Centenary Bulletin 8 – The Timberjack Story

October 12, 2018

When it comes to logging procedures, Australia and North America could not be more dissimilar. They did find, however, common ground in Timberjack machines, which also emphasised the substantial differences in technique between the two countries.

One example is, where the North Americans extract logs downhill to a haul road in a valley where they are loaded at landings onto very large log trucks for delivery to the processing plants. In Australia the haul road is usually on a ridge and most of the extraction is performed uphill, which greatly increases the performance requirement of machines. Some Australian operations were considered BIG, but in North America, there were literally dozens of contractors who operated over 300 machines in any one operation at the same time. Their forest preparation was outstanding and, consequently, they got an enormous degree of productivity from equipment employed.

Australian operations, by comparison, were somewhat disorderly but, considering the conditions, very great skills were required to extract anything. We are blessed with much better climatic conditions than many parts of North America and can generally operate the whole year round.

Even today, there are hundreds of tree stumps in forest areas around this country that were cut up to 100 years ago with cross cut saws. The tree, which would weigh 100 tons or more, would be cut by hand into manageable sections and dragged to a saw mill by winches, or a bullock team, where it was processed into useable sized material.

Viewing a ten-foot diameter stump half way up a mountain, appreciating that the stump once supported an enormous Mountain Ash up to 100 feet high, makes you wonder what motivated the early loggers to select such enormous trees to demonstrate their skills.

Norman G Clark’s good friend, the Canadian Trade Commissioner, was looking for a home for Timberjack logging tractors with an Australian distributor. In view of their Nodwell experience, he selected Norman G Clark and convinced us to visit the company in Woodstock, Ontario to discuss a distributorship.

A visit was made during 1963 at which the latest model Timberjack was demonstrated in unspectacular fashion around the factory yard. Apart from being very stable, there was nothing to suggest that it wasn’t just a glorified farm tractor. However, after a certain amount of Canadian pressure, John Clark accepted the Timberjack agency, and placed an order for a demonstration machine.

Timberjack Norman G Clark

Timberjack was owned by two Canadian engineers who were involved with logging contractors and had some appreciation of problems experienced in the industry.

Winches were just starting to be used in some extraction operations in Canada and the inevitable problem arose as to how to move the equipment from place to place. Someone suggested that the winch should be mounted on a vehicle, but as nothing suitable existed, the first Timberjack was born. It was a cross between an Army Jeep and a farm tractor. It wasn’t very good, but it was a start, and the next attempt gave notice of things to come.

About three months after the visit to Woodstock, our Melbourne Customs Agent rang and said, “There is a machine on the wharf that has your name on it but has no other paper work. Do you know anything about it?” Gradually the message got through that this thing had to be the Timberjack, and its appearance without notice was normal Canadian practice. We took a delegation to the wharf to inspect the machine, which was nothing like the ones John had seen in Woodstock. It was, in fact, the very latest model with all the improvements the factory people had promised, and certainly looked the part! It was a Model 205 powered by a 70 HP Ford four-cylinder diesel engine.

Australian Customs were not too impressed with what looked like an illegal entry and were threatening to throw it on the next boat out of Australia and slapping heavy fines on everyone involved. Eventually, after some extensive Telex traffic, heavy apologies, and promises that it would never happen again, we got the machine entered, amazingly, duty free. We then hid it under the building at Brunswick while we tried to work out what to do with it.

Heywood Pratt and Eric King were appointed Sales Representatives, and instructed to find out everything about the logging industry and then promote Timberjack to all concerned.

Norman G Clark were involved with APM in chemicals and, through our contact, found out the name of the man who oversaw APM’s forests. Heywood rang him and explained that we had a Timberjack – which was as far as he got, because the man said, “I want that machine and I will send our float to collect it tomorrow morning”. This happened exactly as promised and the machine was in action in Gippsland that afternoon!

APM Forests handed it over to their top contractor, Ivan J. Crawford, who was not too impressed at the prospect of getting stuck with a rubber tyred machine. Typically, he decided to prove beyond reasonable doubt, that the machine was not good enough for Australian conditions. It took him exactly two days to satisfy himself that there was very little it couldn’t do, and it was at least four times more productive than anything else that had been seen in the bush before. Thus, began the revolution in timber extraction methods in Australian forests.

The infamous 404 Timberjack

The infamous 404 Timberjack

Since organised logging started in Australia long before World War I, there have been many changes in the techniques employed. These originated with pure hard manual labour, when teams of men would cut down large trees and cut them into lengths that then could be winched or extracted on a narrow-gauge rail line to where a saw mill was located.

Even today, there is part of the rail line and the donkey engine and bull wheel half way up Mt Baw Baw, and the stump sizes in the forest testify how hard people had to work to produce useable timber. It is a matter of great wonder how they got the bull wheel and the donkey engine half way up the mountain. The answer, of course, was that they winched them up. Next question, how did they get the winch up there – and so it goes on!

