Kent contractor Guy Gregson went to great lengths to assemble a comfortable-to-drive hedgecutting rig capable of working quicker than a traditional tractor and trimmer set-up.
Having bought a Mercedes-Benz Unimog 1600 in 2015 – to replace a smaller 1200 – Mr Gregson went on the hunt for a hedgecutter to slot on the front.
The most appealing candidate came from German firm Mulag, which specialises in amenity equipment designed for mounting on Unimogs.
New machines came with an eye-watering price-tag, so instead he sniffed out a second-hand alternative.
He found a trade-in sat in the yard of Biber – a German machinery dealer based near Hannover. The Mulag FME600 offered a 7.2m reach, as well as 1.3m lateral shift along a rail, and would fit the bill nicely.
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The machine in question had 7,600 hours on the clock, so after some brief negotiations Mr Gregson settled on a price of €8,250.
However, there was a fly in the ointment – the deal was struck in March 2016, prior to the Brexit vote.
In a flash, the exchange rate tumbled and, by the time transport had been factored in post-Brexit, the machine was back in the UK for £8,000 rather than the £6,500 Mr Gregson had expected.
Getting the machine into Britain also caused him a headache because it had been purchased on finance.
Most finance companies won’t pay for a machine that’s in another country, but equally the German dealer wouldn’t let it leave the yard without seeing some cash.
In the end, Mr Gregson had to find a registered dealer – Atkinson Voss of Lancaster was a willing helper – and it finally arrived on the back of a Richard Long lorry on 31 October.
A tricky fit
Mounting the hedgecutter on the Unimog wasn’t as simple as picking it up with the linkage.
Instead, it uses a Din mounting plate – similar to snow ploughs on lorries – but the job was made more complicated because the trimmer had previously been used on a newer type of Unimog.
It also needed a torsion bar system to lock up the suspended front axle to avoid it flexing excessively with the arm outstretched. Such systems tend to be expensive – £2,500 for a manual arrangement or £5,000 for the hydraulic equivalent – but Mr Gregson stumbled on a cheaper alternative.
South Cave Tractors, an East Yorkshire firm that specialises in all things Unimog, found a used torsion system in need of repinning and bushing for £250, which cost a fraction of the price of buying new.
The front-mounted set-up has been a revelation, according to Mr Gregson, who also recruited Sussex-based Ben Hart Engineering to fit a fancy fold-away bracket for the controls.
“Folding up can be a bit of a fiddle because you can’t see through the cab roof, so you have to be a bit careful when resting the machine back into its holder.”
“I already have one camera to help with hitching up at the back, and I don’t think it will be long before I put a second one in to help with folding up – it will be cheaper than a new roof.”
Mr Gregson also had to invest in ballast to stop the tractor unit swinging around with the arm fully extended.
It now lugs around more than a tonne of extra weight on the back and 250kg on the side opposite the hedgecutter to keep all four wheels on the deck, while tyre pressures are also cranked up to help keep it standing square.
In the yard, the Din plate allows the implement to be removed or mounted in just a few minutes and, unlike conventional trimmers, only 11 flails lie under the hood, so it is quick to service.
“By the time the machine was highway-ready, with twin beacons, reflective strips and the correct signage, it had cost the best part of £10,000, but I am now able to pick up a bigger variation in contracts, letting the machine cross agriculture and amenity works.
“Although getting it to this point was a bit of a headache, and it has taken companies from all over the UK, I would do it again.”