get them in small areas, level them and … they’d make for pretty quick work, and safer work. That’s the main reason that I would like to have one — for the safety of working on trees that are so sketchy to climb.”
He’s also interested in the reach (height) this equipment can offer, which is why the 83-foot model caught his attention. “I could see putting it to use every day,” he says. It wouldn’t replace climbing for Raines Tree Care, but would improve efficiency and safety on certain jobs. “We love climbing. We’re a very strong climbing crew; we train, we’re progressive in our climbing styles and we compete,” says Raines, admitting that some people might see the use of a tracked man lift as a less “macho” way to work. “Well, we could be efficient that way, we could be safe that way. When you’re running a business, you need to think about things like efficiency and better profit margins instead of just focusing on climbing cool trees.”
3. “We would love to have a spider lift.”
Vincent Debrock, co-owner of Heritage Tree Care in Buda, Texas, has a similar item on his list, and for the same reasons as Raines. “We would love to have a spider lift. It would help so much with so many situations,” says Debrock. “It would cut down on the wear and tear on the climbers, but more importantly, reduce the risk of an accident. These machines are incredible pieces of equipment.” Also on Debrock’s wish list, given the amount of wood that his company generates, would be a portable sawmill.
4. “It would be nice to have a four-wheel drive bucket truck.”
Judd Hart, owner of J.H. Hart Urban Forestry in Sterling Heights, Michigan, says he’s been fortunate in the last few years to be able to check off a number of pieces of equipment on his running wish list, including the recent purchase of a Boxer (from Morbark) compact utility loader and a track lift. “And we just bought three elevators,” he adds of some other equipment that he had long wanted. “I want our crews to have the best stuff that the industry has to offer,” Hart explains of his dedication to keeping up with equipment purchases and trying to constantly invest in equipment that will improve efficiency and safety.
Hart does still have a few pieces of equipment he’d like to add to his fleet, some of which aren’t even on the market. One would be an insulated track lift. He’s seen only one manufacturer offering these, Altec, and would like to see other manufacturers add insulated track lifts to their lineups. Specifically, the current models are substantially heavier than the lifts his company now operates, so he’d like to see technology advance to the point where lighter insulated models are possible. “When you’re going through a 36-inch gate opening on a sidewalk, and you’ve got [all that weight] over two tracks, that’s a big impact,” Hart notes.
Another tool Hart would love to see introduced, and one that’s much lower-tech, is a super high-quality (i.e., durable) pole saw blade. “We go through pole saw blades constantly — breaking them, bending them. And we’ve tried them all; we’ve spent $30 a blade and we’ve spent $12 a blade,” he says. A blade that really held up to the tough environment of tree work would help keep jobs moving, he notes.
Hart has one more piece of equipment that he says would help his crews do their jobs more efficiently: a four-wheel-drive bucket truck. “We do a lot of golf course work in the winter time, and we always have to chain up the tires, and that’s problematic,” he notes. Cost is the one concern he has about purchasing one of these. “Obviously, you can order these, they’re just very expensive. But it would be nice to have a four-wheel-drive bucket truck. That would be very cool.”
5. “If I had a crane it would definitely open up a lot of opportunities.”
Tyler Burkett, who with his wife, Amy, runs Burkett Arbor Care in Boerne, Texas, would love to have a remote-controlled Altec crane unit with a grapple/saw (like the company’s EC175-5S-FG). He says doesn’t know much about this type of machine, and he hasn’t researched it yet, but he recently saw information about it for the first time “and it blew my mind.” Currently, Burkett Arbor Care rents cranes on an as-needed basis. “If I had a crane it would definitely open up a lot of opportunities,” says Burkett. “I have built a lot of good relationships with other arborists and tree/landscape companies in town. I could envision being subbed out on crane removals if we owned one.”
He’d also love a 72-foot track lift, which Burkett says “would be awesome for clearing cedar (ash juniper) out on rough terrain where we don’t have adequate access with a truck.” He’s been shopping for such a unit for several years now. “So far, our bucket trucks have been adequate, but I could see a day where we want to purchase a track lift sometime in the future to access backyards. Again, being the only, or one of the only, companies in town to have one, I could see us being subbed out regularly if we had one, on top of it helping us to meet our clients’ needs.”
6. “For safety and efficiency, I don’t know that there’s anything better.”
Rob Kruljac, owner of Arborel Tree Service in Pennsylvania, jokes that the top item on his equipment wish list would be a teleportation device. “That way I could instantly go from job site to sales appointment to the office, and back again!” he jokes. On a more serious note, Kruljac says he feels like he has all of the tools he needs to do his job, but would like to upgrade some of them. “For example, we have a knuckle boom crane, but I’d like a bigger one,” he says. “That’s an awesome tool; they’re very versatile.”
Switching to a much smaller scale, Arborel Tree Service crew members already have helmet communication systems, but Kruljac would like the latest version of this technology. “The ones that we’re using are actually motorcycle communications models,” he explains. “They clip on to the back of the helmet and there’s a little bit of wiring you need to do to wire it into your earmuffs.” He says that they work great, but there are next-generation systems on the market (both his existing communication system and the new one are from Sena) with Bluetooth communication capability integrated into a hard hat. “They are actually built directly into the hearing protection system,” says Kruljac.
Regardless of the generation, he says that these on-the-job communications tools offer huge benefits for the tree care industry. “For safety and efficiency, I don’t know that there’s anything better,” Kruljac explains, noting that he knew the technology would be helpful when he first invested in it, but he didn’t realize then how many uses it has. At first, it was mainly for communication during crane operations, where the operator can’t see the climber. Now, it’s being used to allow employees to communicate on just about every job. “Everything from being able to ask, ‘Hey, is this cut going to match up on the other side of the tree?’ to getting direction when you’re backing a truck up with a chipper — you can just talk back and forth in a normal volume,” he explains. “Or if you’re in the backyard and someone else is in the front yard, you can tell them you need a rope.” If Kruljac sees a crew member doing something incorrectly, he can talk to them from across the job site. He can also train them in the proper way to run a piece of equipment, like a chipper. “It’s pretty amazing — it’s a huge advancement,” says Kruljac.