For years they cut down trees with cross cut saws. In some areas they used horses to drag the trees to the mill with the unbelievable luxury of a bullock team to do the really hard work. The procedure was incredibly primitive until Caterpillar came up with their original crawler tractor, and started competing with the horses. The problem was, the horses were smart and the tractor operators were very bad in those days.

Nothing much changed until after World War II, when surplus Army Blitz Buggies, Weapons Carriers and all make of tracked machines were available at very low prices. More importantly, there were ex-Army personnel who could drive them, and inevitably these machines, very much modified, became the prime extraction equipment in most forest areas.

Tracked machines had been developed during the war years and soon bush operations became more streamlined than ever before. Rubber tyred machines were introduced, and Ford sold several of their four-wheel drive Country 4 tractors, which did a good job in pine plantations around the country. Also, the famous ex-Army Mack Crane Trucks were popular in the Mt Gambier forests.

All these units, however, had their limitations. Firstly, they were never designed for logging operations and, although there were a lot of ingenious operators who kept redesigning them, they all started to fall apart, and essential spare parts did not exist.

A secondary problem was mobility. A crawler tractor is only happy when it is operating in a set area. Walking it around from one site to another is a potential disaster, as it is simply wearing out expensive metal, taking many hours to reposition.

The third, and most serious limitation, was the tyres, which were designed for gentle road work. Rough bush operation would usually wipe out a set of tyres in a week.

The general perception was that rubber tyres were no good in the bush. That’s where Timberjack stepped in. People wondered what was so special about Timberjack, because the machine looked like a modified farm tractor. The vehicle specifications provided most of the answers.

Norman G Clark’s original Timberjack was Ford Diesel powered, however, by far, most of their imports were the more powerful versions with a GM 3-53 Diesel of 97 HP. Eventually there were at least 200 of these models operating all over Australia and in Papua New Guinea.

Timberjack was designed by people who knew the logging industry, and the machines were constructed accordingly. The basic machine was strong, long, low and wide. It was heavy, and very stable, with an extremely low centre of gravity. With eight forward and eight reverse gears, providing a maximum drive reduction engine to wheels of 343:1, the Timberjack would go close to climbing a wall!

Mud was never a problem

A Standard Timberjack

The original machines Norman G Clark imported were of standard Canadian specifications and mainly Series 2 models. They were fitted with a dozer blade and featured the best logging winch that had ever been fitted to a mobile machine. The Hercules Winch provided 20,000 pounds of line pull at up to 400 feet per minute, and it was a major contributor to the overall efficiency of the machine.

The Canadians were aware that rubber tyres were not supposed to work in the bush, so before releasing the Timberjack, they talked with Goodyear Tyre & Rubber Co., who produced a special 10 ply rating nylon logging tyre, which was incredibly effective and practically indestructible.

Standard practice with farm tractors. and most other highway rubber-tyred machines, was to fill the tyre with water to increase stability and improve traction. While it was a means of overcoming design deficiencies in many machines, in no way did it improve traction and water was responsible for the staking of many standard tyres in rough conditions.

The most difficult sales job Norman G Clark had was to convince users that a Timberjack was fitted with special logging tyres which had to be operated at a maximum 12 psi inflation pressure, and absolutely no water. It was a tough assignment, and the first ten machines were sold with a guarantee that if the tyre casing should be damaged inside six months, Norman G Clark would provide a new tyre free of charge. What a challenge to our logging contractors, particularly as the deadline approached. However, no-one was successful in picking up a new tyre.

Subsequently, Norman G Clark took a more aggressive approach, and advised buyers that if there was water in the tyres, or they were inflated to more than 12 psi, warranty would be cancelled.

Hardwood logging in difficult country

Hardwood logging in difficult country

The performance of a standard Timberjack was unbelievable. It was so stable, so powerful and so easy to operate, that good operators became magicians and bad operators became good.

Opposition machines started to arrive, but they were not in the class of Timberjack, and for quite a long time Norman G Clark was able to enjoy 87% of the rapidly developing rubber tyre skidder market. The balance was shared between about six different makes, which were supplied on very generous arrangements, and did nothing to improve the image of rubber tyred log skidders.

In a very short space of time, the inevitable request from the more innovative loggers started to roll in. As the Timberjack legend was gaining strength, and as it was at least 20 times better than a Blitz Buggy, the reasoning was that if a Blitz Buggy had a loading boom, a Timberjack would be able to handle a much bigger one.

Eric King was the father of the Timberjack loader. He sold a machine to Gunns of Ballarat, who insisted it had to have a Blitz type loading boom. On his return to the office, this idea was received with very little enthusiasm. Scale drawings and mathematical calculations simply verified that the machine would tip over backwards. This was communicated to the customers who simply said, “a Blitz doesn’t, so if your machine is as good as you claim, it won’t either”.

