Simon Bowes is taking it easy, enjoying watching his favourite YouTubers at work with a cuppa ... for now.

HOW do you relax after a hard day, or a hard week, at work? I used to go out and socialise, which is modern speak for going out drinking. I’d ride my bike in the summer and maybe I’d ride it to the pub and socialise with other like-minded motorcycle types, but then life moved on and I realised investing in beer was never going to make any financial sense.

I have found spannering on old junk in my workshop has become more of a stress-building exercise, so I wait for the mood to descend before I do any work on the current 1970s Kawasaki I have up on the bench. I’m afraid I’ve strayed into watching other people do the graft I should be doing. There are younger, more motivated types on YouTube who can provide my relaxation by proxy. They get dirty and frustrated while I watch and snigger with a cup of tea and a biscuit from the comfort of my armchair.

It’s a guilty pleasure watching some guy from Iowa dragging cars out of bramble patches after years of being neglected, taking them to his well-funded workshop before throwing money and parts at them to return them to the road. It’s clearly not a financial venture, other than the support he gets from subscribers to his channel. There’s a Polish guy who restores anything. He put a diesel VW Passat back on the road a few weeks ago. If it had been a UK car it would have been in the scrapyard long ago. Polish drivers don’t throw cars away when the tyres wear out, they’re much more frugal. I watch these people with a slight tinge of contempt, because I’ve done it. I drove cars held together with luck and amateur welding, but then I started driving when a 20-year-old Mini (the Morris Mini, not the BMW pretend version) was the standard fare for young drivers. I remember a friend who had a sticker on the boot lid of his 1968 Mini that said ‘Caution: disc brakes’. I wrote ‘Don’t worry, no brakes’ in felt-tip on mine. I rubbed it off when my older brother pointed out the local bobby might see it and actually check, which he predicted wouldn’t end well for me. He could talk, he drove for five years before he took his test. It was the same local policeman who told him if he didn’t have a licence the next time he saw him driving he’d have something more to say.

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There is one channel I do watch with some genuine enthusiasm. Derek Bieri from Minnesota buys cars all over the US. These cars are abandoned in barns, woods or just out in the middle of fields. They have to be interesting, or of a particular type, usually ’60s or ’70s US-built cars with a history. He takes a road trip with a selection of tools and gets them running. He’ll stay in a hotel locally, use parts stores in town and have tyres fitted at local garages and then he drives the thing home. Much of it is contrived, but he’s an engaging character who is clearly a proper mechanic. He has a wicked sense of humour and is clearly a little bit crazy.

Forestry Journal: Large hole made by the harvester chain because the sawbar return stop had been badly adjusted at some point.Large hole made by the harvester chain because the sawbar return stop had been badly adjusted at some point.

The thing that really got me interested was the disclaimer displayed before every episode on his YouTube channel: ‘I’m an idiot. Do what I do at your own risk. Don’t take my advice unless you’re really super desperate’. Well, I’m not super desperate for anything but I am ready to be entertained, and some of the things I’ve seen on these channels have been enlightening, but for the most part I do it the way they do it. Even when applied to forestry machines and harvesting heads like the Tapio 600, I need to assess before laying into it with the gas torch and the welder. Like Derek says, you have to find the problems before you can fix them. Luckily for me, the old Tapio isn’t hiding anything.

If you are a bit of a sad case who likes watching well-fed Americans spending thousands fixing cars worth hundreds, then you can join in the 4.5 million viewers who watched the most recent episode on Derek’s channel at Vice Grip Garage on YouTube.

Forestry Journal: Tilt frame boss completely detached despite a large amount of weld having been applied.Tilt frame boss completely detached despite a large amount of weld having been applied.

The Tapio is still sitting in my trailer covered in snow as I write this. Yes, it’s been snowing overnight. I can’t get it into the workshop because I’m waiting for a new engine hoist. I bought one which was delivered in three boxes, only two turned up and now I’m embroiled in a pointless three-way fight between the seller, the courier and myself. I just want the last box of parts the courier left on the wagon almost three weeks ago. I hate couriers, they seem to get paid regardless of whether they do their job or not. I sent a hydraulic pump to a place in south Scotland a month ago – a 50-kg lump on a half-metre square pallet. The courier lost it. I told them I could have put it in a wheelbarrow and pushed the effing thing to Scotland by now. The guy on the phone said I was being abusive. I told him what he was being, using a classic Anglo-Saxon noun, and he put the phone down. Why should they care? They got their 60 quid plus VAT before they picked the pallet up. You might as well stick the money on a horse, at least that’s regulated gambling.

