Geo-Boy carriers with Fecon mulcher heads are dependable for remote line clearing work, says Lindsay Wadsworth, field supervisor for Integrity Reclamation in Alberta, Canada. Source: Fecon

Remember that teacher from your early school years that always encouraged you to stay between the lines when coloring? Well, Lindsay Wadsworth never thought much of staying between the lines. So it is ironic that many years later, he earns his living not just by staying within the lines, but by creating them.

Wadsworth and his crews from Integrity Reclamation “clear pathways for phase 1 of geophysical explorations looking for oil-in layman’s terms we do seismic line clearing.” Unlike his early coloring endeavors where choosing the wrong crayon might earn him the teacher’s admonishment and a frowny face on his coloring work, up here choosing the wrong tool can be disastrous. That’s partly because the work is so remote, partly because the access is much better in frozen conditions, and mostly because it’s all turnkey work-so “when the machines are not running it is costing you a lot of money.”

In some ways, the work is eerily similar to staying between the lines when coloring, because the pathway is pre-programmed into the GPS units within the cab. And Wadsworth and crews “start mulching a line through the trees, as straight as you can.” They do make avoidance cuts-to stay away from an exceptionally large tree (36 inches in diameter or so) or wet holes or “anything that can be avoided to do less environmental damage or which helps the project,” states Wadsworth.

Most often, trees range from 4-inch diameter black spruce up to 20- to 30-inch pine, spruce and poplar trees.

“Little trees,” said Wadsworth, “don’t even phase the machine. Big trees, say 60 feet or taller will take a few minutes, but not an eternity.”

He uses Geo-Boy carriers fitted with Fecon (Geo-Boy 250s) mulcher heads, which are more than eight feet wide.

An initial pass knocks down the trees and brush, then they take the mulchers across the cleared pathway to clean up, but they don’t widen it “unless there is a special provision for vibe,” explains Wadsworth.

A big job might require 1,500 linear kilometers, with 20 machines working for 45 to 50 days.

Experience earned from roughly 22 years working in the woods has taught Wadsworth and crew a few things that have made life easier and more productive on the seismic exploration trail.

Simplicity is Simply Better
Wadsworth has seen a lot of equipment and been wooed by a lot of manufacturers and dealers, often touting the latest gadgetry. He likes his Geo-Boy/Fecon combination for several reasons, including the simplicity and bullet-proof design.

“The Geo-Boys exert low ground pressure, and work really well in the semi-frozen conditions in muskeg,” explains Wadsworth. “The way the track is designed-rubber track with bogey wheels underneath and sprockets wider-well that thing can go places that no other thing I’ve seen can go.”

More importantly, it can go to those places-and come back.

“Some of the designs are simpler but super reliable. Instead of an electric joystick, the system is pilot controlled. Last winter, I had one virtually sunk, the only thing sticking out was one of the headlights and an air cleaner, so it stayed running with one air cleaner. The operator was lying on the roof driving it with a stick inside the cab. You could never do that with an electric joystick because it would be fried.”

Ultimately they hooked another Geo-Boy to the sunken one and pulled it out.

“It is still here today-that is pretty bomb-proof compared to others with all of the gizmos and gadgets. It is a rock-solid unit.”

The mulching head is also solidly built and reliable.

“We have paddle-style drums, which are very solid. With over 4,000 hours and counting we’ve replaced some hammers and anvils but everything else is solid. Bearings work well, and we’ve had virtually no problems with the motors. Belts are good as long as they are aligned. Overall, we’re very pleased with the mulchers.”

Putting some quantitative figures to this qualitative assessment, Wadsworth recalled “we’ve been working for over 60 straight days in very rough and remote conditions with no mechanical failures.

Winter Woes Far From Home
In the areas where Integrity crews spend much of their winter, access is better when the roads are frozen. Some of the trees shatter easier when frozen, too-so there are certainly advantages to tackling these projects when it is cold-or rather frigid. But working in the winter presents problems that are unique to this season as well. The biggest lesson that Wadsworth has learned, and strives to teach each of his operators, is patience-especially when starting up the equipment.

Oil gets more sluggish the colder it is, so heaters help keep it more fluid. But there is no alternative to allowing the oil and grease to warm up a bit before heading off to work. Starting with oil in a sludge-like viscosity would be challenging to say the least for hydraulics.

“In winter time, planetaries fail, traction pumps split” says Wadsworth, “because operators start up without heating traction pumps sufficiently-too much k-chain pressure causes them to split.”

Having bulletproof equipment and conscientious operators is important anytime, but it is vital when you are working turnkey projects in very remote areas. Integrity crews often find themselves “four hours from a highway and six or more hours from the nearest town,” and there is no guarantee that the parts they’ll need will be stocked there.

Integrity does travel with a trailer stocked with hose and a hose press with all of the fittings that might get ripped off by trees. Wadsworth also tries to have vendors maintain some critical parts in stock “in case something does crater, we can get it as quickly as possible.”

Thankfully, his solidly built equipment has proven up to the challenges, and those emergency shipments have been few and far between-allowing Wadsworth and his crews to stay productive despite the cold and remote locations.