So, Norman G Clark built a Blitz type loading boom, had one look at it on the machine, added another set of front wheel weights, held their breath and delivered the machine. It worked with the small logs a Blitz could handle, and it took Gunns about a day to work out that maybe it could handle two logs. This then became three and finally five. However, with five, the front wheels were three feet off the ground! Standard load became about four and everyone was delighted.

Timberjack Skidder - Boom Loader

Timberjack Skidder – Boom Loader

The machine operated faultlessly for three or four years, but the inevitable finally happened. An operator was driving around the rim of a storage dam with a very large and long log hanging on the boom. The log started swinging from side to side and, on the final swing, the machine was simply lifted into the air and deposited in the dam – where it immediately disappeared. It was apparently quite spectacular to watch, and vindicated Norman G Clark’s claim, of some years standing, that a loading boom would dangerously destabilise the machine.

Norman G Clark was making inroads into the pine areas in Gippsland where there were several Timberjacks in operation. The production increase from these machines was enormous, but loading the wood billets was becoming a major problem. They had given some thought to loading systems, as the Gunn machine had demonstrated that a three-ton load on the rear end was no problem at all, however, they could not accept a load that was unrestrained, because that’s where they always seemed to come apart.

Eventually they came up with the idea of a dog leg loom, which was mounted on the butt pan on pivot points. The legs of the boom straddled the machine’s fair lead, and a hydraulic cylinder moved the boom fore and aft through 70 degrees, ie. 30 degrees forward and 40 degrees back. The winch cable ran through the boom supported by rollers and emerged at the top height through a fairlead with bottom top and side rollers.

The magnificent Hercules Winch was the success of this system, because it could be driven in and out through the transfer case, and was always operated under engine control.

Norman G Clark built a loading boom, fitted it to a new Model 230 and gave it to Ivan Crawford to trial. Its performance was immaculate, and Ivan, who was generally a very professional critic, could not fault the thing. Getting it back was the real problem, as Ivan never believed in buying if someone wanted to lend it to him. Eventually, we caught him at a weak moment and sold him a very second-hand machine at a generous discount.

APM were enthralled by the skidder loader, and in no time at all, there were ten machines with loading booms in the Longford and adjacent forest areas. The pine plantations were reasonably flat, but Crawford was also operating in very steep country where the loading boom was considered unsuitable, and, when tried, it made no difference to the performance of the machine. It seemed to be completely stable regardless of terrain.

The loading boom remained in production for years, and was a standard accessory used for short pulpwood extraction. Although it was predominantly used in Gippsland, several were sold into other softwood areas, where they also operated successfully.
The skidder loader was designed to operate in APM forests where fallers had been accustomed to cutting and stacking pulpwood billets into loads of standard measurement. The stacks were made in steel frames which, before the skidder loader appeared, were dragged out of the bush to a landing where they were winched onto a road truck and transported to the APM mill. Getting the wood from the bush to the landing was very difficult and slow. On many occasions the frame tipped over and had to be restacked, involving additional labour and time lost.

With a Timberjack, the load was prepared in the forest and the machine simply backed up to the frame. The winch rope was wrapped around the pile of wood with the boom extended to the rear, and the winch then reeled in, lifting three ton straight up in the air. The boom was then moved forward, which locked the load of wood into the butt pan, and the Timberjack drove to the landing, where the operation was reversed, and the pile of wood was placed in the metal frame ready for loading into the road truck. This was a very quick and effective process as one machine did it all, but it did depend on reasonable volume being available at each bush loading point and, in some plantation areas, this presented a problem.
Lindsay Crawford was APM’s specialist on small wood extraction and, although he had a skidder loader, it was not the answer where small loads were involved.

In Europe there was a breed of machine which was described as a Forwarder, which was like a large skidder with a crane instead of a winch – and a bin on the rear frame. The European machines were too big for the APM problem. Norman G Clark had just received the first Multijack, which was a Timberjack with an extended rear frame, intended to be an off-highway carrier. This machine was about to become the first Forwarder. They fitted a Hiab loader on the rear frame and constructed a bin to carry the wood. Unfortunately, the Hiab was not ideal for the application, as it could not retract close enough to its column. This problem was solved by hydraulically sliding the bin backwards to load and retracting it for travel.

Lindsay Crawford had a brilliant operator on the machine, and its productivity was incredible. The bin could carry up to five ton of pulpwood at a time, and it could collect that sort of volume almost in the time it took to drive around and find it.

Contractors were making lots of money out of Timberjack. Norman G Clark knew by then how good the machine was, and their sales emphasis moved from softwood to hardwood applications. This was another world, as sawmill logs were usually quite big and heavy and were in areas everyone said was crawler tractor country.

