Half a century of forestry
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.