Tigercat no longer has the six-wheel skidder market to itself, with John Deere recently crashing the party.
The arrival of the John Deere 768L-II bogie skidder signals the first real choice for contractors in this niche segment more than a dozen years after six-wheelers were originally introduced.
The question is, why did it take so long for a competitor to introduce a six-wheel rival? The advantages are obvious: improved traction, increased productivity and reduced environmental damage.
All reasons why Tokoroa’s Gareth White has owned Tigercat six-wheelers in the past and still has a 635 working in one of his crews. Now he’s become the first in New Zealand to put the new John Deere 768L-II into the forest and has been followed by half a dozen others around the country.
Gareth’s machine is working with one of his smaller ground-based crews in the Kinleith Forest, not far from the main highway south, near Atiamuri.
A number of Tigercat six-wheelers have worked this forest over the years. For good reason. While some parts of Kinleith are blessed with easy-to-traverse volcanic soils that originated from the massive Taupo eruption two millennia ago, there’s also a lot of clay and pap that turns to mush in the wet winter months. Four-wheel skidders have no chance of working in those cloying conditions and the only options for extracting wood are either a tracked dozer with a winch/grapple, or something with more wheels to spread the footprint and improve traction.
The latter option is Gareth’s choice because it provides an opportunity to pull more wood than a compact dozer. In the right conditions. Equipped with band tracks, of course.
And it was the ability to use band tracks all-round that sealed the John Deere 768L-II deal for Gareth.
“One of the biggest decisions for me in going for the John Deere is that we could run band tracks on all six wheels without it affecting the drivetrain warranty – you can only run ring chains on the front of the Tigercat, which are a pain in the arse because you are always having to adjust them,” he says.
“During the online virtual reveal that John Deere held for the New Zealand and Aussie markets we got to ask questions directly to the guys in the States and one that we asked was ‘can we run the band tracks’ and they said no problem; ‘can you run the diff locks with the band tracks’, yep no problem with warranty.
“That was a major part of the decision because a lot of the ground we get, especially during winter, it’s tough, even for a six-wheeler. With the John Deere we put Eco Tracks on the front with the bands on the rear bogey and it’s been running very well. No problems, so far,” he adds.
G White Logging Crew 36 are no strangers to running a six-wheeled skidder, having had a Tigercat 615 for a few years. Gareth says the 615 showed how much difference adding bogie axles to the rear can make to a wood recovery operation...