From day one, this myth started to be buried as a Timberjack, in 90% of hardwood areas, proved much better than a crawler, and it demonstrated the same virtues it did in softwood territory. It was stable, it had tremendous traction and was powerful. What’s more, it was fast and mobile, and could be twenty miles away in an hour. No crawler tractors could compete on that score alone.

Timberjack in Hardwood and Mud

Timberjack in Hardwood

Timberjack in Hardwood and Mud

Timberjack in Mud

Dan Martin set the ball rolling. He had sold a Model 230 Timberjack to a sawmiller in Queensland, who had traded a small crawler tractor. There was a condition Norman G Clark didn’t like too much. The Timberjack had to be fitted with an angle and tilt blade. They duly advised the customer of their concern. The customer replied that “it was all very simple – no blade, no order”. Norman G Clark sat down and designed a blade, and two weeks later delivered the machine.

The customer was very happy with the package. It became obvious that, if Norman G Clark were to play in the hardwood league, they had better have a proper blade option. By then, though, they were satisfied they didn’t need an angle blade with an articulated steering machine, and decided to settle on a hydraulic tilt blade which they had already part-designed.

Within a few weeks, they had built the first power tilt blade and fitted it to one of Ivan Crawford’s Timberjacks. It’s a rare event when something new is right first time, but this new blade certainly was. They never had to change the design and hardly ever put a machine into hardwood without one.

Ivan Crawford and John Clark with the NGC Tilt Blade

Ivan Crawford and John Clark with the NGC Tilt Blade

The Timberjack was such a versatile machine, that inevitably, the wheel “re-designers” had their way, resulting in Norman G Clark building several log loaders with loading forks on the rear frame, which was the only place to fit them to preserve machine balance.

The plan was to fit the forks with quick release mountings, which was quite effective. Most users did not remove the forks and ran around the bush with the forks in place and the machine heavily overloaded.

The last skidder loader built was designed to a specification dreamt up by the Commonwealth Government Forestry and Timber Bureau. This outfit, regardless of logic, wanted a log loader on the front frame of a Timberjack which, in an unloaded state, carried 63% of the total weight of the machine. Throwing in the weight of the loader, Norman G Clark considered up to 75% of total weight would be on the front axle. Something would have to give if it ever picked up a log.

Timberjack Skidder/Loader Outside Barkly Street Brunswick Office

Timberjack Skidder/Loader Outside Barkly Street Brunswick Office

The Commonwealth Government isn’t always logical, and it decided it wanted its toy, Norman G Clark built one and duly delivered it to Canberra. Their first field contact was with the machine in the hands of Bill Burmeister, an intrepid logging contractor, operating in the ACT forests.

Bill was an old friend, and they asked him how the machine was behaving. He volunteered to show them and selected a forty-foot log from the dump. He then held it about eight feet above the ground and moved fast across the dump. Half way across, he put on the brakes. The machine smartly stood up on the left hand front wheel with the two rears six feet clear of the ground and the right front four feet clear. No, it didn’t tip over, as the end of the log hit the ground every time it tried to.

That crazy machine was pedalled around the country by the Forestry and Timber Bureau, but was not a viable option as a loader. However, due to the heavily overloaded front end, it had an enormous capability to pull things, with the result that it was always heavily overloaded, where eventually, something was going to break. Eventually the F & TB circus got the message and removed the loader. The basic machine was then used on all sorts of experimental extravaganzas, which we made a point of not wanting to know anything about. The front-end loader disappeared.

There were better applications for Timberjack in hardwood extraction and the new Model 404 was starting to make its mark in heavy logging operations. Basically the 404 incorporated all the good design features such as low centre of gravity, weight distribution, and “go anywhere” capability. It was fitted with a 130Hp, 4-cylinder GM 2 stroke diesel engine and an Allison power shift transmission. A Gearmatic 32000lb line pull winch was standard, and the package was complete with the Norman G Clark power tilt blade, which was fitted to 90% of 404 machines put into the field.

About the time we were introducing the 404, Timberjack in Canada was negotiating with a large US Corporation to buy their business. This subsequently happened, and Timberjack Machines Ltd became a subsidiary of Eaton Yale and Town Inc.

Twelve thousand miles away Norman G Clark did not recognise any significant changes in 404 machines, and we had sold our first 50 – the spread being 20% before EY & T, and the balance after their involvement. Suddenly we started to have major failures with 404’s – not with the older 20% but with the latest models. These failures were enormously expensive and effectively shut down sales of 404 machines. Axles were the worst problem, and there were failures almost every day somewhere in Australia or T.P.N.G. Norman G Clark had no alternative but to repair under warranty, which was costing unbelievable amounts. We were still selling the Series 2 machines, and although there were some field problems, these did not assume plague proportions like the 404.

