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First and last impressions count for Essex contractor, Rick Playle

Taking a look at Rick Playle’s hedgecutting setup would lead you to think that it is brand new and almost out of the box, but first impressions can be deceptive.

Having been employed on farms when leaving school but moving into the haulage industry, Mr Playle takes pride in his machines and his work, which he reckons is why he gets repeat business every season. He reckons that turning up on farms in a neat tractor and equipment makes a great first impression and leaving a neat hedge or verge makes a great lasting impression. Based just south of Colchester at Birch Farms, he runs his contracting business around an immaculate 6,000 hour five-year old John Deere 6620 and Shelbourne HD70T trimmer, purchased in September 2010.

Rick Playle 2

Having started contracting in March 2000 by hiring himself in as labour to local farms, Mr Playle soon began regular work for a Colchester-based hedgecutting contractor. He spent four years in this role honing his accuracy for that all important quality hedge finish, and was soon being asked by customers why he didn’t go into business himself. This prompted him to commence trading in his own right shortly afterwards as RJ Playle Services.

“I purchased a second-hand John Deere 6600 tractor and McConnel 650 hedgecutter, which had been well used,” Mr Playle says. “Work soon snowballed and I was quickly in need of a newer machine, and I purchased the same brand as I was familiar with their layout,” he adds.

However, he had seen Shelbourne’s range of hedgecutters and kept one eye on the developments being made with its range of machines while running his existing competitive models. These, however, proved to be below his expected build and performance levels, and during harvest 2009 he requested a Shelbourne demonstration from Steve Plumb of local dealer Ernest Doe.

An HD60T machine duly arrived and he was suitably impressed enough to do a deal for a larger seven-metre reach HD70T machine, which arrived in September 2010. So the Shelbourne must have impressed on its demonstration to completely change brand?

“It did impress me a great deal, and the machine continues to now,” says Mr Playle. “What I really like is that the HD70T is a true seven-metre reach machine, because I don’t feel some manufacturers actually give the true reach that they state,” he comments. Having a telescopic arm was a must, as it means that the tractor can stay on the road or field and does not need to ride drains to reach the furthest hedges and banks.

Rick Playle 1

Another area which impressed Mr Playle is the Shelbourne 1.2m head, which he says just does not eject material out from the front as other heads he has used. For a man who likes to not only keep his kit clean, but also the area he has cut, this is a big plus. “I don’t know what it is, maybe how close the rotor runs to the hood, but I just don’t get the material flying out towards the tractor that I am used to,” he says. This, in turn, means he runs the rear blower unit less often also.

On the subject of the head, Mr Playle likes a few other features at the business end of his Shelbourne machine. “I really like the fact that the head is belt drive. I was a bit dubious of it at first having had direct drive heads previously, but I have to say it has been very good, adjusted by a simple tensioner and bolt,” he comments. “I also like that Shelbourne’s designers have made it easy to change rotors, as I have been experimenting with changing from a hedge rotor with F10 ‘T’ flails to a verge rotor equipped with F10 competition flails.” Mr Playle is always keen to get the best finish, and he reckons the 15 minutes to swap rotors over when doing bulk areas of grass is well worth it, and is aiming to carry both types on a special bracket for this season.

Also singled out for praise is the design of the rear roller, which can be adjusted hydraulically via the trimmer’s control system. “Shelbourne have made this a very simple roller control system with one ram, which is not prone to damage or cylinder creep, and it takes the impact over ground contours very well,” he points out.

Up in the cab, and a machine and its operator are only as good as the control system they use. Shelbourne’s digital proportional controls are specified here, and this gets nothing but support. “I like the fact that all of the rams can all be adjusted for flow in both directions, and so too can the control lever response,” Mr Playle says.

“The system has a really simple computer which takes seconds to alter for different settings, and I like that I can switch slew to the joystick for tasks such as cutting around corners in fields. It just makes it easier to work quicker and neater.” Praise is also given to the bracket which supports the control box, which Mr Playle has mounted in lieu of the John Deere’s left arm rest, and which can be adjusted simply to give the correct work angle.

The HD70T is employed on farms within about a fifteen mile radius of Mr Playle’s base, and he reckons that he covers around 10,000 acres per year, and finds that now it is ever more important to run a reliable machine, with spares available fast if needed.

“I handle land for farmers running large combines and cultivation rigs, so they want hedges cut and me out without delay. The key to this job is speed, but I like to make sure I do a good job – it’s my only advertisement so it is worth doing it properly!” he says. “It is vital that flails are sharp, enabling me to achieve good speeds and also do a better job of a hedge or verge.”

So will this machine be replaced by another Shelbourne? It appears that this will be the likely result given the performance of the HD70T so far, helping to ensure Essex’s farmland is ever more neat and tidy.

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