Half a cen­tury of forestry

New Zealand Logger - - Tall Timber - Words & pho­tos: Brian Reader

This year, Brian Reader cel­e­brates 50 years in forestry. To­day, he’s a log qual­ity au­di­tor con­tracted to the Pulp and Pa­per mills based in Kaw­erau, though still has a keen in­ter­est in keep­ing log­gers safe. This is the story of how he got into forestry half a cen­tury ago, as told in his own words.

CIRCA JAN­UARY 1967. IT HAD BEEN A LONG DAY, SIT­TING on a New Zealand Rail­ways bus trav­el­ling from Welling­ton to the Waio­tapu ho­tel at Rain­bow Moun­tain. Af­ter com­plet­ing three years at the Golden Downs Woods­man’s School I was on my way to a post­ing to Ming­inui with the New Zealand For­est Ser­vice (NZFS) as a sec­ond-year Log­ging Of­fi­cer Un­der Train­ing (LOUT) and my indige­nous log­ging learn­ing was all be­fore me.

A dusty yel­low Bed­ford in­di­cated the next part of the trip and I was wel­comed by the driver, a lanky man with a mous­tache the size of a train cow­catcher. Away we went on the old Waio­tapu Road, even­tu­ally de­scend­ing to­ward the dis­tant green belt of the Galatea farm­land and un­be­known to me, the town of Mu­ru­para.

“Are we near?” I asked, hope­fully. “About half­way,” replied the driver

Even­tu­ally, we ar­rived at the vil­lage and I have no mem­ory of my ac­com­mo­da­tion that night, though need­less to say that I put my head down some­where, a very tired young man.

My first day was spent with the Of­fi­cer in Charge (O/C) of the

sta­tion on a fa­mil­iari­sa­tion tour, again mem­ory re­calls lit­tle of the con­tent, other than see­ing the three mills the NZFS was re­spon­si­ble for sup­ply­ing logs to. Two of these mills, Manukau and Hen­der­son & Pol­lard, were steam pow­ered and the third, Longfern, was elec­tric pow­ered, run from a diesel gen­er­a­tor. Fur­ther down the track the hot boiler room at Manukau be­came the per­fect place to spend an hour af­ter a long, wet win­ter’s day of bush work.

Day two was work time with in­struc­tion in the art of scal­ing indige­nous logs from the res­i­dent log scaler. Scal­ing was done on the mill skids af­ter the log trucks were un­loaded and it re­quired es­tab­lish­ing mill-suit­able lengths from longs, then mea­sur­ing cen­tre girths on those lengths. In gen­eral, most Rimu, Kahikatea and Matai stems typ­i­cally con­tained two or three lengths – these longs were cut to length by a mill skiddy.

Some prod­uct was ready to feed di­rect into the mill, mainly Tawa, Re­warewa and Miro. The long­est break-down lengths were 16-to-18 feet. De­pend­ing on the species, an al­lowance was de­ducted when record­ing cen­tre girths to de­ter­mine saw­able vol­ume. There­fore, based on bark thick­ness, To­tara had a greater de­duc­tion than Rimu, and Rimu was greater than Tawa – al­lowance was also cal­cu­lated for any cen­tre de­cay. There was lots for this boy to learn.

Scal­ing sta­tis­tics were en­tered into the reg­is­ter with a log spe­cific brand number. This number was then scribed onto the butt us­ing a com­pass-like tool, which was an art form in it­self. There were two scalers based on sta­tion, one to work with the three Ming­inui mills and the sec­ond scaler was on the road. On the road meant get­ting up early to link with the two trucks cart­ing out of the Horo­manga meet­ing lo­ca­tion at Te Whaiti – often, one had to shift a deer car­cass (and oc­ca­sion­ally two, three or even more) stowed within the load, en route to the freezer at Mu­ru­para, to ob­tain the cen­tre girth measurements.

Once these trucks were com­pleted, it was off to the Fletcher mill at Ru­atahuna to scale the pro­duce de­liv­ered af­ter the pre­vi­ous day’s de­par­ture. These logs were har­vested from Mao­ri­owned blocks close by.

If time al­lowed, we would travel on up to the Huia­rau sum­mit where logs from Maun­gapo­hatu (in the Urew­eras) were ac­cu­mu­lated for on-cart­ing to des­ig­nated mills, as per the photo on page 45.

On two oc­ca­sions, we made the jour­ney our­selves into the Maun­gapo­hatu log­ging op­er­a­tion and it was an amaz­ing ex­pe­ri­ence that I will trea­sure for life. The ab­so­lute iso­la­tion of this in­cred­i­ble for­est in 1968 was cap­ti­vat­ing. Ar­riv­ing at the Maunga is like ar­riv­ing at the ends of the Earth, the strik­ing still­ness, calm­ness and the quiet­ness is al­most over­whelm­ing.

In 1968, I had no knowl­edge of Maun­gapo­hatu’s rich, yet sad his­tory, but my knowl­edge has grown over time and de­vel­oped through read­ing about things that may not be so nice but should be com­pul­sory for ev­ery New Zealan­der to read, not just for those with an in­ter­est or af­fil­i­a­tion to Ngati Tuhoe.