While all this was going on, a Series 3 machine appeared, and although our inclination was to ignore the model, we recognised it to be made up of all the tried and tested parts of the Model 230, with a power shift Allison transmission in place of the manual shift system of the original.

Timberjack promoted the Model 330 as the successor to their original manual models. Although, it eventually turned out to be a good machine, the Series 2 had fantastic reliability, and general performance the 330 could not improve on.

APM Forests were dreaming about better extraction systems for some of their plantations, and Tree Harvesters were the obvious answer. Timberjack, before Eaton, had been playing around with a Tree Harvester concept, but like most of the overseas systems, it was obviously becoming too complicated, too big and trying to do too many things. APM Forests decided to make their own and, inevitably, the Forest & Timber Bureau circus became involved. Because Norman G Clark were in bed with F & TB, and were one of APM’s suppliers, we were invited to a meeting to discuss the Tree Harvester project. Our belief was that we were asked because we would be able to get some useful information out of Timberjack

However, that was not the case because they really had no idea what they wanted to do. Norman G Clark concentrated on selling the base machines for the Tree Harvester.

This is a digression, but is relevant to two major incidents in John Clark’s mechanical life, and arose from an enjoyable evening discussion with some Malcolm Moore engineers. MM, who were very good at building mobile machinery, had a contract to build a one-off machine on a very short time frame, to be presented to someone on a day.

They made it, but the paint was hardly dry when presented. There were speeches and a handover ceremony. The machine was fired up with the guests clustered around the rear. Forward gear was selected, clutch engaged, but it went backwards! Nobody was killed, but there were lots of red faces in the Engineering Dept. Solution Simple, turn the differential up the right way and it all works normally!

There was a very intense meeting in Brisbane to finalise specs for the tree harvester, and Norman G Clark was promoting the Model 330 Timberjack as the prime mover for the unit. It was looking very good until the gathering realised it had to go BACKWARDS in normal operation. Going backwards, it only had 2 speeds, and that was not acceptable. We left Brisbane with the task of converting the backward speed to 4 regular range speeds.

Brooding over the problem in the aircraft back to Melbourne, the recollection of the enjoyable MM meeting was recalled and next morning we found we had no problem with the differentials. Instantly, we had a Timberjack that went backwards when it was selected forward. We changed a few decals, switched tyres and changed wheels side to side. A Model 330 was then underneath Australia’s first Tree Harvester.

The second incident which has absolutely no relevance to the Timberjack story, concerns a 1931 Model A Ford, which went through about an 8 year rebuild cycle. At around the 6-year period, it was standing on its wheels, had the body attached, and for the very first time the engine was fired up. The decision to have a look at it outside the garage was made. Reverse gear was selected the clutch was engaged, and it attempted to go forward through the end of the garage. Selection possibilities, 1 Forward, 3 Reverse gears – how would you know what to do? Obviously, some people do learn something from these sorts of gatherings and it was easily fixed.

The APM Tree Harvester became a reality, and was a very effective machine. Apart from early model updates, it did very well in some severe terrain. The Model 330 never put a foot wrong, and by Timberjack standards, was the most pampered and under worked machine in logging history.

The next big challenge came from Mt. Gambier, where there is a vast area of pine forests dating back close to 100 years since first plantings. Although the area has been regularly logged for many years, the big increase started in the district after WW2. The forest was big and the product useable. The only problem was how to get it out, and to where it was to be processed. The area is flat and sandy, and there were plenty of MR Mack trucks available as ex-Army equipment, which were to become famous as S.A. Crane Trucks.

The trucks were fantastic as they extracted and self loaded logs from the forest areas, and drove them into the mills for processing. Some of them were still operating up to 30 years after they had finished their Army careers. They were just about as illegal as anyone could conceive, left hand drive, probably no lights, mostly no cabs, marginal brakes and mechanically suspect. Even in SA, they were not approved, but no authority wanted to blow the whistle on their use, as the pine industry around Mt. Gambier was becoming too important.

There were big processing plants in the district, but the pine forests were so vast, trees were claimed to be growing faster than they could extract them, and things were getting worse all the time.

In the district there are some beautiful forests of 75-year-old Radiata Pine, which are generally considered to be over mature and should be clear felled. Good idea, but what then? The old crane trucks could not handle the volume.

Timberjack Grapple Skidder

Timberjack Grapple Skidder

Enter the Timberjack Grapple Skidder. This machine was a 330 Timberjack with an extended rear frame, housing a very large hydraulic grapple, which simply picks up logs and drives away with them. The machine is fast and handles big volumes at incredible speed, such as had never been seen in the Mt. Gambier area before, or since.

Undoubtedly, the Grappler Skidder would have become a big volume sales product, as it had much greater productivity than a large crawler tractor, but, we had been having our problems with Timberjack quality and had been using a lot of money, for over a year, trying to rectify faults that were obviously built into more recent machines.

