Mulching Off into the Sunset

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LEBANON, Ohio- For years, Hollywood producers have flocked to the Hawaiian Islands to set their movies and TV shows against a backdrop of lush greenery and dramatic terrain. Heroes of all shapes and sizes have plunged into fictional tropical forests, where monsters, dinosaurs or ancient civilizations are hiding.

For Edward Vares of Vares Contracting, the antagonist is the forests themselves. While his story hasn’t made the leap to the silver screen, the Maui Mulcher does battle daily by freeing lots and farms from invasive species and overgrown, tangled and thorny brush.

Every day, Vares conquers foes both natural and man-made more frightening than anything a Hollywood special effects studio could dream up. And with no green screen in sight, Vares does all the stunts himself, with some help from very specialized equipment.

Attack of the Thorn-osaurs

We’re all familiar with the scene of a jeep racing through a lush jungle, pursued by a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Recently, not far from where that scene was shot in Maui, it was thorny African mesquite (called “Kiawe” in Hawaiian) that sent the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service running for the hills.

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Tall, hardwood Kiawe trees were infringing on a firebreak in the Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge. An invasive species from Africa, Kiawe is a highly flammable type of Mesquite armed with thorns up to 4” long.  When teams tried to remove them by hand, the Kiawe trees put up a prickly fight, penetrating gloves, boots and even tires. Like a Hollywood villain, the Kiawe even strengthens itself when injured: when cut and left to dry in the sun, the bark hardens even stronger than before.

Through the moonlit fog…could it be? Enter “The Maui Mulcher,” Edward Vares. The demands of the firebreak meant that Vares had to remove ladder fuel from the boundary of the refuge, including a vertical height distance as well as a traditional width, ending in a clearing 30’ wide by 30’ tall.

To knock down the trees and break apart larger branches, without having to contend with the thorns, he used a Fecon Bull HogTM BH 80EXC Forestry Mulcher attached to a Komatsu PC300 30-ton excavator. The hydraulic thumb allowed Vares to rip apart thickly entangled branches. The height on the PC300 allowed for the 30’ tall reach, leaving a clean-looking, straight vertical boundary around the corridor.

The Bull HogTM’s double-carbide teeth easily chewed through the hardwood, while Fecon’s Speed Torque Optimization variable speed motor automatically adjusted the motor displacement to maximize rotor speed and torque as material load changed, providing higher rpm, more bites per second and finer material sizing.

Kiawe is the most common type of thorny brush Vares Contracting is pitted against, and they made short work of the thorny expanse of trees. Armed with equipment as vicious and versatile as the enemy, Vares Contracting provided a clean fire break, re-taking the parcel of land from the invasive trees and giving it back to the critically endangered local flora and fauna.

Man-Made Madness

While the lush, verdant jungles of fictional Hawaii contain pre-historic dinosaurs and worse, fields and forests in Maui contain any number of man-made obstructions lurking in its depths.

“Tires, rims, car parts, rebar, bathtubs, you name it,” Vares said, “Every job we do has something that’s not supposed to be there.”

Hitting an inorganic obstacle can grind an otherwise productive day to a halt, or take many machines out of operation entirely. Fortunately for Vares, he’s armed with an expansive tool belt and over 3,000 hours of land clearing experience. Metal and plastic obstacles may lie lurking left and right, just waiting to spring on his machinery and ruin an otherwise productive day with costly delays and repairs.

Many of the plots Vares Contracting is called in to clear were used as pineapple or sugar cane fields, and previous owners cleared the fields of rocks by hauling them off to the boundary to be overgrown by weeds.  Just like the scene where the heroes plan their counter-attack, Vares sees forestry mulching like a game of chess: you have to anticipate your next move, looking right or left to spot any potential dangers such as rocks, abandoned cars, appliances left outside, etc.

This is where Vares’ years of experience meet the versatility of his equipment. Using the arm of the excavator to clear next to and between obstacles is preferable to blindly running into them. Once uncovered, Vares uses the hydraulic thumb to maneuver rocks to a more convenient area, or use them for landscaping.

Vares’ position as the operator lends a helping hand. In his Komatsu PC300, and Case CX75, he sits higher in the machine, as opposed to sitting lower in the cab of a Compact Track Loader. Up in the cab of the excavator, he is able to look down on what he’s clearing, and is less likely to run into things he doesn’t want to run into.

Sitting higher in the excavator can only get you so far if your mulching attachment can’t handle adverse conditions. The Fecon BullhogTM comes in a variety of rotor

heads and teeth to meet any challenge: natural or man-made. Vares’ BH85 and BH80EXC are equipped with the FGT rotor head with double carbide tip teeth, which cut through fibrous brush and spits it out without clogging. The FGT rotor is a drum-style configuration with a spiral tool pattern for efficient cutting in the toughest applications, even the hard lava rock of Maui’s terrain.

The double-sided carbide design means that when Vares hits something unforgiving, chances are that only one side of the M-shaped tooth will take damage, and the tooth will remain usable.

When tools do break, the single-bolt tool fastening provides easy service: a single Allen head bolt at the rear easily torques perpendicular to the rotor head, reducing the need for a big torque wrench and a bucket of elbow grease.

Riding into the Sunset

In the Hollywood Hawaii and on Maui, the good guys come out on top, despite the best efforts of dinosaurs, rolling boulders, and in Edward Vares’ case, an errant bathtub or engine block. Of course, the handsome heroes have sidekicks, and Vares is no exception: his fleet of excavators with the Fecon Bull HogTM BH85 and BH80EXC Forestry Mulcher. With the Bull Hogs in front of him, he’s riding off into the sunset, leaving a clean, freshly mulched trail behind.