Bartlett Tree Experts
Tree specialists in Pittsburgh rely on the versatility of their DuraStar fleet to fill their every need.
BY ROD O’CONNOR PHOTOS BY BRIDGET BARRETT
Like so many similarly ill-fated trees before it, the proud 75-foot-tall ash tree perched along the private cobblestone driveway was no match for the dreaded emerald ash borer.
This invasive Asian beetle arrived here in Pennsylvania six years ago, most likely via infested firewood from the Midwest. Like a pack of wood-eating zombies, these tiny green monsters have been devouring thousands of local ash trees on a destructive path toward the East Coast—creating plenty of tough work for the West Pittsburgh field office of Bartlett Tree Experts.
“Emerald ash borers are peaking here, so we’re losing a lot of trees,” explains Jim Edson, the district’s managing director, as he methodically runs his fingers over the rotted trunk. “Once infested, it’s hard to stop it.” Edson, 61, is a soft-spoken professorial type whose loose-fitting khakis and outdoorsy oxford shirt make him look exactly like one would think an arborist should.
During his 35-year career, he has personally planted hundreds of trees throughout the beautiful Ohio River Valley and helped care for countless more. Edson prides himself on keeping trees alive. But dead ash trees quickly become brittle, and the potential for falling limbs is a serious public safety concern. Unfortunately, this graying and once-thriving ash—the species of tree whose wood is used to make the famous Louisville Slugger baseball bat—must be put out of its misery.
Luckily, Edson has equipment that’s up to the task. On a cool but sunny July morning in the suburb of Sewickley, 20 miles west of downtown Pittsburgh, he looks on as an International® DuraStar® bucket truck pulling a heavy-duty wood chipper turns the tight corner off a quiet residential street, effortlessly threads the needle down the property’s narrow, 50-foot-long pathway, and comes to a stop.
“This is a pretty tight spot,” says Rob Palochak, 40, the lead foreman on today’s job. He hops out of the cab and does a walk-around. An errant tree branch could poke through this Victorian-era home’s roof like it was made of paper, so he wants to be certain the truck is parked and set up in a safe position. “We don’t have much wiggle room to get where we need to go on a property,” he says. “That’s why the turning radius on our trucks is so important.”
Whether the situation involves removing hazardous storm-damaged trees, installing cables to protect against lightning strikes or applying time-sensitive pesticides to ailing trees, reliability is paramount for these first responders of the forest. And, like most of the 100 other Bartlett locations throughout the U.S., Canada, Ireland and the U.K., the West Pittsburgh Bartlett office relies on the versatile DuraStar.
“We drive Internationals because they are good, solid trucks,” notes Edson. “They provide a very good image [for our company]. And this chassis is a great platform for everything we ask it to do.”
Those requests typically involve pruning, bracing and cabling, which call for DuraStars equipped with PTO-powered aerial lifts. In addition, Bartlett has DuraStar trucks configured with lift-operated dump bodies to transport hundreds of pounds of brush and debris, and with low-profile forestry bodies to operate as pesticide spray trucks. (Companywide, Bartlett’s fleet includes more than 600 International trucks, mostly DuraStar 4300s.)
For all of the Bartlett offices, budget realities and the fast-paced nature of their work means they don’t have extra trucks sitting in the yard. If one vehicle goes down, the reverberations are felt down the line: Workers can’t get to the job site, and the customers’ trees are left blowing in the wind.
Fortunately, Edson receives stellar service from his local dealer at Hunter International, which handles all of the fleet’s computer and engine updates as well as their warranty work. What’s most impressive is that even though the trucks weren’t purchased there (all of Bartlett’s trucks are purchased by the company’s headquarters in Stamford, Conn.), the local dealer always provides stellar turnaround on repair work.
“Uptime is a great concern for us,” Edson says. “We need our trucks to be reliable and we need good service. It’s pretty simple: Our customers rely on us. If we don’t have a working vehicle, we aren’t able to do our jobs.”