Eaton Yale and Town were not being helpful. Gradually it emerged that, when E.Y.T. took over Timberjack, they decided to save some money and reduced the weight and quality of the steel in the machine frame with the result that there was movement and flexing of the frame. Working components, such as axles, were basically holding the frame together, which was the reason for the axle and differential failures we had started to experience twelve months before.

Norman G Clark had been the first to blow the whistle on the problem, which was mainly because Australian machines were working much harder than machines in other countries. However, the problem was developing in other parts of the world too, and E.Y.T. were forced to come up with a reinforcement package which basically put back 150lbs of strength they had previously cut out. The suggestion was made that we might like to rework about 50 machines around Australia and TPNG.

We declined the offer, and the Timberjack franchise was turned over to Malcolm Moore. They ran it for a relatively short period, until Blackwood Hodge became the victim. Several other companies became involved, but the structural failures had badly tarnished a once wonderful reputation, and Timberjack never recovered the prestige and reputation it enjoyed with Norman G Clark.

The Territory Of Papua And New Guinea

In the late 1960’s, logging was a big deal in TPNG, and Norman G Clark sold about 50 Timberjacks into the area.

Most of them were the reliable Series 2 machines, and wherever there was a decent sized timber operation, there would certainly be a Timberjack.

Unfortunately, there were about 20 model 404’s added to the local fleet, and due to the “built-in” problems, we seemed to continually have a serviceman up there visiting customers. This was an expensive business, and when one of our servicemen volunteered to stay in New Guinea for a couple of years, we set up a parts and service operation in Rabaul, and did very good business. Not surprisingly, local operators preferred to do business with the people on the spot.

Most Territory loggers were single machine buyers, until Fred Wakim rolled into town. Fred was a Lebanese, and had been operating logging operations in the Philippines. He had a history of bending the rules to suit himself, and according to the ES&A Bank, had been involved in the transport business in Australia some years previously, but had departed for somewhere else leaving ESANDA and others to sort out the mess.

The ES&A regarded Fred (who was really named Farid) and brother Fouad, as less than reliable and didn’t want to know them.

The TPNG Forestry Commission, though, thought Fred was good news, and were promoting him to handle a very large log extraction program at Wide Bay and Open Bay in New Britain.

John Clark had several meetings with Wakim, both in Melbourne and Port Moresby, and he agreed to use Timberjack for his operation, when and if he got the licence. Nothing much happened until mid December 1969, when Fred rang from Moresby and said to John “be in Moresby tomorrow and I will give you an order for 8 x 404’s”. We met at 12 o’clock at Port Moresby airport, and he took John home for lunch. The journey was one that will never be forgotten, as he was not even partly in control of his brand-new Jaguar at any time. The visit was summarised by his brothers’ surprise that I had travelled from the airport with Fred and was still alive. Apparently, no-one ever travelled with him when in charge of a car, and the recommendation was “don’t push your luck and try it again”.

Later in the day they got down to business, and the deal was that he wanted to hire the machines and pay them off in 12 months. He also wanted to hold about the same value in spare parts on a similar basis.

He was not at all surprised that we could not get excited about such a deal, but late that night it was agreed that he would pay cash for the parts, and maybe we would be able to encourage Timberjack to come to the party on a fancy deal, whereby the machines would be purchased in 4 instalments over 12 months. He was dangling the idea that he expected to order a further 24 x 404’s after the first 12-month period, and John, for one, believed that this was a possibility.

However, returning to Melbourne the next day, we were into the regular discussion with the bank, who had no idea what the proposal was all about, and certainly did not understand the TPNG situation. They said no, but got a major shock to learn the next day that Timberjack said “OK go ahead, but retain ownership of the machines until final payment.”

The Open Bay/Wide Bay project was unique, and the most spectacular in TPNG forest development. Traditional forest resources in the Territory were enormous, but there was no outlet for other than a small fraction of their possible production. Therefore, everything had to be considered with export in mind, and Japan was No. 1 potential customer for the available product.

The built-in limitation, all over New Guinea, was that forestry export was a 6 month only operation. Customers who took delivery always collected logs in deep water off shore, and special ships loaded the export logs, which were then rafted from the shore.

An exciting complication was that half the New Guinea logs were floaters, and the other half were sinkers, and it was difficult to identify which were which. It was a “suck it and see” situation, and important that the raft had better be floaters, so the sinkers could ride on the top deck!

However, this was irrelevant if the “wet” arrived early and there were logs in the dump, as the ships could not approach the coast for 6 months, and the Toredo Worm would ensure that there would be nothing left to pick up at the end of the period.

The concept of the Open/Wide Bay project was that it was in a remote part of the Island of New Britain, and theoretically could be used all year round. When the north coast was “out” during the “wet” the south coast was always flat calm and vice versa, and operations would be concentrated accordingly.

