At 71, still tree climbing and chopping

Posted Dec. 22, 2011, at 10:07 p.m.
Bob Doyle, 71, pauses to study his climbing route on an 80-foot-tall white pine he was hired to remove in Winthrop on Dec. 14. On the ground below, his son Sheridan Doyle ties a line to a chain saw that his father will hoist up once in position.
Bob Doyle, 71, pauses to study his climbing route on an 80-foot-tall white pine he was hired to remove in Winthrop on Dec. 14. On the ground below, his son Sheridan Doyle ties a line to a chain saw that his father will hoist up once in position.
Before and after: An 80-foot white pine in a Winthrop front yard was cut limb-by-limb so that the surrounding trees would be not damaged.
Before and after: An 80-foot white pine in a Winthrop front yard was cut limb-by-limb so that the surrounding trees would be not damaged.
A collection of chain saws of various sizes fill the back of Bob Doyle's truck. He estimates he owns about 10.
A collection of chain saws of various sizes fill the back of Bob Doyle's truck. He estimates he owns about 10.
Forest Ranger Sue Myers chats with Bob Doyle after he finished cutting down a tree in Winthrop earlier this month. &quotI'm a member of the Bob Doyle Fan Club," joked Myers, who stopped by to watch the pro at work.
Forest Ranger Sue Myers chats with Bob Doyle after he finished cutting down a tree in Winthrop earlier this month. "I'm a member of the Bob Doyle Fan Club," joked Myers, who stopped by to watch the pro at work.
Bob Doyle, 71, reaches out using just one arm to hold his chain saw as he cuts off a limb on an 80-foot-tall white pine in Winthrop.
Bob Doyle, 71, reaches out using just one arm to hold his chain saw as he cuts off a limb on an 80-foot-tall white pine in Winthrop.
Steel climbing spurs, sharpened to a point to penetrate thick bark, are attached to Bob Doyle's boots.
Steel climbing spurs, sharpened to a point to penetrate thick bark, are attached to Bob Doyle's boots.
Snapshots from the Fryeburg Fair Woodsman's Field Day. Sheridan &quotShed" Doyle placed fifth out of 81 competitors in the woodchopping competition. His father, Bob Doyle, took second in the master's ax throw.
Snapshots from the Fryeburg Fair Woodsman's Field Day. Sheridan "Shed" Doyle placed fifth out of 81 competitors in the woodchopping competition. His father, Bob Doyle, took second in the master's ax throw.
Bob Doyle, 71, looks up toward the crown on an 80-foot-tall white pine in Winthrop on Dec. 14.  Doyle uses a climbing line to ascend the tree. Sharp spikes hold his feet in place. His chain saw is clipped to his belt when not in use.
Bob Doyle, 71, looks up toward the crown on an 80-foot-tall white pine in Winthrop on Dec. 14. Doyle uses a climbing line to ascend the tree. Sharp spikes hold his feet in place. His chain saw is clipped to his belt when not in use.
Sheridan Doyle climbs over the trunk of a large white pine he and his father recently removed from a front yard in Winthrop. Sheridan, 48, stays on the ground when he works with his father. &quotI was recently promoted to branch manager," he joked.
Sheridan Doyle climbs over the trunk of a large white pine he and his father recently removed from a front yard in Winthrop. Sheridan, 48, stays on the ground when he works with his father. "I was recently promoted to branch manager," he joked.

WINTHROP, Maine — Somewhere along the way, the massive white pine divided itself into separate, gnarly trunks, making its crown more like four trees in one. It’s the kind of crooked tree loggers leave behind because it wouldn’t make straight lumber. A windstorm earlier this year started to uproot the tree and now it’s Bob Doyle’s job to take it down.

From his position about 60-feet above the the ground, Doyle takes a minute to study the cluster of branches that made up the crown. Then he fires up his chain saw and makes a series of notches in each of the four vertical trunks. His last cut, just inches above the safety line that connects him to the tree, starts sort of a chain reaction. Treetops topple around him, one by one, like petals dropping off a tulip.

A few minutes later he rappels back down to earth.

“I tell anybody they can take a tree down with a bucket truck but you got to know what you’re doing when you go up there. You got to know which one you’re going to cut first and which one you’re going to cut last,” he said. “They went beautiful.”

A homeowner on whose front lawn the big pine stood feared it might not make it through another storm. Simply felling the pine would have damaged nearby trees. It was time to call in the professionals.

It would be a challenge to find someone with more experience than the team of Bob Doyle and his son Sheridan. The elder Doyle, who turns 72 in January, did his first tree job back in 1954 at the age of 14. Bob Doyle estimates he has cut down nearly 1,500 trees in Gardiner alone. Sheridan Doyle, 48, has been working with his dad since he was 10.

The Doyles own two bucket trucks, but when the ground is soft or if the tree is out of the way, Bob is the one who climbs the tree. Sheridan works as the groundman, clearing limbs and serving as a second set of eyes for his dad. They use hand signals to communicate.

Sheridan also climbs trees but not when he’s working with his father. “He can’t stand it,” said Sheridan. “I think it makes him nervous.” He jokes that his dad recently promoted him to “branch manager.”

Bob uses one rope for climbing and another to loop around the tree to keep him in place while he makes the cut. The ropes clip into a heavy-duty safety harness. Steel spurs strapped onto his boots give him secure footing.

Because of the difficulty in reaching limbs, most of his cuts are made while holding the 10-pound chain saw with just one arm. “The other day on a big tree I swung that arm 310 times,” he said.

Despite the obvious dangers associated with the job, Bob says he has always been lucky.

“In the morning, when you know you’re going to be climbing trees all day, you never know if you’ll be going home at night. I mean you’re hanging on a piece of rope all day,” he said. “I pulled a shoulder out of the joint once, but other than that, nothing bad.”

While unstrapping the climbing spurs from his boots, Bob noticed the steel spikes were getting short from years of sharpening. It was time to retire that pair. As for Bob, he’s got no plans to start taking it easy. “I don’t know why. I still love climbing,” he said.

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