By Michael “House” Tain
The GRCS mounted for lifting/pulling on a receiver hitch on the side of a truck.
Photo by James LuceThe Good Rigging Control System (GRCS), designed and developed by Wisconsin climbing arborist Greg Good, is far and away one of the most valuable and versatile non-motorized tools available to tree care professionals. In fact, more than a few tree crews have opined that the GRCS should more appropriately be called the “Great” rigging control system.
What is it then that distinguishes the GRCS from the variety of rigging lifting/lowering devices available? In short, the versatility and user-friendly design of this one particular piece of equipment are what help it stand out in the field of arborist lifting/lowering devices. There are devices that lower pieces quite effectively, but require the addition of a different system to lift the same piece — or require more than one operator to lift a piece — whereas the GRCS can easily and safely be switched from lifting to lowering and back by one operator.
In addition, the usefulness of the GRCS in making a wide variety of tree care operations safer and more efficient is only limited by the imagination of the tree crews employing it. Thus, it can play a key role in pruning, storm debris clean-up, removals, stump pulling, and more. After all, it truly is a system, and is not limited to simple lowering or lifting. However, as with any weapon in the tree care professional’s arsenal, the GRCS must be used appropriately and set-up correctly. But this is a situation easily remedied with a small amount of knowledge, training and experience.
The GRCS is secured to the designated tree by a heavy-duty ratcheting strap, and is equipped with rubber bumpers or “feet” to protect the stem of those trees not being removed. The mounting plate is hinged to accommodate a variety of tree diameters, and the strap is tightened through the use of a breaker or tension bar in the ratcheting mechanism. Although the system may be attached to the tree by one person, it is much more easily accomplished by two. In addition, it is much more easily done without the winch or lowering bollard already installed in the mounting plate. Both of these options are slid into the mounting plate from below, so care should be taken when attaching the plate to the tree to ensure that a clear path (free of knots, root swellings, etc.) is available beneath the plate. The breaker or tension bar is one item that often seems to be “left behind” or misplaced, so securing it in some way to or near the rest of the mounting system is an excellent idea. Personal experience has shown that lug wrenches, pry bars, and other substitutes are much easier bent, broken or distorted in this application than would be thought.
The GRCS controlling large woody debris.
Photo by Greg GoodThe GRCS can be installed in ways that could be considered specialized in that they differ from the most common method of installation. One is with the truck/trailer hitch mount, which allows the device to be mounted in the receiver hitch of a truck when no appropriate tree is available. The thoughtful installation of receiver hitches at various locations on a truck will further increase the versatility of this installation method, preventing the tree crew from being limited to the traditional receiver hitch at the rear of the truck. The other specialized installation method can be quite useful for large loads and/or removals, and involves the use of a visor plate. This visor plate locks the GRCS into place by fitting into the kerf of a horizontal chain saw cut made into the tree on which it is mounted. This interaction of steel visor plate and kerf helps prevent the GRCS from being pulled or slipping upward under large loads; and because the chain saw cut does not need to be that deep, does not affect the structural integrity of the tree/anchor point adversely.
Either the aluminum drum or the Harken winch may be used for lowering wood or loads. But as the winch is probably the most expensive component of the GRCS, operators who are only going to be lowering branches or pieces — and will have no need of the lifting/pulling capability of the winch — might be best served by installing and using the aluminum drum. The large-diameter drum, with two cleat-off pins at the end, dissipates heat well. And in extreme lowering conditions, it is wide enough for a first aid cool/freeze pack to be placed inside, reducing the temperature of the drum, and lessening the likelihood of rope glazing/melting. The amount of friction needed to lower a given load is generated by wraps around the drum — less wraps equal less friction. When lowering with the Harken winch, friction is also generated by wraps around the bollard, though the operator should take care not to involve the self-tailing mechanism when lowering. Additionally, slack can be removed from the line and system by pulling on the lowering line wrapped around the bollard.
A close view of the GRCS. Note the self-tailing mechanism at the front of the winch drum.
Photo by Greg Good
The presence of the Harken two-speed winch in the GRCS is probably the most notable feature of the system; and helps make it an invaluable tool in almost every aspect of tree care operations. The two “speeds” that the winch is capable of are 44-1 in one direction and 22-1 in the other. The 44-1 ratio will be easier to turn by the user, but will move the rope or load more slowly than the 22-1 ratio. Changing “gears” or “speeds” is inherently simple, and only requires turning the handle in the opposite direction. The winch’s self-tailing mechanism, located at the end furthest from the mounting plate, allows a crew member to lift or pull loads easily. For multiple lifts, where repeatedly and incessantly turning the handle may exhaust ground personnel, a winch driver bit is available that allows the winch to be turned by 1/2-inch gas powered drills.
Fairleads and set-up
The GRCS comes with built-in fairleads and pigtails that facilitate the line entering and exiting the device in the correct orientation. Operators should always use existing fairleads/pigtails in the appropriate and recommended manner, as a failure to do so could lead to excessive bend ratios or forces resulting in rope/device failure. Should the pulling/lowering/lifting line enter the fairlead at a poor angle, crew members should use a secondary block or pulley to redirect it to a better angle into the fairlead. Rope directions and instructions for basic use are clearly illustrated on the device itself. However, the basic set-up is as follows:
When facing the device mounted on the tree, the line should enter the fairlead cleanly at the upper right rear corner of the GRCS.
When lowering, the line should go around the drum or winch bollard in a clockwise fashion — more wraps meaning more friction — and will typically exit on the bottom front left of the GRCS through the swiveling pigtail.
When lifting or pulling, the line will also go around the winch bollard in a clockwise fashion, but as many wraps as possible should be taken, until finishing by placing the line through the self-tailing mechanism.
In situations where a load is to be lowered then lifted, remove the handle while lowering, and then reinstall it for lifting.
As stated previously, the only limit on the applications tree care professionals can find for the GRCS is their own imagination, but it is well suited and perfectly appropriate for the following applications and more:
As a device for lifting or lowering in typical removal and technical rigging operations.
As a “cheap crane,” with the availability of suitable anchor points, for removing storm debris from backyards or other limited access locations, or even storm-thrown trees from houses or other structures.
As the pulling force in technical felling operations to provide the input to fell trees against their natural lean.
As the pulling force in a variety of tree care activities such as stump removal, log skidding, or equipment movement.
The user friendly design, versatility and durability of the GRCS make it an excellent choice for any tree care company or organization — and one that will quickly pay for itself once acquired. Just like any piece of arboricultural gear or equipment, it must be set-up and used correctly within safe strength parameters. But once its uses and capabilities are learned and understood, operators will assuredly appreciate the safety and efficiency it brings to a wide variety of job sites.
Michael “House” Tain is a contract climber, splicer, educator and writer associated with North American Training Solutions www.northamericantrainingsolutions.com and Arbor Canada Training and Education www.arborcanada.com. He is currently located in Lancaster, Ky., and can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.