The Japanese also agreed that this was a very sensible operation, and Farid sold them a 50% slice of the operation at about the time that Timberjack said “OK we will play along with your idea”. We also contacted Allis Chalmers in the US, who confirmed that they were shipping crawler tractors and loaders to Wakim, and they were also going to be paid in 12 months’ time.

We decided to go ahead and had an agreement prepared in Melbourne. John and Farid arranged a meeting in Moresby on 23rd December 1969, when the document was signed, and a cheque was handed over for about $35,000.00 worth of spare parts. We also had a very long party that filled in most of the night. Next day John returned to Melbourne, and the show was on the road.

The Morning After TPNG Forestry on left, Farid Wakim(C), John Harper (Timberjack), John Clark (R)

The Morning After, TPNG Forestry on left, Farid Wakim(C), John Harper (Timberjack), John Clark (R)

Subsequently there was a lot of activity, with goods being collected and shipped to Rabaul. We were one outfit who got everything right from the start, and our machines started work on arrival. Bill Baker was onsite training operators, and Peter Lazarus was setting up the service side of the operation.

On Monday 8th June 1970, John did another New Guinea tour. Of course, our Forestry Commission mates, and Fred Wakim’s Complex operation, were first on the itinerary. Reading the travel report for the visit, there was a graphic description of progress in the very short period since start up. There were already some miles of all weather roads, and after three weeks of preliminary logging, there were three million super feet of excellent timber at roadside dumps. All this had been extracted with 4 of the Timberjacks, and at that time another one was on standby, and 3 were pulling rollers, barges, etc.

Already this was the best logging operation in either Australia or New Guinea, and it was all set to escalate, as Fred planned to purchase another 4 x 404’s in August because the sales volume was scheduled to increase.

In TPNG, all export logs were loaded offshore, sometimes as far out as 2 miles. They had in mind wharf loading, and construction was under way. A deep-water channel was being dredged almost onto the beach, and ships would be able to load straight off the shore.

This channel was about 25 feet deep, and linked to the barge unloading area which was about 4 feet deep. The barge towing Timberjack was operating in this area, and it was reported that the native driver loved driving around the bottom of the bay at full bore, with a bow wave like a destroyer. Predictably, he forgot about the dredged channel and simply drove into the 25-foot-deep section at full speed, and disappeared with some steam and a puff of black smoke!

A Pacific Loader which was a very large machine, rescued the 404 and we had a wonderful picture of the 404 dangling from the boom of the loader by the fairlead, about 20 feet above the surface, preparatory to being landed ashore.

Unfortunately, all the Complex 404’s were Eaton Yale etc. specials, and they duly fell apart. Although they were rebuilt, it was all too late, and the machine’s reputation had been destroyed.

Wakim paid Norman G Clark all outstanding monies, and soon after, walked away from Complex. He was supposed to have started another logging operation in Indonesia, but we never had any further dealings with him. Upon his departure the Complex operation basically ceased to exist. This was a pity, as it was a top-quality enterprise while it was operating.

Pipeline Stringing

When the Victorian natural gas pipeline was being considered, we had several discussions with Mayne Nickless. They were the prime contractor, with the task of delivering the pipe to the site, and laying it on the surface end to end along a right of way, that had been reserved for the pipe from Longford in Gippsland, to the Dandenong terminal.

We were promoting Timberjack for transporting the pipe, and Mayne Nickless were showing definite interest. They decided against our offer, however, because they were nervous about pipe damage, and decided on more conventional systems using crawler tractors with pipe laying booms.

The special pipes for the line were approximately 30 inches in diameter and about 30 feet long, and weighed in the region of 3½ tons. They were coated inside and out with special anti-corrosive material, and before burying the pipe, the finish had to be perfect and undamaged.

Laying the line seemed to be taking forever, and eventually they got to the magic spot between Traralgon and Morwell, where conventional equipment could not move without becoming hopelessly bogged.

Norman G Clark Centenary Bulletin 8 - The Timberjack Story

Natural Gas Pipeline Stringing.

This area is not unlike the muskeg areas of Canada, and line delivery progress ground to a halt.

When we heard of the problem, we guaranteed the Timberjack would perform in the conditions. We immediately fitted out a model 215 with a standard loading boom, and built a special cradle which was attached to the butt pan of the machine. Because of the low ground bearing conditions, we decided to dual up the front and rear tyres. This was quite effective, and we used standard truck wheel techniques to mount the extra rims.

The machine was rather weird to look at, but it was fantastic in operation, and never looked like getting into any trouble in very wet conditions. The pipe was being carried rather than dragged along on a trailer, and as the tyre print penetration of the Timberjack was almost zero, repeated passes over the same track hardly disturbed the grass top.