Re­cently, I was for­tu­nate to re-visit Maung­po­hatu near to the day fifty years on from my first visit and it re­mains a very spe­cial and spir­i­tual place. There can­not be many places in New Zealand where hand-adzed ex­te­rior cladding is ob­serv­able on some whares years af­ter they were aban­doned.

All up, I spent three months scal­ing be­fore mov­ing onto other log­ging tasks.

With an un­der­stand­ing of the mill re­quire­ments, I was moved to the NZFS bonus log­ging crew known as Dou­ble Drum and so be­gan prob­a­bly the most ex­cit­ing, in­ter­est­ing and en­joy­able time of my work­ing life.

In hind­sight, I was for­tu­nate to be tu­tored by a re­ally smart man

who knew his trade like very few that I have seen since. Ev­ery day af­ter saw prepa­ra­tion, my tu­tor, Andy Ko­hiti, walked the bush to be worked that shift, plan­ning each and ev­ery tree in the se­quence that he would go on to fell. All the sub­dom­i­nant species, such as Tawa and Re­warewa, were har­vested be­fore the tow­er­ing Rimu and Kahikatea. This saved tree waste and was safer in that it caused no over­head dam­age to taller trees.

Andy read the for­est like a book. Some days he would spend up­wards of an hour look­ing at the bush be­fore he felled any­thing. The first tree I saw felled was a huge Rimu and my re­ac­tion was one of ex­u­ber­ance ex­pressed with a yell of ya­hoo as the whole for­est seemed to fall. To me – an im­pres­sion­able youth with lit­tle ex­pe­ri­ence of the for­est at that stage – this was su­per im­pres­sive, hence my re­ac­tion. Andy ad­mon­ished me, say­ing “never ya­hoo matey, one day it will ya­hoo back at you”! Ad­vice that was never for­got­ten from a man of such huge mana.

This par­tic­u­lar for­est had a very high vol­ume per acre with an even mix of species. Ex­trac­tion was un­der­taken

by a Cater­pil­lar D8 trac­tor with a tracked arch in tow. Our load­ing sys­tem con­sisted of over­head ropes, rigged through two erected spars and was pow­ered by a dou­ble drum mounted onto an old D8, which gave its name to the crew. Pro­duc­tion was, on bet­ter days, four-to-six loads and not so good days, barely two.

Four months af­ter start­ing with the Dou­ble Drum crew, the de­ci­sion was made for me to at­tend a six-week log­ging course at FTC (For­est Train­ing Cen­tre) in Ro­torua, which in­cluded field ex­pe­ri­ence within Kain­garoa thin­ning crews and the Waipa State Mill (now Red Stag) log­ging crews. Stay­ing in the Kain­garoa sin­gle men’s camp was a les­son in life – in the 1960's never was there a colder place or more mar­ginal tucker.

On my re­turn to what was be­com­ing my work heaven, the O/C placed me in the sec­ond log­ging crew clear felling out of Camp Road in Ming­inui For­est.

Our first task was to rig a replica over­head rope load­ing sys­tem to that at the Dou­ble Drum. Two D8's were re­quired to stand the huge spars up. Once the rig­ging was com­pleted, we com­menced work­ing the block, en­coun­ter­ing a high per­cent­age of lessor species, in the main Tawa grow­ing amongst the larger, scat­tered podocarp.

Shortly af­ter com­plet­ing the Camp Road load­ing sys­tem, we rigged the same method in the Waione bush, where the Dou­ble Drum crew was about to shift.

We then un­der­took an­other task, which was to search the for­est for two spar poles destined for Kain­garoa Log­ging Com­pany (KLC). These were duly lo­cated, felled without break­age, ex­tracted and placed on top of a load of peeler logs and dis­patched to Mu­ru­para. How­ever, we had to re­peat the ex­er­cise not long af­ter­wards, as the KLC peo­ple man­aged to drop one and smash it.

Ac­cess into an area known as Pee Basin re­quired the con­struc­tion of a log bridge, a task suc­cess­fully com­pleted us­ing Matai bear­ers and Rimu car­riage logs. It was built to last and it’s prob­a­bly still there to­day.

To di­gress a lit­tle, often af­ter a hard day’s work I’d go out chas­ing deer. That was my idea of re­cre­ation, and Camp Road be­came a fa­vorite haunt. Evenings would see me with binoc­u­lars in hand, glass­ing for my quarry. In the dis­tance were Mt Tauhara and Mt Pu­tauaki, where in the shad­ows of both, I would work much later in life. If I looked hard in the dis­tance Mt Pure­ora was dis­cern­able – an­other of the NZFS-run indige­nous log­ging op­er­a­tions.

Af­ter six months of ab­so­lute bliss­ful work with the Camp Road crew, 100 days of soldier­ing beck­oned for me at the Waiouru army base. For those of you too young to know, it was part of the old days when young men over the age of 18 were con­scripted into the ser­vices. I had vol­un­teered at my time of reg­is­ter­ing, as did other forestry peo­ple and thor­oughly en­joyed the ex­pe­ri­ence.

