By Dawn Killough
More than two years after dangerous forest fires swept through northern and central California, Mowbray’s Tree Service, based in San Bernardino, has worked tirelessly to clean up debris and burned trees. They are getting a lot of help from their fleet of eight Sennebogen 718s.
Richard Mowbray, along with his father and grandfather before him, built their business providing vegetation and tree maintenance services for California’s largest energy utilities. Mowbray, who manages skilled crews throughout the state, says, “We’re known for vegetation management, right-of-way maintenance, and high-hazard tree removal.”
Fire Cleanup Continues
Mowbray’s Tree Service is currently working four fires in northern and central California. They started two years ago on the Camp Fire in Paradise for PG & E. They are also working the North Complex Fire in that same area for PG & E.
The Creek Fire site in central California, which they are working for Southern California Edison, is one of the larger sites they are working. “The first initiative when we got there was they wanted to put the dangerous trees on the ground. Some of the debris didn’t get cleaned up right away, so there’s still a lot to do out there,” says Mowbray.
For the Sequoia Fire in Camp Nelson in central California, they had to bring in specialized hand crews to drop trees and are looking at the possibility of using helicopters to remove the remaining wood.
The Right Equipment for the Job
Mowbray’s currently has eight Sennebogen 718 tree care handlers in the field working these fires. The 718 is a 21-ton unit equipped with a 43-foot telescoping stick with a grapple saw attachment. Its powerful hydraulics are tuned for delicate tree trimming as well as heavy cutting. It has a 3,700 lb. lifting capacity and can easily grasp, cut, move, and stack whole trees and large limbs in a single movement.
To improve safety, the operator can hydraulically elevate to an eye-level of 18 feet and adjust the cab’s tilting mechanism to improve visibility into work zones. With its clear line-of-site, powerful grip, and agile saw head, it is often able to extract trees adjacent to high-voltage lines without requiring the cables to be de-energized.
Benefits of the 718
Mowbray is passionate about the benefits of using a 718 for the work they are doing, which focuses on tree removal near homes and energized power lines.
“One operator can do the work of a full crew,” says Mowbray. “For us to go out and take down 40 trees and get them out for other equipment to clean up, we might have had 10 or 15 employees before. Now we can do the exact same work with one person operating the Sennebogen and a climber working around the power lines.”
Their standard crew size for a Sennebogen is one operator and a spotter to look out for hazards. A normal crew is three men, but it would take many more crews to equal the production of one piece of equipment.
Mowbray tells the story of a project near a Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) substation, where they were working around a lot of ground obstacles. “The operator was able to go in there like a surgeon and piece out and dismantle nine trees in a day. A competitor was there last year, using the old ways, and it took him four days to bring down two trees. We had the first two trees down in 26 minutes!”
In addition to increased production, Mowbray selected Sennebogen equipment because it makes the work safer for his employees. “The driving factor for us was reducing human exposure and providing a safer working environment. Other machines can do the work, but the Sennebogen takes the employee out of the danger zone.”
Instead of 30 workers in an area using traditional methods, a couple of two-man crews can get the same job done with less exposure. An added bonus is the work isn’t as strenuous because the equipment does the heavy lifting.
Not only is the equipment fast, requiring fewer workers to do the job, it is also easy to train operators. It can take two to four years to train someone to safely cut down a tree using traditional methods. This results in lost production time while the company waits for the worker to get up to speed.
Operator training on the Sennebogen equipment takes two to four weeks. “One guy had experience running an excavator, and he was cutting down trees in about four weeks using the Sennebogen. Some are taking down up to 40 trees a day with minimal training.”
Since the training is focused on operating the equipment, not climbing trees, the turnaround time is much shorter. Mowbray considers this a huge return on investment for them.
Looking to the Future
Mowbray’s is looking forward to soon becoming the first company on the West Coast to receive a 728 unit, which is similar to the 718 but with a 65-foot boom.
The unit will be quickly put to work next to its brothers. Although Mowbray’s is the first large tree care specialist to be equipped with Sennebogen machines, Richard Mowbray is convinced that they will become a more common sight over the next few years.
“We can do trees for a lower cost to the customer,” Mowbray says, “and it’s a safer environment for the operator. It saves lives, time, and money. So that’s a win-win-win for everybody.”
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