WEST COAST NATIVES
Foresters make a plea for rules to be changed to allow selective logging to continue. South Island writer and logger, Jim Childerstone, meets up with the Coasters.
BUT THIS ISN’T THE SORT OF TRUCK I’M used to driving. This is a lot better, you can go anywhere within reason, a lot more places than a normal log truck.
It’s like a cross between a log truck and a forwarder. Sat in the plush cab, it’s more like a truck because you have a proper steering wheel, not the joysticks you find in modern forwarders, and you’re always facing ahead, not having to turn around to load the bunk with an onboard crane.
It even drives like a truck. Better than a lot of trucks, actually. Very easy – put it into D, take the electronic brake off and you’re away.
All the controls are on a panel switchboard to the right, which is where you’ll find gear selection, including buttons to hold it in whatever gear you choose and it won’t go any higher, which prevents the auto making unnecessary gear changes on the hill and stops it from gouging ruts in the track.
Other switches on the panel are for the rear diff-locks and the centre differential to engage the front axle, plus things like at A/C, wipers, lights etc – Tony reckons the lights are great for early morning starts.
You don’t need any switches for the retarder because it works automatically through the gearbox to help slow the Bell on a steep hill. Would have been good to try that on a steeper tack.
And there’s a big red emergency stop button just above the control panel if you need to kill everything quickly
So not much to remember at all.
The seat and the driving position are excellent and the fore/aft and rake on the steering column makes it very easy to get comfortable for an 8-hour shift at the wheel.
When under way, there’s lots of vision ahead, especially looking down over that steeply sloping bonnet and through nice deep windows to the side to keep an eye on the edges of the track. Three heated mirrors on each side of the cab cover different rear and downward angles, which I especially like to use when reversing – I’m old school and while the rear-facing camera is good when you get up close to the loader, I prefer to rely on the mirrors for manoeuvring.
Running out from the skid to the cut-over with an empty bunk you tend to notice any rougher places on the track through the firm suspension, especially going over the corduroy. And the steering is quite touchy when it’s empty, too.
It feels a lot smoother when you’ve got weight in the bunk. Considering the amount of wood on board, you’d never think you had 30 tonnes. The engine pulls strongly and it’s extremely quiet, you hardly notice it. There’s lots of grip from those big fat tyres going up the short incline and it powers up in the right gear.
Compared to a forwarder, this is a lot simpler and a lot smoother. But saying that, a forwarder is designed and built to go out into the cut-over and its design reflects that, whereas the Bell is built to drive over tracks.
I know it can get up to 50km/h top speed but on this short stretch of track I only managed to get into third gear and I felt like I was honking. I’d love to experience it on a long flat road in sixth gear.
Have to say that I’m a bit envious of Tony and regular operator, Dale. I could be tempted back into a truck again if I had something like a Bell TH403E as my daily drive.
Above and left: Stan Barlow