On re­turn­ing to Ming­inui, the Camp Road crew were en­gaged in the in­con­ve­nient task of felling trees that were burn­ing in the crowns from a con­trolled burn off. With no pos­si­bil­ity of get­ting wa­ter up high

to the flames, the trees had to be felled to ex­tin­guish the fire and for weeks we had to log in the mess we had been forced to cre­ate. It was very alarm­ing to ob­serve the fire spread­ing from tree to tree, the con­se­quences of which caused cat­a­strophic dam­age to the bush.

For some rea­son un­known/un­sure at the time, To­tara trees were suf­fer­ing from what was termed ‘dieback’, which man­i­fested it­self in the form of dead or dy­ing crowns. So a de­ci­sion was made to sal­vage as much To­tara as prac­ti­ca­ble or pos­si­ble.

The Man­gawiri basin had a high To­tara con­tent, so this part of the sta­tion was tar­geted and needed to be set up with road line and skid sites. The felling task be­came my role for the next two months and never was there more plea­sur­able work. Many of the trees had a three-to-four mill log con­tent, given they were up to 60-plus feet in length. Al­though we were tar­get­ing To­tara, the pre­dom­i­nant species in this for­est were Rimu and Kahikatea. Only a small por­tion of the basin was clear felled, with much still stand­ing to this day, ob­serv­able as a su­perb ex­am­ple of the an­cient Te Urew­era For­est.

Think­ing back to why the Ming­inui ex­pe­ri­ence was such a plea­sure, it is not dif­fi­cult to de­ter­mine the rea­sons. It was so dif­fer­ent to ex­otic log­ging and these dif­fer­ences were the essence of the plea­sure for me.

Ev­ery move you made had to be thought through metic­u­lously to its com­ple­tion.

Ev­ery tree needed a plan and the plan needed to con­sider many el­e­ments, some ex­am­ples be­ing tree lean and there­fore, fall di­rec­tion and break­age, shape, re­la­tion­ship with other trees, species and there­fore brit­tle­ness and lim­ited abil­ity to con­trol, rot (and there was plenty of that), se­quence, ab­so­lute fool­proof es­cape route and so on.

On suc­cess­fully com­plet­ing the felling and prepa­ra­tion for ex­trac­tion of a tree, you then had to de­ter­mine a new plan for the next tree, and so it con­tin­ued. This con­stant plan­ning, va­ri­ety of trees and dif­fer­ence in the en­vi­ron­ment made the job unique. You were paid to task work that had no un­de­sir­able com­po­nents in any form at all – rather the op­po­site. By day’s end, your body was tired but by ne­ces­sity your mind was not.

Ru­mor abounded even then (1969) about the even­tual demise of har­vest­ing nat­u­ral forests in New Zealand. Change was in the wind and ap­par­ently, there was lit­tle to be gained by my re­main­ing on sta­tion in this won­der­ful en­vi­ron­ment – sadly it was the op­po­site. My O/C re­luc­tantly in­formed me that I needed to re­turn to the ex­otic side of my train­ing, to which I re­sponded with a re­quest not to be posted to Kain­garoa, but in­stead be re­turned to Golden Downs, where I had done my ear­lier train­ing.

Amaz­ingly, my re­quest was granted and so fin­ished the most pleas­ant part of my early work­ing days in an indige­nous for­est as I looked to the South Is­land for my next forestry ex­pe­ri­ence.

Golden Downs had suf­fered huge plan­ta­tion wind-blow losses to the cy­clone that sank the ferry Wahine as it made its way into Welling­ton Har­bour and for two-to-three years we saw lit­tle in the form of stand­ing bush but hey, that’s an­other story. And un­be­known to me at that time, Kain­garoa also beck­oned a lit­tle later on……….


Above: Life wasn’t all about log­ging – a suc­cess­ful week­end’s hunt­ing in Ming­inui For­est in 1969.

Fac­ing page: The Dou­ble Drum over­head log load­ing sys­tem that gave its name to crew who used it in the bush, seen here in 1968. Above: This photo is taken from the same spot as the one show­ing the Dou­ble Drum sys­tem, but al­most 30 years later, with...

Above: The NZFS took de­liv­ery of this new Cater­pil­lar D7E in 1967-68, which, at the time was thought of as “a Rolls-Royce piece of ma­chin­ery” says Brian Reader, who is stand­ing along­side. Be­low left: A log truck with some large Rimu logs in the bunk...

Left: Brian Reader stands by a large Rimu dur­ing a trip back to Ming­inui in early Septem­ber. Above: A McCul­loch chain­saw with a 4ft bar leans against the butt of a Rimu that had been felled by Brian Reader in 1969. Right: Brian Reader’s tree felling...

Above: Brian Reader, axe in hand, stands on this Kahikitea that shows some cen­tre de­cay, which would later be de­ducted from mer­chantable vol­ume when it ar­rived for scal­ing at the mill.

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