Yes, you read that headline right – this is a story about a Caterpillar swing yarder.
Not many people know there was a Caterpillar-branded swing yarder on the market back in the day – I certainly didn’t, until I came across this particular machine now working in Northland. And then discovered that it’s actually been hiding in plain sight here in New Zealand for the past 40 years.
Well, we think this Caterpillar SY235 has been here that long, but the actual date of its arrival is not clear. It has passed through a few hands over the years after being imported brand new sometime in the 1980s by Canadian logger Brent Hewlett, who established a harvesting operation in the North Island.
It has gone through a few more hands since then, before being purchased by Palmerston North-based forestry manager, Forest360, three years ago to work with one of its Northland crews.
It was in need of some serious TLC and the next stop may well have been the graveyard. But Forest360 has a history of breathing life into old machines, especially yarders (swing and pole) and after keeping it going for a couple of years, it decided the SY235 was worth hanging onto and commissioned a 12 month-long complete overhaul.
At the end of February NZ Logger travelled north to see the end result. The reason for our special interest? This may well be the last Caterpillar SY235 still working anywhere in the world, making it a rare beast.
Only seven were put into production, following the development and testing of a prototype in Canada in the early 1980s. Some 40 years later there is no record of whether any of the other six are still working. Caterpillar never made any more after that first batch, so the Kiwi SY235 is likely now one-of-a-kind.
There is precious little information on the web and what we do know has been gathered from local knowledge, plus a technical study carried out on the prototype by the Forest Engineering Research Institute of Canada, FERIC, (the forerunner of Canada’s current forestry R&D organisation, FPInnovations).
According to the FERIC report, the SY235 was the result of a 1979 collaboration between Caterpillar, the Finning Tractor & Equipment Company and Lantec Industries. The aim was to build a lightweight, all-hydraulic, high production swing yarder to work on compact and environmentally sensitive sites, similar to the PeeWee yarder that the USDA Forest Service and Lantec had developed for thinning coastal stands.
Caterpillar supplied its 235 excavator undercarriage, the hydrostatic drive and associated hydraulic pumps, Lantec provided the PeeWee winch set, boom and gantry, while Finning assembled the whole thing and provided technical assistance.
Interesting technical innovations built into the SY235 included the fully interlocking three-drum winch set, which was considered a unique feature at the time. Also, the walking guy line sheaves on the gantry that swivel independently for quicker direction changes.
Up in the cab, the controls were laid out to mimic those of an excavator, with all movements worked from the two joysticks. It was a...