Rope access guy transitioning to tree work

Roundhouse

New Member
Location
SW Washington
Hi tree people. I’m a rope access L3 with about 8 years in the industry. Most of my experience is in oil and gas (refineries, oil field, offshore) using the rope access 2 rope system for work positioning for inspection/insulation/mechanical work. I’ve also done a fair amount of manual hauling of materials/devices. The L3 technician’s training is heavy on rescue and supervision of L1/L2 techs as well as manipulating loads in the air with tensioned lines, cross-hauling, etc. For the last 5 years I’ve been working in the Arctic oil field in AK and though it pays well and the schedule has its benefits, (3 weeks on, 3 off) I’m starting to get burned out on being surrounded by pipes and machinery pumping oil out of the ground. Not to mention being away from home half the year. This has led me to start studying arboriculture, tree climbing gear and techniques (ISA courses, hours of YouTube). We live on 6 acres and have planted over a hundred trees and I’ve climbed my trees to dead wood and crown raise a bit. I’m starting to do some small jobs for friends and family for free and I’m thinking about starting a tree service.

My first thought when I was starting to entertain this idea was that I should work for someone else first to get more industry specific experience. Then I thought about turning around and competing with the guys I just worked for or learning bad practices from a low quality outfit. Not to mention taking a huge pay cut to get in with limited tree experience. I’ve been thinking more recently that I have enough industrial and recreational climbing experience to start low and slow with small jobs and work up from there.

My current idea is to keep my rope access job and during my 3 weeks off start doing tree work. At first it’ll be my own trees and free jobs for neighbors and friends. As I get more comfortable with the different systems I’ll start marketing and bidding jobs I’m comfortable with. If it goes well I can decide when to quit my day job and go full time. I have an LLC formed and I’m looking into business licenses, insurance, etc. I’ve got a descent bit of climbing gear and a few saws now but I’m rapidly expanding in that department. I’ve got a Tacoma and 5x8 dump trailer for small jobs but I’ve got about 60k I can invest in truck, chipper, etc. when the time is right.

I know this is a long post but I usually see responses to other threads asking for more information/context so I figured I’d go whole hog. Am I being rational with this line of thought? Any comments/questions/suggestions are welcome.

Thanks!
 

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Jonny

Well-Known Member
Location
Buffalo
Welcome!
This is a bit different than the usual new climber threads. Pretty cool gig you already got and sounds lucrative with a chance at further promotion. Still 3 weeks on 3 weeks off leaves some time to explore this option.

I strongly urge you to go work for someone else anyways. The actual climbing and accessing the tree isn’t usually the hard part or the dangerous part. Learning how different wood behaves and how to rig this stuff around obstacles is big. You coming from a trainer and trainee background can surely appreciate the need to have someone watching your back during the critical stuff. If they do shitty work, that’ll become apparent soon enough. Unhappy clients, unhappy employees, property damage, and injuries/ near misses are often a good indicator.

Work hard for your paycheck, and be straight with the boss about your goals from day one, and you won’t owe them a damn thing except some honest labor. Some owners might not take to the idea of training a future competitor, but it’s almost part of the business now, and it doesn’t always mean the two businesses are adversaries. Networking with other companies can be damn helpful sometimes. How many successful tree service working owners out there worked for others before they got their own show going? No idea but I’d wager more than half.
 

Tom Dunlap

Here from the beginning
Administrator
Welcome to tree world! YOur rope access training will be a good foundation. There are similarities and some huge differences. In arb work we never know what our anchor point is rated. there are guidelines and rules of thumb which have some variables.

You might find a mentor who would take you on but lives well away from your work area.
 
Hey Roundhouse, welcome - from 35 yrs or so in the process industry side and alpine/ ice climbing I can tell you it will be a most interesting ride, switching over to trees! Way cool. There's way more variables in tree work that are uncontrolled than rope access work in process industry, as above, especially with the majors. Maybe get some books, etc. - Tree Climbers Companion, The Fundamentals of General Tree Work (Educated Climber website), DVD's like Gerry Beraneks Working Climber DVD's (for those long cold nights in camp!) and watch some YouTube if you can get the bandwidth if you're working North Slope - Reg Coates, Educated Climber, Richard Hattier's video on Youtube/ Treestuff, Craig Bachman's videos on Work Positioning and another on Rigging and of course Laurence Schultz's stuff (he has downloadable files for sale you could stick on a DVD to take with you). What still gets me is the variability in wood, not just tree species but in the condition of the tree (like why'd they leave this dead for four years and suddenly there's supposed to be magic done?).
One of the very cool things about arb is the amount of info sharing that goes on - blows away anything I've seen industrially (really) and . . . . you won't have the smell of condensate or mercaptan stinking you up after work! Stay safe out there.
 