Forestry Journal: There are lots of previous welding repairs, some good, some not so good.There are lots of previous welding repairs, some good, some not so good.

The old Tapio has had a hard life, and there’s no hiding it. It is complete though, just as I was told by the owner. He said it did have a fault, but he couldn’t remember what it was. I suppose I’d better start this odyssey by taking a walk around it and identifying what that fault might be.

There’s a hole in the plate that mounts the valve block. Someone, at some time, has run it without the saw bar return stop in place. The saw has cut a hole in the 6-mm plate that makes up the back of the chassis – not a hole the width of the chain, but one you can get your fist through. They must have gone through some harvester chains while that little scenario was ongoing. The main pivot where the head tilts up is in pieces, the bosses on the frame are broken off and are free-floating, but the pin is at least straight ... ish. The tilt frame has been broken and welded by some enthusiast, but there’s a spare that has been broken and welded by a different enthusiast. That is going straight in the scrap bin along with half a dozen spare knives that are beyond repair. The knives actually look in decent condition. The rear ones have great big lugs welded on the inner faces where they grip the tree during processing, so they’ll have to come off. I’ve seen a lot of Tapios with this particular solution to a problem better fixed by replacing the ram seals and setting the pressures properly. One of them has about six inches of its end broken clean off. I guess that might have been the same operator who sawed the hole in the chassis plate. Better dig into the scrap bin and find another rear knife to repair.

Forestry Journal: Cutting edges are in poor shape and will need re-making with hard facing.Cutting edges are in poor shape and will need re-making with hard facing.

Looking at the knife rams, they all look pretty good. They’re black, not red, in colour, so have almost certainly been replacements. There is a whole bin full of old rams, one tilt ram and four knife rams. The tilt ram is marked ‘Needs seals’ as are two of the knife rams. One of the others is totally disassembled with an obviously bent and scored piston rod, the other has the eye snapped off. The worst affront to fabrication engineering I can see is the cable box cover. Commonly, a harvesting head will have four lines to it, two large hydraulic lines (pressure and return), a hydraulic drain line from the motors and a control cable line. The hydraulic pipes connect into a valve block manifold and the pipe with the control cable usually fits through a substantial bulkhead with the multi core cable connecting either via a plug or a junction block to the operating solenoids and sensors. The Tapio has similar connections for the hydraulics, but the cable conduit is terminated through a plate made from thin steel. This plate is bolted to the chassis using four short M8 studs on its ends, but crucially it is supported by and bolted through the hood that covers all the rear of the chassis, the valve block, controls and pipework. This plate was in two pieces. It had been repaired, badly, on numerous occasions and the metal that makes up the hood supports was missing, possibly deliberately removed to make fitting the hood easier. When the head was last used it had all been secured using some polypropylene rope and cable ties. The cable plugs connecting the controls in the cab to the controls on the head were filled with debris, oil and water, and were most likely the source of the fault that had been noted before it had ceased being used. When we first saw it, the words that sprang to mind were: ‘How in God’s name has this ever worked?’

Forestry Journal: Making up new hard knife edges is time consuming but given patience good results are possible.Making up new hard knife edges is time consuming but given patience good results are possible.

Those are the main issues. Not a huge list, but enough to do a couple of ‘will it run?’ episodes on YouTube? The chassis is cracked in all the usual places, but that’ll all repair if the old welds are cleaned off and the cracks are prepared properly, not just welded over all the rust and oil as looks to have been done previously. Joy of joys, all the hydraulic fittings are BSP rather than the JIC that I despise, but having Timberjack and Valmet machines I’ve had to get used to, and they are all pretty well up to scratch.

