Let´s go back in time. Forest machines didn´t always look like they do today. That´s natural, but to appreciate what we have today it might be good to look back now and then. Luckily enough there are people keeping some old timers alive, like museums and organizations. In the series “Strange machines” we will today focus on the odd old ones – referring to machines (not the collectors). Machines that I have passed on my way through forests, old timer days and museums.
Old forestry machines
At first there were horses. Then tractors came along that were mainly developed for work in the fields. But it turned out that they also could be used in the forest. Some of the first “forest machines” were farm tractors that were equipped with simple log loaders.
After that the development continued. Machines turned up that were especially designed for the forest and for the cut-to-length (CTL) method. Still mainly based on tractors. One of the companies that made this development possible was the Swedish ÖSA who manufactured different kinds of tracks for machines. The ÖSA tracks made the tractor’s capacity to drive in the terrain much better.
The first redesigned tractors were equipped with so called “half-tracks”. An extra pair of wheels were mounted in front of the big rear wheels of a tractor and the tracks were mounted between them.
Later, the machines were designed with other types of steering, like brake steering, and the tracks could be mounted over all the wheels, this was called “whole-tracks”. One of the first machines with ÖSA’s whole-track system was a machine called Oliver. A couple of years later the “Bamse” was developed in cooperation with BM (Bolinder Munktell, that later was merged with Volvo).
Different kinds of machines were used
ÖSA cooperated with BM among others, in the development of machines for forestry. Other brands were Fiat and Oliver. But the Swedish forestry was also looking at technology from the other side of the Atlantic. Already at that time, around 1960, CTL was the dominating method in Sweden. But people within the forest industry wanted to test the north American full tree handling systems, which was the most common method in many countries. A number of Garret Tree Farmer skidders were imported to test the system in full scale.
Eventually the CTL system was the winner and the development of machines for that continued in Sweden and Finland, still with ÖSA as one of the main players. Now, ÖSA not only manufactured tracks but also winches, grapples and cranes for forest machines. In cooperation with Volvo BM, ÖSA developed waist steered machines. The first ones were dumper trucks, but later this steering system also was introduced on forest machines.
In the meantime, other machines turned up. Kockums, Rottne, Brunett, Lokomo, Ponsse and many other machines entered the CTL forest.
Processors and harvesters
Felling had mainly been done with chainsaws since the 50’s and early 60’s. Machines for that purpose had been underway for some time, but it wasn´t until the 70’s that harvesters and processors started to be common in the Swedish forests. To begin with, mainly in north Sweden. It took until the mid-80’s before the chainsaws more or less left the Swedish forestry and was replaced by forest machines.
The early processors were big, heavy and complicated. Many had circular saws for cutting instead of chainsaws.
Later in the 70’s also smaller processors turned up. The Rottne Snoken (the snake) was one of them and it was considered to be suitable to use also in thinning. Compared to other machines the Snoken was small, but thinning …? I operated a Snoken in thinning myself by the end of the 80’s. At that time there were more suitable processors and harvesters available for thinning so I don´t really know why the Swedish State Forest wanted us to use that machine. Ten years earlier, however, there were few alternatives for mechanized thinning, so then it was more understandable that the Rottne Snoken was used for that.
The last(?) big breakthrough
The 1980’s was the decade when the machines finally broke through in all of Sweden, also the southern parts. Another breakthrough this decade was the one-grip harvester, in other words the type of harvester that we mainly (only?) use today in professional forestry operations. Today people don´t even bother to mention if it is a one-grip- or a two-grip harvester. It´s a “harvester” that today refers to what we older folks would call a one-grip harvester.
Already in 1981, I saw a one-grip harvester in action. It was a SP head with cutting knifes instead of a chainsaw. Therefore, it was used only in young thinning, where only pulpwood was produced as the knifes cracked the wood quite a lot – too much for the sawmills.
As an operator of two-grip harvesters I must confess that I didn´t believe in this new concept at all. I just couldn´t imagine that large trees could be completely processed in the crane tip. Well, I stand corrected …
“The little brother” was born, and then …?
It was also in the 80’s we saw the small harvesters for the first time. ÖSA/FMG/Timberjack (it was the same company who changed name at least three times in the 80’s) presented their “Lillebror” (little brother) harvester. Valmet followed with their similar 701 model and Rottne with their 2000 model. Today, only Rottne has the small harvester in their range. However, the Rottne H8 is larger than the first Rottne 2000.
After the Lillebror & co, it has been all about computer power and ergonomics. Nothing wrong with that except for that, machines look the same now as by the end of the 80’s. I claim that we saw the last big step in the development of forest machines then, over 30 years ago. Since then, only a few private inventors have come up with new, and wild, ideas. Ideas that the major machine manufacturers so far have ignored.
More on some of those ideas in the next article about strange forest machines.
Photos: Per Jonsson, except where otherwise stated
Sources and inspiration: Own experience, a visit at Lycksele Forestry Museum in 2003 or -04, Old-timer day by “Skogens Veteraner” (Forestry Vets) in September 2017, Elmia Wood shows back then, and “En Smedjas Förvandling – ÖSA’s historia” (The Transformation of a Smithy – the history of ÖSA) by Martin Östberg, the best book ever!!