Peter Redgewell, PDR Contracting, UK

Over the last few years since my wife came off the tools to start our family I, like many, have struggled relentlessly with finding good reliable staff to help with the ever growing fencing workload. After reverting back to working on my own for a winter after giving up with the hope of finding decent staff I grew ever more frustrated with the tracked post driver I ran at the time with its awkwardness in tight situations and only being able to drive posts meaning I was moving a mini excavator around to auger holes and clear lines, then needing to have the unimog and 3pt SoloNet onsite daily for netting up and moving a weighty compressor for railing up. I had seen Morgan Fencing’s SoloTrak on a facebook post when he first got it and said to my wife at the time I need to go and see them when we replace ours.

We’d bought a 3pt SoloNet from Solo Fencing Systems already which worked great on the front of the unimog, we then visited them on a small Demo day they held around the same time as I started working on my own and it was good to meet Simon & Gail who were very accommodating and enjoyed showing and discussing the features of the machine and in no way pushed or sold it, even later when taking us all out for dinner in a local pub. I felt then and still now, that Simon enjoys the fencing industry and the guys that work in it and being a former fencer himself, enjoys solving all those issues we face especially guys working on their own. I told Simon then that I wasn’t ready to change machine just yet I needed a couple more years from mine but after 18months of further frustration we visited them again at their yard and had a play with a SoloTrak 200R they had in for part ex. We visited with our 2yr old daughter and again they took the day to talk with us and go over several aspects of the machine I was unsure about and how there were particular things I struggled with that I would like my next machine to be able to do. Simon again, being a former fencer, knew these issue only too well and suggested solutions to them all. I was so impressed I confirmed with them before we left that I would have a 200R either a new or as new a used base as was available and fortunately there was a 250hr machine available and the saving from new covered the cost of setting the machine up on remote control with more features than I’d had on my old machine.

The delivery schedule was delayed by factors influenced by covid but also by Simons persistent drive to make the machine as efficient, tidy and suited to my needs as I’d discussed with him. I have bought several bits of kit to date, 3 of them new, and I have to say, I have never been as impressed with how spot on to brief and my rather high expectations, as I was when I arrived to collect the new machine, which thanks to the Italy covid crisis didn’t have the remote yet. The build quality and particularly the attention to detail on the machine was just excellent and kept putting a smile on my face as I noticed more and more little details beyond even my imagination. It’s almost like he’d spent a month with me and knew exactly how I’d want things laid out and built. Of course, this is because he’s been on the line and knows this for himself, and for many years more than I’ve clocked up yet. That comes through later when you are busy using the machine weeks later thinking you know it pretty well by then and you come up against a situation you think will require a different machine or tool and you realise.. Oh wait, if I do this and use that and poof its done! Every aspect of the work, the machine just makes it easy, to a point where you get lazy and don’t need to plan ahead every post driven, as, up to now at least, there hasn’t been a post it hasn’t got to!

I confess I did go a bit mad and spec’d almost every optional extra on the machine plus a few new ones like the remote control, but each one I could see would make my life easier and faster on the line, which has since proven right. There isn't a feature I could have lived without. The bones of the machine is a reliable, tough and well balanced Marooka 300 base, which I knew to be good units after we’d hired two for several weeks on some kms of railway replacement fencing we’d been involved with and I’d had several issues with the running gear on my other tracked machine, so a well proven over built base unit was a real plus for me. I was nervous about going used on that, as I’d convinced myself I would spend the money and have a brand new one, but Simon, who was happy to sell me one, said there was a good 250hr unit available from one of their suppliers, that they rarely give any trouble and the saving could be used on other extras, so I went with it. To be fair, when I visited them before committing, I saw how far down they strip the base units to modify their chassis and strip the electrics back and anything that needs addressing at the time gets done, which gave me the confidence to go used.

