Breaking Out

Today we take mechanisation for granted in forestry, but it wasn’t always like that.

Once New Zealand’s forests started to be exploited for their timber pioneer loggers soon came up against a problem that seemed insurmountable – how to move a log weighing several tonnes to where it could be transported to a mill for sawing into timber.


Early efforts used bullocks, driving dams and waterways. In many cases the best timber was hard to access due to steep terrain, deep gorges and other areas where bullocks could not be used, and logs could not be moved into waterways to be held behind dams and flushed downstream by water when the dam was tripped. Dams were often used to transport Kauri logs, which float unlike some native timber.


The first mechanical steps Mechanical haulage began with a ‘whim’ – not the sort of whim you might be thinking of, as the harvesting-type of whim was a vertical drum set in a stout timber frame in the ground.

The whim was made entirely from wood strengthened with steel bands and held together by a few bolts. Usually the barrel taken from a suitable round tree trunk was used as the drum. A typical barrel would be made from timber that measured six feet long by four feet wide. Bars were set in the drum and harnessed to horses or bullocks, which walked in a circle to turn the drum and wind in the rope which was attached to the log, much like a capstan pulling up an anchor on a ship.


Horses soon became used to this work and learned to step over the rope each time as they wound in the whim. The use of the whim in the New Zealand bush was pioneered by the Bohemian settlers of Puhoi. They were used in the Warkworth Kauri bush from 1900 onwards.


The arrival of steam power Early attempts were made to harness the useful power of steam to move logs. These early winches were soon developed in into a highly efficient machine that could, in final form, be considered the ‘grandfather’ of present day Madills and other makes of yarder.


In America in 1881, John Dolbeer, a founding partner of the Dolbeer and Carson Lumber Company in Eureka, California, invented a steam-powered winch or hauler called a steam donkey. All the basic parts found in later generation steam haulers were present in this pioneer machine with one exception. Gypsy heads (a horizontally mounted spool) were placed on the ends of the main driven shaft and the hauling medium was 150 feet of 4½ inch manila rope. To pull a log, several turns of the rope was wrapped around the gypsy head.


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