The first thing a basketball coach looks for in a player is height. The same is true for tree care professionals when it comes to aerial lifts. There is just no substitute for height, according to arborists using some of the tallest lifts available. Those we spoke to all felt that the investment in these towering tools has made a big difference in their businesses.
Bill Jacobsen, owner of Jacobsen Tree Experts in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, bought his first 75-foot lift – a Terex Hi-Ranger XT60/70 – in 2004. He’s added two more since then for a fleet of three. “We’ve found that they’ve given us the extra height and reach we were lacking,” Jacobsen explains. “We had all 55-footers before that, and these taller lifts have made our jobs easier.”
He adds that the over-center capability of the Hi-Ranger XT helped drive the decision to purchase that model. Because Jacobsen Tree Experts handles a lot of line clearing work, the elevator feature has proven to be particularly valuable. “It really helps us get above the wires,” he says.
Jacobsen says there wasn’t a steep learning curve in moving up to the taller lifts. “It wasn’t difficult at all. A good operator will have no problem after a few days of running it.” And, he’s yet to find any downside to the added reach. “The only thing you need to keep in mind is that they are front-heavy, so soft ground conditions can be an issue for the front end. They’re the same size as the 55-foot truck, it’s just that you have a heavy elevator right behind the cab,” Jacobsen explains.
Steven Muench, owner of All American Tree Service in New Jersey, also has a 75-foot Hi-Ranger and agrees that taller lifts do require extra attention when setting up. “With the added height when you’re going up and then out, there’s more force being put on the ground. You really need to make sure your outriggers are on stable ground – it’s more like a crane in that regard,” he says. “The extra physics involved mean you need to be even more aware of where you’re setting up.”
Muench purchased his lift at the end of 2011 and has already found it a valuable addition to his business. “I had an older 50-foot aerial lift and this gives us much more reach,” he notes. He opted for the shortest possible wheelbase available with this model. “It’s really short, actually shorter than my smaller lift, and allows me to set this up in much tighter areas. That’s been a huge advantage,” says Muench.
He says that the taller lift also lets his crews cut back on the amount of climbing they do. “We had a storm here recently and there are just so many high branches that are cracked and hanging. We’re pretty good climbers, but a lot of this stuff is too far out on the ends of limbs that you can’t climb out there,” he explains. “This lift lets us get at them and it gets the job done quicker. It’s a lot more efficient than climbing, and we’re not as beat up at the end of the day.”
For those considering purchasing a new aerial lift, Muench says, “Spend the extra money and get the extra height. There are just so many days out on the job where you’re going to want the extra height.”
Kevin Fredette, owner of Gate City Tree Service in Nashua, New Hampshire, is no stranger to tall equipment, having purchased a crane several years ago. “We had been renting cranes and renting cranes and renting cranes, and finally we saved up enough money to buy one,” he says.
Shortly after adding the crane, Fredette found he also needed a tall lift and selected a 75-foot Nifty Lift. “We use that together with the crane. Whenever we take trees down, about 75 percent of the time we’ll use the Nifty Lift too,” he explains. “It’s a self-propelled unit. We have a 75-foot bucket truck, but bucket trucks are limited as to where they can go. The Nifty Lift can go pretty much anywhere and can get through a 7.5-foot opening or gate very easily,” he says. “We can go into hard-to-get-at spots, such as around pools and landscaped areas.” The bucket truck is used wherever access allows, but otherwise he utilizes the Nifty Lift.
Fredette says the combination of maneuverability and tall reach of the scissor-type lift has helped him take on jobs that otherwise would be much more difficult to complete. “It saves us from having to climb all the time,” he states. “Climbing trees is a thing of the past for us unless we really can’t get the machine in there. It’s been a real game-changer for us.”
He says that a windstorm that came through his area a couple years ago “produced hangers galore” and prompted other local tree care companies to purchase similar self-propelled lifts. He feels that they represent the future of tree care work. “It is the machine that everyone has been waiting for, mainly for this reason: It’s very lightweight and has balloon tires, so it’s a lot easier on lawns and it’s also driveway friendly,” says Fredette. “Before we would have to take the bucket truck across people’s lawns and then have to fix ruts. Now we can go right across the lawn and you’d never know we had been on it. One of the major challenges in the tree care industry is not destroying people’s properties.” Now, he says, there are no angry calls from customers at the end of a job and no time wasted by having crews spend half a day repairing lawns.
