Field Report 29/10/01
Washington Iron Works Skidder
Swifts Creek, Victoria, Australia
Loggers and Modellers,
Here's a quick report about what I found when I visited this site:
The drive up to the site wasn't too stressful. I stoped about 3 kilometres south of Swifts Creek at a service station to see if anyone local could help me with general directions to the site. The attendant wasn't sure, but she asked a local deliveryman who was there at the time. Having asked about any machinery along Nunniong Road, as mentioned in the article you sent me, the deliveryman simply asked me, "You aren't looking for the Washington, are you?".
With the deliveryman's hand drawn "mud map" in hand, I travelled on through Swifts Creek, and up the mountain into the Nunniong State Forest Recreation area for around 30 Kilometres. Of this, the last 12 k's or so were fairly rough gravel road. I averaged around 15 kph. During this drive I encountered only two other vehicles, both 4WDs with loggers heading back into town. Various areas of the bush thereabouts are still being logged with Caterpillars and B double trucks.
As I was just about to give up and head back down the mountain I spied a small corrugated iron water tank on a simple wooden support in the bush on the left-hand side of the road. I was paying so much attention to this little structure, that it was only when I turned my attention back to the road that I noticed the two spar trees on the Right hand side of the road a few hundred metres beyond.
The site is set up with a cleared "carpark" area and information board on the left-hand side of the road. The board is at the same level as the carpark. Behind it is a small rise on which is located the skidder. The skidder lines run from the drums, to the right across the road to the "Left hand Spar". They then turn 90 degrees and head roughly towards the small corrugated iron tank to the "Right hand Spar". (See VERY ROUGH not to scale diagram below. Guy ropes not shown).
The skidder itself appears to be in reasonable shape. There is plenty of surface rust, but most of the steelwork still seems strong. All of the steam fittings, such as sight glasses, valves, whistles etc have been removed and stored at the museum at Swifts Creek, but most of the major fittings such as the drum brake pedals and mechanism, throttle controls, etc are still in place. Water lines are still in place between the water tank and the boiler. The stream that originally fed the water tank has been diverted via a small channel, and now runs down along the back of the carpark to some point near the small corrugated tank.
I didn't realise before, but the watertank on the skidder is made up of multiple sheets of steel which are riveted together in an overlapping pattern, (looking from the rear of the skidder forward) from left to right, and top to bottom. The main skid logs are reasonably solid, but the front ends are exposed to the air, and show signs of deterioration. The rear of the skidder sled is partially buried in the clay soil. One of the five heavy planks forming the platform between the boiler and the tank has rotted and collapsed. The subsequent hole between the adjacent planks was discovered by one of my rolls of exposed film. The retrieval of said film provided a rare view of the underside of a skidder, via a small "foxhole" beneath the watertank at the rear of the skidder. (This technique is NOT recommended, as there are many types of fauna that are unfriendly to humans that are known to inhabit such areas. Thankfully I did not encounter any such animals before I came to my senses. I also did not get any photos while in this position).
No builders plates or similar were to be found on the boiler or skidder framework. The boiler is a vertical type with a firebox that extends back from the main boiler "tube". The cylinders have "11 X 14" cast in raised lettering, indicating their bore and stroke. A small steel plate mounted over the right hand side flywheel had me wondering until I actually stood as if I was operating the unit. It became clear that it was there to stop the legs of the operator getting caught in the business end of the flywheel and connecting rods.
When in operation, there was a shed built over the skidder to protect it from the elements. The shed in evidence now is a faithful recreation of the old shed. While the timber frame and corrugated iron is new, as many of the old hinges, brackets and strapping that could be salvaged from the old shed has been re-used.
According to the information board in the carpark, the skidder was originally rigged for high lead yarding work, using the "Left hand Spar" as the main tree. Later on it was converted to a Skyline crane, and was used to yard the logs and load them onto trucks for transport down the mountain. It must have been at this point that the second "Right hand Spar" spar tree was rigged. Both trees on site now are Alpine Ash replacements for the original trees, which apparently were deemed to be unsafe. All of the rigging on the current trees is original however, and was apparently simply transferred directly as was from the old to the new trees. As there are a few pulley blocks located on the Main "Left hand Spar" tree that appear to be doing nothing now, but would be perfectly placed to rig a high lead from, I'm pretty sure that the new trees are faithful to the original ones.
The guy ropes on the new trees use the original 2" stranded wire rope, but most of the original stumps were deemed unsafe. New stumps have been selected next to the original ones, and are used to anchor the current guys. Most of the guys now use new galvanised dog clamps to secure the guy ropes to the stumps, but there is one that has retained it's original 3 to 2 purchase tensioning block system. It is attached to the "Right hand Spar".
Hanging between the two spars is the skyline travelling carriage and hook pulley. The travelling carriage appears to be a "homegrown" item, as is hasn't got the smooth edges and "cast" look of the other pieces of rigging. There are also some other pieces of rigging gear to be found lying around the site on the ground, the most notable of which is a 24" pulley block near the skyline carriage location.
I've included some scanned "overview" pics of the site. I've also included a "transcript" of the text on the information boards, as even at 600 dpi scan they are a bit hard to read. I've got detail shots with scale rules for much of the skidder, the spar trees, and the guy rope equipment, so if there is anything you want to see more of, please don't hesitate to ask.
By the way, I've also included two shots of a curious home grown log hauling trailer I found on the way home from the Swifts Creek sight. It is located north of a small coastal fishing town called Narooma on the New South Wales "South Coast". It's a bit smaller than a U.S. "Big Wheel" log hauling arch, but appears to have been used for similar service.
Hope this is helpful. Again, many thanks for all of your help and encouragement.
Aim to Improve,