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Having gone through the inspect-and-plan stage with the head, I was reasonably confident a good day would see most of the straightening and repairing taken care of, but I had two large boxes lurking at the back of the shed that had been sent to Phil Cooper’s in another consignment – and this was one ‘unboxing’ I wasn’t looking forward to.

Forestry Journal: This rear knife is one of the best but it has a large crack that’ll need repairing just to the right of the large pivot pin bushing.This rear knife is one of the best but it has a large crack that’ll need repairing just to the right of the large pivot pin bushing.

The control system runs a Harvemeter computer. The ones I had all those years ago were Harvemeter 1000s with a digital Tapio control (earlier Tapio controls were mechanical with relays and incredibly noisy). I was worried this is what I would find.

Imagine my surprise when the first box had an almost pristine Harvemeter 2000 display in it, the wiring all still plugged in a rather scruffy looking but serviceable digital Tapio control. Two-hand controls with buttons and wiring, preset keypad and power supply box with live and earth connections were also there. I laid it out and we concluded the whole lot would simply plug and play after the addition of a power supply and earth connection. Things were looking up, but then a thought struck me. The battery in the computer would be degraded and need changing, but that was simple enough. Those digital control boxes had a long connector plug down one side and it was the connections there that were the system’s Achilles’ heel. The soldered joints on the main board tended to fail as they effectively supported the long plug and its associated wiring. Years ago I was told to support the cable on a bracket if the box was mounted vertically or to mount it horizontally with the plug facing upwards. I took the cover off the control and, sure enough, the board was dusty, crusty and, in places, green.

Forestry Journal: This is how the Tapio 600 could look when restored.This is how the Tapio 600 could look when restored.

I opened the second box and there were a number of padded Jiffy bags with A&B Services’ logo on them, a real blast from my Tapio past. The first contained return sensors for the stroke slide. They’re effectively a switch that stops the stroke moving one way and sends a signal to reverse direction, useful to have. The second had the pencil sensors for length measurement and saw home signal, but the third and largest had a new (or at least refurbished) main board for the Tapio control. There was a second one in the next bag too – suddenly things were looking up again. The rest of the bags had all sorts of useful spares that I would never have thought to keep, which made me wonder how anyone could be so thoughtful about the inside of the cab but so brutal when it came to the head. Thinking back to my conversations with the previous owner, he did tell me he’d had a driver on the machine who he’d had to let go because he wasn’t too impressed with the way he performed. It was all making sense now.

Time is at a premium in spring, so I’ve picked out the best replacement knife and repaired it, and I’ve done the best I can with the ripped-up cable conduit plate, but that’s all for now. Once the missing engine hoist turns up, I’ll get the rest of the welding done, reseal any rams that look weak, swap the damaged knife and reshape and repair the cutting edges on the other one. I don’t think I’ll paint it until we’ve had it fitted and working. It’ll be like putting lipstick on a pig if I do it beforehand, and it doesn’t make things work any better anyway.

In summary, I’d say it’s a bit of a curate’s egg. The head is below par; it needs a lot of cosmetic work, and I’m guessing the wiring will all need redoing, but it’s all there and I believe it was working when it was removed. The controls in the cab look to be in very good order, with that great stash of spares being a huge bonus. The Timberjack head that was fitted to my spare 1270 has been sold, along with a slew of other bits that needed moving on, so the only things holding us up are time and distance. The annual firewood harvest has started with a big whole-tree chipping project to follow and it’s that job I’d like to put the Tapio into. I’ve decided the Viking head I have now is to be the last one. I’m changing it for a Logmax and while Phil is doing the changeover, it’ll be the perfect opportunity to use my old 1270 with the Tapio fitted to complete what is a new type of operation for me. It’s simple enough, there’s no measuring needed and the nimble Tapio with its narrow profile and good sorting capabilities should make it a useful option for the increasing amount of small hardwood chipping jobs coming onto the market now.

The only fly in the ointment is that someone has hugely underestimated how much timber will come off the diseased ash clearance we’re doing. The tree size is easily double what we were told to expect, so my carefully made plans are already unravelling. We’ll see in the next couple of weeks, so maybe next month I’ll be writing about the joys of doing wiring in a forestry machine rather than the joy of felling with a double-grip harvesting head.

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