“It’s a grand life if you don’t weaken.” One of Eddy Pickering’s favourite sayings and as true today as it was all those years ago when we were freezing half to death in a caravan in Kent.

People had told me that it was warm down south; you didn’t need to have wool on your back like us northerners had. I soon discovered whoever said it hadn’t lived in Kent, in a wood, in January. We didn’t weaken, or at least Eddy didn’t, but for me it was just too much. I had a warm bed and a young girlfriend at home and I had designs on marrying her so as soon as I could I scooted off back north where that warm bed was waiting.

I’ve had cause to remember those days whenever I tackle a job that I get halfway through and begin to regret. I don’t seem to slip into this frame of mind when we’re halfway through an epic repair. The picture of one of my 1270s with the crane off is a case in point. A broken slew rack led to the entire crane having to come off, quite a task for two lads out in the open with just a JCB providing the lifting effort. I never once thought the job would have to be abandoned, it might just take a while.

I’ve decided to lose some machinery as part of my winding-down to retirement process and so one machine has gone and another is on the way. I’ll be left with one forwarder and two harvesters, which isn’t a sensible arrangement.

Forestry Journal: It's too big to repair really, isn't it?It's too big to repair really, isn't it?

Which of the 1270s I sell isn’t really an issue to me. One has the V96 crane with the heavier base and shorter extension, it has its wheels set out and it has a 625 Viking head which is about as much as an old 1270 can throw about. The other has the longer-reach V100 crane but, due to the previous slew rack problem, it has the same bigger base fitted. These bases are recognisable as they have 12 bolts in the pattern holding the slew cylinders on, rather than 8 bolts on the smaller version.

The main internal difference is that the slew racks are beefed up to withstand abuse better, the simple fact the gear teeth on the rack are the same dimensions as those on the kingpost pinion meaning the load is spread more evenly across more metal.

The earlier version ran 80-mm high-gear teeth against the 100-mm high-pinion-gear teeth. This left a whole 10 mm of unused gear, top and bottom, creating two stress focal points on each tooth. It isn’t a surprise that hanging a 762 head on the early cranes to do clearfell sites led to failures being common, which is why I couldn’t find any second-hand racks anywhere. The fact I couldn’t find one of the skinny racks for love nor money meant the whole crane base had to be changed for the bigger version.

Unfortunately, the forwarder I want to keep has two slick tyres on the back and the harvester most likely to sell has two really good tyres on one bogie at the front with good but not exceptional ones on the other. I really want to rob the best tyres off it for my 860 but I can’t just swap them or I’ll have a harvester with two decent and two very definitely worn-out tyres on its front bogies.

I have, among my spares, a couple of tyres that have tread enough to match the two I want to leave on the 1270 but, for reasons I’ll get to soon enough, they have been left unused for a good while. One of them came with some spares I acquired a while ago. It had a split in the sidewall and it wouldn’t stay inflated on the forwarder. I did eventually find it had some wire snapped off inside the casing that was puncturing the tubes, but by then it had been run flat a couple of times and with inner tubes around £100 each, it was time to stop using it – but it is such a good-looking tyre I couldn’t bear to dispose of it.

Forestry Journal: It looks a bit better with the gaiter in.It looks a bit better with the gaiter in.

The other one came off the big-headed harvester just after Christmas and it had the biggest gaiter I’ve ever seen in it. It was covering a hole big enough to get two fingers through so it came as no surprise that it had popped the tube.

The trouble with gaiters in forestry tyres is that unless they are repairing a simple slit or a small hole, they will eventually succumb to the constant poking from sticks and the inevitable ingress of water and mud that loosens the bond between tyre and repair, causing it to fail.

The answer is either to repair the hole from both sides or scrap a tyre that might well have lots of good tread on it and replace it. Having a tyre that has good tread but a sidewall repair is a bit of a conundrum. I just won’t use them on a forwarder, not even on the front; they have to work too hard. With an all-up weight of almost 25 tonnes and the tyres delivering boatloads of torque onto the ground, they generally don’t survive well, so I use them on the harvesters, if I have to. They don’t get an easy life but it is less hard.

In my ever-vigilant search for cheap alternatives to doing the job properly I discovered something called Tech A&B Compound, which claims to make “cosmetic repairs” possible on even the biggest plant tyres. Well, we’ll see about that, thought I. For £45 you get two cans of rubber compound, a skiving wheel, a stitching wheel, a really good valve core tool and a pot of vulcanising fluid. There are no instructions with it, but both cans are covered in warnings in several languages.

You can search A&B Tech Compound on YouTube and you’ll find a guy using it to repair what can only be described as a nick in a new tyre. Come on, where’s the 16-ply Nokian ELS with a hole clean through it? In a series of three clips he shows how to prepare the tyre, how to mix and cure the compound and finally how to stitch it into place. I can tell you straight away he’s edited it down a substantial amount. I have hands that have been using saws and power tools all my adult life and mixing that compound is one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever done with my hands; it’s one of the most unpleasant too.