As for the SoloTrak machine itself, the biggest thing I noticed, and the hardest thing to convey to others when they ask, is that on first appearance the machine looks simpler than some others. However, this is far from the truth and I guess is a credit to its design, that it is so efficiently designed, it looks and makes the work look simple and easy, when we know its anything but. The tele mast is just a thing of beauty. One of the biggest bug bears with my previous machines was the rock spike/auger unit was right in the way of the working sight and you were always working around it and trying to take it off every chance you got. The SoloTrak telemast’s tidier design uses the telemast ram to raise and lower the rockspike/auger cradle so it pivots much closer to the machine and stays out of your way. I've never hit my head on it after leaning down to check a line etc unlike others. It also removes the whole second mast some other machines have, which makes the mast much more nimble in the trees and tight spots being able to thread its way up through them. It also knocks a 12 ft post with plenty of room above to get a good drop height and can drive from there all the way to and below ground level, which was a real joy for me after years of moving pins to get 12ft posts in and precariously using little blocks to drive to ground (if the blocks survived and didn’t just off at you). The whole mast then being mounted on a forward/back shifting 200 degree slew makes getting to any post in any awkward spot just effortless. The speed the mast rams work at is also much quicker and the cycle time of the monkey, which as standard is 60kg less than my previous machine which was a worry, is so much quicker and has a less resistant fall using the wire pulley system, and great dump to tank flow and floating cap means the Solo hits as hard and if not harder than I had even hoped it would. Combined with a powerful easy to use auger means strainers or inters any time of year are always driven to depth accurately and efficiently, posting out inters is just insanely fast when you get a flow on.

Of course, the SoloTrak is a one man fencing machine not just a post driver and such testament to that I can make is, after a few months of using it I sold my 2.5t mini digger with steelwrist as I just didn’t use it anymore. I still have a 6t machine for the larger clearing work but the SoloTrak now does all the jobs the 2.5t did including netting out, blading off uneven lines with its 4way full size blade, which doubles for stability on slopes and triples for a mounting point for the front fold down forks to carry another pack of posts and/or the blade mounted SoloNet, another feature so well thought out and made. I’ve been truly impressed with its ability to pull up not just stock netting but much heavier horse netting, coupled with a set of chains and boards I can now lay out and bunny hop around a field in half the time and its always with me, or gut pull with the machine one side and chaining back a board onto the hook points on the SoloNet clamp. The other feature I was very keen to have (and not available from others) was the on board compressor, especially working solo now I find humping a large compressor for running the 5” nail gun around very awkward on my own and particularly for smaller jobs, when you only need it for a couple of hours a day, again with the SoloTrak it’s always there with its own retractable air hose, so now all I need to take out of the lockup is the gun and nails speeding up morning loading and evening lockup times. Little extra features I asked for Simon delivered exactly how I’d hoped he would, with a double stacker jenny for running plain and 4mm underground work wire, a usb phone charger, over rail rack, side mounted rail rack, front mounted auger storage, and so much tool storage it's just a joy.

The remote was something new for Simon and I have to say again, he’s gotten it just right with discussing how many features we should have and how to do it. I was keen to keep the mechanical systems in place so if the remote or electrics played up (which we all know they do) then I could continue using the machine as normal, something he appreciated and designed around it which paid off early as the covid had delayed the remote arriving, so the first few months I was using it all manually. The remote has the tracks, park brake, engine speed and high/low speed of course but also adding all of the blade and SoloNet controls, including the extra tension ram, particularly handy when you walk back up the line to check tension around the turners and not quite happy with tension at the far end you can easily tweak more tension with the remote while you are there to get it just right and then walk back to finish off. We also fitted the monkey weight, forward/backshift and side shift on, I thought this would be handy for awkward corners, which it is, and saves those shoved in the brambles/blackthorn moments when they rarely happen with the Solo, as with the slew you can normally avoid most of them anyway, but I have actually found using the remote while knocking really speeds up your cycle times as you can walk round and check plumb against the mast while you're still knocking and even getting the next post off the rack. I’d gotten 2 packs of posts in by lunch on the third day of using the remote on inters so still getting used to it and can really see the increase in speed it brings already let alone once I’ve gotten more familiar with it!

The SoloTrak really is a very well thought out and designed machine by a former kiwi fencing contractor who's designed it to make life on the line as easy and efficient as possible. The fabrication team at Solo Fencing Systems are clearly heavily invested in, and proud of the machine’s excellent build quality, which shows when you see the machine in the flesh. It’s especially awesome for the solo fencer of course, making it your right hand as the name suggests, but also for smaller 2 man outfits making them more efficient and productive. Even with some extra requests post sale Simon and Gail have been just as keen to help make my life easier on the line now as at the time of ordering the machine, which I personally take to be a true reflection of their open and honest nature and constant strive to make the best machine possible to make our lives as easy and profitable as they can.

- Peter Redgewell, PDR Contracting, UK