Productivity was enormous, and in five days we had strung some miles of line, such that they very quickly ran out of pipe. At that point, the trade union concerned decided that the machine was spoiling what had been a very easy job, and everything was just simply going too fast.

Consequently, they slapped a ban on the use of the machine, which sat in the paddock for a week while people argued. Unfortunately, that became the end of the exercise.

It was an incredible off highway operation, and had we continued with Timberjack, we would certainly have promoted the equipment in some tough terrain where it would certainly outperform anything that was currently available.

Natural Gas Pipeline Stringing.

It may seem a long way from logging, but Dan Martin in Brisbane, managed to convince the company mining the beach sands, on Stradbroke Island, that their rehabilitation operation needed a faster machine than the metal tracked Caterpillars they were using. Consolidated Rutile purchased several Timberjacks with tilt blades, and used these for sand replacement, towing dredgers and pipes and general mine work. Faster, and with much less ground damage than tracked vehicles, the Timberjacks were perfect for this sensitive operation.

Timberjack Working on Stradbroke Island Mine Rehabilitation

Timberjack Working on Stradbroke Island Mine Rehabilitation

Forest Industries Machinery Exhibition

The Forest Industries Journal was, at the time, the industrial mouthpiece of the timber industry. Their dynamic editor, Con Lemke, devised an industry show unlike any other before, where it took place in the forest. It had static displays and working sites in hardwood, softwood and truck haulage – together with tree felling, chain saws operation and saw milling.

FCE exhibiting at FIME Myrtleford

FCE exhibiting at FIME Myrtleford

FCE exhibiting at FIME Myrtleford

FCE exhibiting at FIME Myrtleford

These shows grew into major week-long events every four years, and were held in places like Orbost, Myrtleford and Merimbula through the late 1970’s and 80’s.

There were ideal opportunities for the industry to showcase its products in the forest, and Norman G Clark was able to take full advantage of the exposure it gave Timberjack.

Eventually, the FIME shows grew much too expensive and disappeared, but for a period, was a wonderful opportunity for the forest industry to showcase itself.

The End

The demise of Timberjack had started with the Eaton Yale and Town take-over of Timberjack Machines. E.Y.T. decided to save some money and reduced the weight and quality of the steel in the machine frame, resulting in movement and flexing of the frame. Working components, such as axles, were basically holding the frame together, which was the reason for the axle and differential failures we had started to experience twelve months before.

Norman G Clark had been the first to blow the whistle on the problem, which was mainly because Australian machines were working much harder than machines in other countries. However, the problem was developing in other parts of the world too, and E.Y.T. were forced to come up with a reinforcement package which basically put back 150lbs of strength they had previously cut out. The suggestion was made that we might like to rework about 50 machines around Australia and TPNG.

We declined the offer and the Timberjack franchise was turned over to Malcolm Moore, who ran it for a relatively short period until Blackwood Hodge became the victim. Several other companies became involved, but the structural failures had tarnished a once wonderful reputation and Timberjack never recovered the prestige and reputation it enjoyed with Norman G Clark.

The Aftermath

Some years after the Eaton Yale and Town debacle, there was a renewed push by various equipment manufacturers to get Norman G Clark back into the mobile machinery business. They were all rebuffed until 1972, when a joint venture was set up with an Italian company to form Forest & Construction Equipment (FCE) as a distributor for Clark Equipment, of Benton Harbour, USA.

More on FCE in a later bulletin, however, it is relevant to comment on the Clark Skidder which was part of the FCE portfolio, and a competitor to Timberjack.

The Clark Ranger Skidder was always inferior to Timberjack during the 1960’s, but once EY&T ruined the reputation of the Timberjack, many other skidder makers came into the Australian market.

The Clark 668 was a hopeless machine before the Norman G Clark modifications were made. Removing all water from the tyres, using special Goodyear logging tyres at 12psi inflation, installing the NGC tilt blade and adding rear wheel weights turned the 668 into a highly efficient skidder, and it immediately became the market leader.

Clark had also developed the Ranger 880, which at the time, was the biggest most powerful machine in the world.

The Forrest Commission had a new hardwood extraction operation on the slopes of Mount Baw Baw, where there were hundreds of very big Mountain Ash trees, which in some cases were close to 500 years old. The trees were dying, and to preserve the healthy trees, APM were given permission to extract dying trees for hardwood chipping.

The 880 was imported and put into operation on the mountain, where it was capable of extracting logs of up to 40 tonnes. It performed perfectly, and to this day, probably the most exciting log extraction operation ever in this country.

Clark 880 Skidder on Mount Baw Baw

Clark 880 Skidder on Mount Baw Baw

Norman G Clark and particularly John Clark, had introduced the rubber tyred skidder into the Australian market, and shown the industry just how well these machines could be used in many applications in logging.