Michael Tomlinson, Uttoxeter, Staffordshire, UK, (HD62VFR)

Hedge trimmer design has taken another step forward with the introduction of the variable forward reach system. We visited the first user of Shelbourne Reynold’s innovative 6.2m Powerblade VFR tractor hedge cutter and discovered a success.

undefinedThere can be few better views in the countryside than a well trimmed hedge – its sides uniform, top level and the surrounding vegetation neatly cut. Of the skills used in an industry which now places more emphasis on speed than straight ploughing, hedge trimming must count as one of the last remaining tasks where operator skill can be truly appreciated.

And it is one which contractor Mike Tomlinson takes very seriously. Based near Uttoxeter, Staffordshire, Mr Tomlinson has taken the art of hedge trimming to new levels - levels that have earned him the respect of his customers. "I’ve been offering a contract hedge trimming service since 1982," he says. "And, if I’ve learnt anything at all in that time it is that there is little point doing the same sort of job every other contractor in the area does – you have to do it better."

It’s a policy that, over the years, has served him well, he reports. And it has enabled him to charge a premium for his work which his customers are prepared to pay – particularly when the hedges to be trimmed are on the roadside or in prominent positions. Such recognition has also led to him being offered work by large companies which have hedges that need to be kept in a tidy condition, and there are also now contracts for golf courses and race courses.

undefinedWhile there is no doubt years of experience have provided Mr Tomlinson with the knowledge and skills required to trim hedges he concedes that having a good hedge trimmer is also a key ingredient.

"You can’t expect to produce the best work if the kit you are using is in poor condition or badly designed," he insists.
When he first started his business Mr Tomlinson operated Econ trimmers but when this company decided to stop making them he turned to McConnell.

By 2004 he was using a fixed forward reach McConnell but, while the performance of the machine was adequate the view of the cutting head was interrupted by the rear pillar of the tractor cab – which he said was annoying. It was this point he vowed that his next machine would be a variable forward reach hedge trimmer with digital proportional electronic joystick controls.

A visit to the LAMMA event was to result in him discussing with Shelbourne Reynolds the possibility of building atractor hedge cutter that could have a cutting head which could be positioned where the operator wanted it to be – a variable forward reach machine (VFR), along with the control system he wanted. "Shelbourne agreed to design and make one and, after various discussions and a try out of one of the company’s standard machines, I ordered one," he says. As agreed, the newtractor hedge cutter was delivered by Shelbourne at the beginning of August last year and was fitted to his Case CVX 1135. "It was an exciting moment," he says. "It was the first time I’d had a chance to use the machine and certainly the first time to use the variable forward reach feature."
The 6.2m Powerblade VFR fits onto the tractor using a box-section sub-frame for which the tractor’s two drop arms provide the support – the lift arms are removed. The pto shaft, which powers the trimmer’s hydraulic system, and the top link are fitted as normal.

undefined"The first try out was quite an experience," says Mr Tomlinson. "I activated the control to move the cutter head forward and watched it retain its front-on position as it moved forward to a position beyond that of the front window. It was just so good – and I knew then that my neck need never ache again."

Having operated the machine for a number of months, he says for hedge trimming he sets the head in a position where he is looking slightly ahead of it and, when tidying up the bottom of the hedge he has it further forwards so he can see the position of the whole of the head.

"It’s a very clever system which uses a parallel linkage to ensure the head remains in the correct position as it is moved forwards or rearwards," he says.

The only slight issue he has is that as the head moves forward there is a point where the balance of the trimmer moves to the front so that the very small amount of play on the top link is translated as several inches of vertical movement at the cutter head. To help restrict this movement Mr Tomlinson has fitted a turnbuckle linkage to the top link. "Perhaps more weight on the rear would be the answer," he comments. "But it’s not a big problem."

With up to 1800 hours clocked between the 1st August and the end of February on hedge trimming duties it is clear that he has some volume of work to complete. And despite this workload, he reports that this is the first machine he has owned that never been back to the dealer in its first season.

"At the end of every day I spend about half an hour with the grinder sharpening the flails to ensure they are razor sharp for the next day’s work," he explains.

undefined"It is really important to have them sharp or the finish of the hedge with its smashed ends looks dreadful." Mr Tomlinson points out that he only operates the pto at about 450 rpm – the head does a better job of cutting at a slower speed by not ‘blowing’ the small branches out the way.

Having the skill to leave the hedge level and even is acquired only with practice but making a clean tidy job when cutting alongside roads requires a front sweeper unit to be used. "Leaving debris all over the road is unforgivable. I use a front mounted sweeper and, if required, a hand-held air blower to blow the debris into the bottom of the hedge."

Since the trimmer was delivered, there have been one or two minor additions – a couple of covers to pivot points to provide greater protection and the angling of pipe work so that it did not become crimped. "To date, I have no complaints what so ever with this machine," says Mr Tomlinson. "It is comfortable to operate and it has the ability to produce the high standard of work my customers expect me to deliver."

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