Roundhouse

New Member
Location
SW Washington
Welcome!
This is a bit different than the usual new climber threads. Pretty cool gig you already got and sounds lucrative with a chance at further promotion. Still 3 weeks on 3 weeks off leaves some time to explore this option.

I strongly urge you to go work for someone else anyways. The actual climbing and accessing the tree isn’t usually the hard part or the dangerous part. Learning how different wood behaves and how to rig this stuff around obstacles is big. You coming from a trainer and trainee background can surely appreciate the need to have someone watching your back during the critical stuff. If they do shitty work, that’ll become apparent soon enough. Unhappy clients, unhappy employees, property damage, and injuries/ near misses are often a good indicator.

Work hard for your paycheck, and be straight with the boss about your goals from day one, and you won’t owe them a damn thing except some honest labor. Some owners might not take to the idea of training a future competitor, but it’s almost part of the business now, and it doesn’t always mean the two businesses are adversaries. Networking with other companies can be damn helpful sometimes. How many successful tree service working owners out there worked for others before they got their own show going? No idea but I’d wager more than half.
Thanks Jonny, that’s solid advice. Tying into unknown quantities is certainly a big difference between the industrial world and tree work. Kinda like cams in crappy sandstone! I should see if anyone would be interested in letting me work part time here and there.
 

Roundhouse

New Member
Location
SW Washington
Hey Roundhouse, welcome - from 35 yrs or so in the process industry side and alpine/ ice climbing I can tell you it will be a most interesting ride, switching over to trees! Way cool. There's way more variables in tree work that are uncontrolled than rope access work in process industry, as above, especially with the majors. Maybe get some books, etc. - Tree Climbers Companion, The Fundamentals of General Tree Work (Educated Climber website), DVD's like Gerry Beraneks Working Climber DVD's (for those long cold nights in camp!) and watch some YouTube if you can get the bandwidth if you're working North Slope - Reg Coates, Educated Climber, Richard Hattier's video on Youtube/ Treestuff, Craig Bachman's videos on Work Positioning and another on Rigging and of course Laurence Schultz's stuff (he has downloadable files for sale you could stick on a DVD to take with you). What still gets me is the variability in wood, not just tree species but in the condition of the tree (like why'd they leave this dead for four years and suddenly there's supposed to be magic done?).
One of the very cool things about arb is the amount of info sharing that goes on - blows away anything I've seen industrially (really) and . . . . you won't have the smell of condensate or mercaptan stinking you up after work! Stay safe out there.
Ghostice, yeah, I’m on the north slope right now! Thanks for the recommendations! I used to guide rock in the desert before making my way to rope access. Been eating up all the Reg Coates library as well as educated climber, climbing arborist, august and several others. Got a copy of The body language of trees on the way $$ and gonna get the TCC for sure. Cheers!
 

Reach

Well-Known Member
Location
Atglen, PA
Thanks Jonny, that’s solid advice. Tying into unknown quantities is certainly a big difference between the industrial world and tree work. Kinda like cams in crappy sandstone! I should see if anyone would be interested in letting me work part time here and there.
If you want to switch coasts, come on by, we are looking for another climber full time right now, and I’m sure we could help you learn what you need to know.
 

Roundhouse

New Member
Location
SW Washington
Sean @southsoundtree is in Olympia area, @JontreeHI is in Portland. They might know some folks in your area

Definitely find someone who you can work with, to see how tree work is different.
Awesome, thanks SeanRuel. I just sent a couple emails to companies in Portland to see if they need any extra part time help. I’ll reach out to the folks you suggested and maybe post something in the employment section here. You are in Portland?
 

Roundhouse

New Member
Location
SW Washington
Thanks for all the comments everyone; I really appreciate the candid advice. Over the last few days I've sent resumes to a few ads on craigslist and another few to company's suggested by a friend and a member here (thanks RyanCafferky!) I also posted to the contract climber forum (hopefully that's cool - I'm not technically a contract climber but I was transparent about my qualifications). It would be foolhardy to quit my current job so I'm hoping to pick up 1-3 days of arb work a week during my 3 weeks off. If you or anyone you know needs a hand hit me up. Within an hour of Portland, OR would be ideal but I'd be open to considering locations a bit further if I could camp out nearby for a couple days. Thanks again!
 
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