Forestry Journal: With the compound in it will look better eventually.With the compound in it will look better eventually.

Halfway through, when the stuff was stuck to everything it touched and was showing no sign of becoming manageable, I almost weakened and threw in the towel. By the time I’d mixed four lots of the stuff I thought maybe if Eddy had ever tried this stuff he would have been less upbeat about life and its little troubles. Another thing is that if you are a chap of a certain age like me you’ll maybe remember the phase in the 1980s when Evo-Stik became something more than just glue. I think this stuff would have been worth a fortune back then. It made me feel lightheaded just looking at it, and I did it outside, like it says on the tin. I’d even admit that it affected me for the rest of the day and I felt a wee bit dodgy all the next day.

The worst thing is the sheer effort needed to mix the stuff. It’s like two pack epoxy in that you have to completely mix the two parts together, which takes a while, and from sticky it becomes extremely sticky then even more sticky, before finally taking on the consistency of well-masticated chewing gum. Then it starts to cure, at which point you can handle it sensibly without your fingers complaining. When it’s thoroughly mixed it has to be flattened out into a sheet and left to go almost hard. This is crucial if it is going to work. Using it before it’s cured won’t create a good bond onto the repair.

If any of you fancies having a go with this stuff I recommend mixing a small batch, a couple  of teaspoons of each and see how you go. I put it into an old serving bowl and stirred it together with a screwdriver then left it to sit for a few minutes before handling it. I tried it with nitrile gloves, that’s how I know gloves are a waste of time. You will almost certainly have to revert to using your hands but if you can avoid the early stages of the mixing process it’s only mildly harrowing. I almost thought I was going to end up traumatised at one point but I knew I couldn’t give in.

To get the tyre prepared it needs to be dry and clean so any water has to be dried and blown off, all the mud and grit has to be evicted and it helps if the tyre carcase is actually warm. Using the wheel supplied in the kit you have to skive out the edges of the slit, hole or nick to provide a surface for the compound to bond to. If, like me, you’re fitting a gaiter on the inside then all that prep has to be done at the same time. Skive off the inside of the tyre and clean the whole area inside and out with buffing solution then apply a couple of coats of vulcanising fluid on the inside, covering slightly more area than the gaiter will cover.

I used a huge 12” x 10” gaiter I bought from a company who had cleared out an old garage and had found some in a cupboard. You can see how old they are from the phone number on the label. I used the stitching roller to secure the gaiter into the tyre and once this was well cured I turned my attention to the outside.

The surfaces you have already skived and cleaned off need a couple of coats of vulcanising fluid then a few minutes to rest. Once the vulcanising fluid has dried you can start stitching the compound into place.

The method recommended is to use the edge of the piece of compound and with the stitching roller you firmly roll it into place, moving it methodically across until you gradually incorporate it all into the repair. I used small sausage-shaped pieces torn off the bigger lump that I pushed into the repair and rolled in a piece at a time. I gradually built the repair up until it was level with the tyre surface. Once the repair is done it needs a good 24 hours to cure, I’d even leave it longer. It was a week later that I could still smell the solvent coming out of the compound, suggesting it takes days, not hours to cure fully – or I had been a bit premature and had used it before it was ready.

It does seem to have worked pretty well; I don’t know how long it’ll last once the tyre is put to the test in the wood but the gaiter will have done its job. Both of the tyres I repaired had gaiters previously fitted and they had lasted for a substantial time. The one in the harvester had been in place for at least three years, so I don’t suppose adding the compound will have made it worse, and protecting the gaiters from direct contact with brash and mud, etc. should have a positive effect.

In conclusion, I can guarantee I won’t be using it again. For me, the benefits aren’t outweighed by the sheer torment of using the compound. It’s hard work, it literally stinks, it’s beyond dirty and it’s incredibly time-consuming. I spent most of a day repairing two tyres. The preparation of the repairs with cleaning, removing the failed gaiters and skiving out all the repairs is bad enough, but each batch of compound takes an hour to mix and cure before it can be used. The actual stitching in of the repair is the quickest and most satisfying part of the job.

My big fear is that it is exactly what the guy in the video said it is; a cosmetic repair. However, he did do all his mixing wearing a pair of nitrile gloves and I know that can’t be done, so I’d take whatever is said in the how-to videos with a huge pinch of salt.

As a footnote I had to clean my hands before I handled the compound when it was ready to use to avoid getting any dust or muck into the repair. I must have washed my hands ten times during that afternoon and despite wearing gloves whenever I could, I had black hands for a week – not dirty hands, black hands. I woke up at least twice during the night with the smell of the compound in my nostrils.

I’m almost hoping the repairs aren’t too successful but knowing my luck they will be and despite my growing dislike of this stuff I’ll be forced to take another look at it, after all at £45 and a long morning’s work to repair tyres that would cost maybe £500 each to replace with second-hand, who wouldn’t?