Arborjet Joe and His Take on Arboriculture Evolution

I was excited when I was asked to write this article then in the same breath, I was troubled. How do I stop rambling about this subject that’s near and dear to my heart and keep it small enough to work for the size needed? So, here’s the plan, Arboriculture the last 60 years.

When I started my career as an arborist over 30 years ago, I worked for a company that was established in 1907. A little longer than 60 years ago but it’s where my love of Arboriculture in history collided. Some of you may recall this company it was the Chas F Irish company they are no longer in business, but I was very fortunate to obtain a lot of historical items from the generosity of the family. These items have been on display at various events around the country and Canada.

When it comes to one of the highest profile pieces of equipment used daily in the industry it’s the saw. Even before the saw, tree surgery was performed using chisels, and even meat cleavers, hence the term “butchering a tree”. The saw has become an irreplaceable tool and will continue to be irreplaceable, now aside from the handsaw, the chainsaw is one of the highest visible advances known today. A little-known fact, a lot of people give Sthil credit for first chainsaw, technically it’s true, but it was an electronic chainsaw.  It was Dolmar that produced the first gasoline powered chainsaw in 1927. As far as popularity in North America it took World War II to expose our troops to the chainsaws, and they brought that technology back home. Years went by and there were several companies involved with developing chainsaws such as Mall  and Henry Disston. In 1959, almost exactly 60 years ago, Sthil, revolutionized what and how saws are made and operated still to this day, with Contra Lightning. Two other popular saw companies were McCullough, which was the first company to reach 1 million saws sold and Homelite. Homelite started out producing household generators then branched out into chainsaws. What’s amazing through the last 60 years is that chainsaws continue to get lighter and horsepower increased. Last year Echo chainsaw introduce the latest climbing production chainsaw weighing in at 5.2 pounds.

Another aspect of Arboriculture we should talk about is ropes and climbing harnesses. Back 60 years ago there wasn’t a lot of choices for cordage to be used in tree care. Everyone used manila rope. As I’m not old enough to have climbed with this type of rope, the old-school gents that did, loved it once broken, which you don’t hear climbers say anymore.  Once broken in, it was very soft, easy to tie and held knots perfectly. It wasn’t until the mid-1990s that Sampson Rope Manufacturer introduced a rope called ARBOR Plex. It was the first synthetic 12 Stan rope just for tree care industry. Now today if you were to go online and search arborist ropes you quickly realize that it’s very confusing, try it. Things you must consider is what type of system you’re climbing on. Things needed to consider is,  DRS which stands for double rope system, SRS which stands for single rope system, are you using a mechanical friction device, pressure cords, what diameter needed, what length, and yes even what color do you like.

Now that we discussed ropes now it’s time to talk about fastening it to you. The first attempt to tie yourself into a tree was for safety was a manila rope with a series of nautical knots. The most common was a double bowline on a bite. As tying this daily became an inconvenience, someone decided to cut the rope keeping the harness intact. Wa-lah! The climbing harness was born.

As the main purpose of the harness hasn’t changed much, construction and design have. Rope harnesses were very uncomfortable, digging into your legs started climbers to personally modify the equipment which led to what we use today. Rope and then leather straps were combined to ease the pain of rope compression. Then where and how your climbing line was attachment was studied and developed. As years progressed manila rope and leather started to be replaced with synthetic materials and aluminum parts.

One historical fact worth mentioning is the use of the word climbing “saddle”. That derived from the few original manufactures like Buckingham. Buckingham first manufactured tact for horses including saddles and that’s where the term climbing “saddle” stuck.

A lot has changed from the materials used, the rope point of attachment, leg support, back support, size and style of rope bridge and just like ropes, you can pick a color too.

Now that we covered some really awesome and high-profile pieces of equipment in the industry, we need to address safety!

Even with all the advancements we discussed, the ropes, saddles and the chainsaws, the number of injuries and even fatalities continue to rise. Tree care or Arboriculture is still a hazardous career and safe practice should always be part of your company’s daily mindset.

As long as there is a need for safer ways to work in Arboriculture, there will always be improvements on the tools, PPE and equipment that we use. Over the last decade more and more companies are moving towards a more mechanized workforce. The use of mini skid-steers, mini-lifts, are being used more in more than ever

One of the best ways we can look at what’s new and stay one step ahead, is to look towards your industry educational associations. ASM (Arboriculture Society Michigan), and MGIA (Michigan green industry Association) host excellent educational seminars throughout the year. Please! Reach out and see what’s going. Another reason to attend is the camaraderie.  This is an amazing industry filled with a lot of amazing professional people that are always there to help, and remember, please, safety first!

Long may you climb,

Arborjet Joe