It may not seem the most obvious career progression but Ben Jenkins has effectively gone from tree climber to truck designer in the last 12 months. The Yorkshireman still regularly leads his team of workers at Huw Forestry from the highest point of their latest project, but he has added another string to his bow.
If you’ve spotted his Unimog bombing along the roads of God’s Own County you may thought you were seeing things, with an Avant secured on the front din plate and his chipper on a trailer attached to the back. When Ben bought his Mog just over a year ago he knew it needed plenty of work, and he was always looking to get the most out of a vehicle that is seen by many as the workhorse of the arboricultural world.
“I think it’s every tree surgeon’s dream to have a Unimog but it’s a scary thing as well:the cost, the expense if they break down.
I wanted a Mog but I was scared about the costs involved,” said Ben, who has spent 15 years in the business. “It was very much a project when I bought it.It didn’t come with a din plate, so I got hold of one, took it to my fabrications mate –he’s a brilliant lad at Duffin Fabrications in Snaith –and explained to him what I wanted. He looked at me like really, you going to have that on the front? He then made it up, stuck it on, was still looking at me a bit weird when I picked it up, but it’s worked an absolute treat.“They (Duffin Fabrications) are very much part of the Mog we’ve created: it’s my ideas and they’ve turned those into reality.
They made the tipping body on it. It separates so you can have it as a flat bed or you can have the chip box on the top and you can remove it with the crane on the Mog –it literally removes within ten minutes.”The reality is Huw Forestry now has an all-in-one mobile unit that is ideal for both commercial and domestic work. Ben is very much an Avant fan and he was determined to have it when and where he needed it –even if that meant he’d be attaching it the front of his Mog! With the Unimog classed as an agricultural vehicle, Ben did all the necessary research to ensure his inventive design was roadworthy and wouldn’t fall foul of the authorities when it hit the highways.“It’s all legal, it is CE marked (assessed to meet high safety, health, and environmental protection requirements) and the visibility out the front of the Mog is good,” added Ben. “The Mog with the plate on, and the chip box on with nothing in the back weighs nine-and-a-half tonne empty. When you get the Avant on you adding another tonne. What I love about the Mog is the weight you can carry –you can load everything on it.
We run a 12-tonne grain trailer behind it so we can fill it with chip, you’ve got the Avant on the front, the crane’s there with the basket if you need to do any basket work.“With it being registered as agricultural, the rules are a lot more relaxed. As long as you’re safe and you get it checked regularly, then it’s fine.”Huw Forestry has been in operation since around 2014, Ben setting it up in the Selby area a few years after returning to England from a stint working in Spain.In the past ten years Ben has seen the large-scale changes in the industry,and has very much revelled in the need to adapt to keep up with your competitors.“I’m still very much into my climbing,but I’ve gone from being a contract climber who was very much into his climbing kit into someone who’s more into machinery now,” added Ben,who headed to Spain when the recession hit in the late 2000s. “When I went to Spain,I basically took my spikes, my climbing gear and my suitcase, and I spent a couple of years around Alicante.“I came back as self-employed and worked a few years in a contract climber role.
It was a good time because I had a little Fiesta van;I’d chuck me saws and me climbing kit in the back and I’d bomb around Yorkshire. “I wasn’t the sort of climber who finished his work up a height as it were, and then head home. I’m come down and help with the ground work. That is why, I believe, I got a lot of work because I was willing to graft. In my eyes, I was there for the day so I did whatever work was needed. “I then got a Land Rover and trailer and along with my contract work in the week, I started doing my own work on a Saturday and, unknowingly really, I was building up a customerbase. It was a bit demoralising working for people in the week who had chippers and then I’d go on a Saturday and have to load all the brash on to the trailer, then take it over to me mate’s farm and he’d burn it for £20.“I slowly progressed and invested in a tipping trailer with caged sides, then a tracked chipper I could drive on to my trailer.
I still loved climbing but I started to enjoy my machines a bit more.”That enjoyment of machines has progressed to the purchase of the Unimog with one of the major attractions being itsattachment capabilities, with Ben constantly looking at making additions to the vehicle to make life easier for the team at Huw Forestry.They’ve invested in a new crane with a remote, along with a basket imported from Italy, the adaptions minimising the need to rent out additional kit, so reducing the costs to themselves and their customers.“When you’re in tight spaces, which you are with tree work, it was hard to position the crane because you had to slot these manual extensions away by hand,” added Ben. “We’ve invested in another crane for it which has a remote which is night and day –you just have to turn the levers at the side of the truck and for tree work it’s nice to be stood under the tree; you can see the climbers in the tree and you can see where the branches are and where the weight is. “It was an amazing step up for us with the new crane and it makes the Unimog a hell of a lot more handy –the key is always making life easier for you and your colleagues. “With our new crane having a remote with it, I bought a man basket from Italy for the crane so it’s like a mewp –it’s a platform.
It’s got a 15-metrereach so we got brackets to go in the basket for the wireless remote. We’ve got an all-in-one bit of kit. “It’s all the heavy kit that makes big jobs like site clearances easier. And even on little jobs, when you’ve got the basket and you’re dealing with a nasty ivy-covered tree, we can just use the basket on that. We never had that luxury before, and then you’d have to charge the customer to rent a cherry picker.“We’ve also got the Avant which, for me, is absolutely brilliant.
People talk about the Vermeer Skid Steer and everyone will say something different but I think the Avant is better. We’ve got grass tyres on it and it can whizz on people’s lawns without boards and it doesn’t have any ground impact at all.”With their Unimog’s inventive design, Huw Forestry need never be without their Avant, which has made working life And after 12 months, Ben can see only one negative to the his Unimog investment. “The only downside of the Mog is maintenance –it can be expensive. But if you’re like me, a tight Yorkshireman, you can shop around and get in touch with different dealers. If you’re willing to put in the leg work you can get things done surprisingly cheaply.