“Like any new piece of equipment, it takes some time to learn how to use it the right way,” Fredette notes. “For example, it has to be set up so that it’s out of your way and out of the drop zone.”
He says a lift of this size often makes a job go faster than it would working with a shorter lift. With 75 feet of reach, he’s found that “95 percent of the time you won’t have to get out of the Nifty Lift to hook a cable to a tree that’s going to come down.” The only real limitation Fredette has observed with the Nifty Lift is that it’s not insulated. “Whenever we’re working around wires, we’ll use our bucket truck,” he explains. In addition, the lift must be trailered to job sites, and Fredette says, at least in New Hampshire, it must be towed with a smaller truck in order to avoid moving up to a higher GVWR class.
The Haupt Tree Care Company in Sheffield, Massachusettes, also operates a 75-foot Nifty Lift. “It’s been outstanding for us,” says Erik Haupt. “We’ve driven it across soaking wet lawns and it doesn’t even leave a track; and it has four-wheel steering, so there is tremendous maneuverability.”
Haupt says his company purchased the Nifty Lift last year after having mixed results using several “spider lifts.” Those tracked units were narrow, but nonetheless had difficulty getting into many areas, he explains. “We found them to just be exasperating to operate in a tree care environment,” Haupt states. Limitations on how far from center the lift could be operated required a great deal of repositioning, which is his other major complaint.
The company also has two 75-foot truck-mounted aerial lifts: one an Altec and the other produced by Aerial Lift of Connecticut (no longer in business). “We’ve had a number of large aerial lifts over the years, starting with one of the original elevator lifts made by a company called Skyworker [also no longer in business],” says Haupt. “We transitioned to that unit from a 105-foot crane because we thought we could utilize a tall aerial lift much more often than we could a crane. In terms of the acquisition cost and the number of billable hours we could have per year, the tall aerial lifts just make more sense for us than a crane.”
Taller aerial lifts increase worker safety by decreasing the amount of climbing required (especially in dangerous trees) and provide a good balance between a crane and shorter aerial lifts, says Haupt: “They’re very versatile and allow us to reach the tops of all but the tallest trees. You can do a lot with a smaller aerial lift, but you spend a lot of time with a pole saw or climbing out into the tree. The taller lift gives you more capability and flexibility. We’re no longer in the line clearing business, so I don’t think we’d ever buy a short lift again.”
Out in Bend, Oregon, Jim Weaver, owner of Alta Tree Service has owned six aerial lifts over the years, including several 55-footers. Currently, though, he’s working with his second Hi-Ranger 60/70 and says the elevator function of this model, combined with the 75-foot working height, provides a great deal of versatility. “It’s really the ultimate tree truck,” Weaver says. “You can get 100-foot booms, but you can’t use them in the tree business because the booms are so long you’d be banging them into other trees and houses.”
Once he’s up in a tree working, Weaver, who uses the lift mostly for pruning, says he notices the maneuverability provided by the elevator as much as he does the extra height: “That’s what many people don’t realize. The elevator gives you so many different possibilities geometry-wise and angle-wise to be able to get through trees and over trees. With a regular lift you might be able to get to a fork that you can’t quite get over because you can’t then get down again on the other side. With the elevator, you just raise that up a few feet, and then you can drop down over that crotch and get clear into the bottom limbs on the other side of the tree.”
There are also business advantages to buying a taller lift, he adds. “If you’re in a smaller city or rural area, a lot of the tree companies don’t have this type of equipment,” says Weaver. “By being able to advertise that you can reach 75 feet, it gives you a niche in the market. So whenever anybody has anything to do that you need an aerial lift for, even if it could be done by a climber, they will invariably call you. It gets you so much more business.”
Weaver says he used to climb on most jobs, and he’s had many people tell him that a good climber doesn’t need a bucket truck. “But that’s not true,” he now argues. “With a tall lift like this, many jobs you can get done in one-third the amount of time it will take a climber. So if you bid the job the same way, you really pay that lift off. Plus, at the end of the day, you’re not nearly as tired. Especially when you have the tall reach, it really makes such a difference.”