Companywide, Bartlett’s fleet includes more than 600 International trucks, mostly DuraStar 4300s. (PHOTO: Navistar)  -

Companywide, Bartlett’s fleet includes more than 600 International trucks, mostly DuraStar 4300s. (PHOTO: Navistar)

Like so many similarly ill-fated trees before it, the proud 75-foot-tall ash tree perched along the private cobblestone driveway was no match for the dreaded emerald ash borer.

This invasive Asian beetle arrived in Pennsylvania in 2007, most likely via infested firewood from the Midwest. The tiny green beetles have devoured thousands of Pennsylvania ash trees moving toward the East Coast — creating plenty of tough work for the West Pittsburgh field office of Bartlett Tree Experts.

“Emerald ash borers are peaking here, so we’re losing a lot of trees,” explained Jim Edson, the district’s managing director. “Once infested, it’s hard to stop it.”

During his 35-year career, Edson personally planted hundreds of trees throughout the Ohio River Valley and helped care for countless more. He prides himself on keeping trees alive. But, dead ash trees quickly become brittle, and the potential for falling limbs is a serious public safety concern. Unfortunately, this graying and once-thriving ash — the species whose wood is used to make the Louisville Slugger baseball bat — must be cut down.

Luckily, Edson’s equipment was up to the task. In the suburb of Sewickley, 20 miles west of downtown Pittsburgh, Edson looked on as an International DuraStar bucket truck, pulling a heavy-duty wood chipper, turned the tight corner off a quiet residential street, effortlessly threaded the needle down the property’s narrow, 50-foot-long pathway, and came to a stop.

“This is a pretty tight spot,” said Rob Palochak, lead foreman on the job. An errant tree branch could poke through this Victorian-era home’s roof like it was made of paper, so he wanted to be certain the truck is parked and set up in a safe position. “We don’t have much wiggle room to get where we need to go on a property, which is why the turning radius on our trucks is so important.”

Whether the situation involves removing hazardous storm-damaged trees, installing cables to protect against lightning strikes, or applying time-sensitive pesticides to ailing trees, reliability is paramount for these “first responders of the forest.”

And, like most of the 100 other Bartlett locations throughout the U.S., Canada, Ireland, and the U.K., the West Pittsburgh Bartlett office relies on the International DuraStar.

“We drive Internationals because they are good, solid trucks,” Edson noted. “They provide a very good image for our company. And, this chassis is a great platform for everything we ask it to do.”

Those requests typically involve pruning, bracing, and cabling, which call for DuraStars equipped with PTO-powered aerial lifts. In addition, Bartlett has DuraStar trucks configured with lift-operated dump bodies to transport hundreds of pounds of brush and debris, and with low-profile forestry bodies to operate as pesticide spray trucks.

Companywide, Bartlett’s fleet includes more than 600 International trucks, mostly DuraStar 4300 models.

For all of the Bartlett offices, budget realities and the fast-paced nature of their work means they don’t have extra trucks sitting in the yard. If one vehicle goes down, the reverberations are felt down the line: Workers can’t get to the job site, and customers’ trees are left blowing in the wind.

“Uptime is a great concern for us,” Edson said. “We need our trucks to be reliable and we need good service. It’s pretty simple: Our customers rely on us. If we don’t have a working vehicle, we aren’t able to do our jobs.”

As with Bartlett’s other 1,800-plus employees, Edson and his 25-person team have the responsibility of maintaining the high standards of a company that was founded more than a century ago to administer “scientific care” to the nation’s plant life.

On a day-to-day basis, Bartlett’s employees work on different facets of tree care, including cabling and bracing for unsound trees, lightning protection, soil management, and fertilization. The pride of the company is its 350-acre lab in Charlotte, N.C., where researchers study the physiology of trees and shrubs to understand how they live and why they die.

In the simplest terms, Edson and his colleagues are “tree doctors.” And, every day is filled with house calls.

About the Author
Rod O’Connor is a writer, editor, and copy consultant and can be reached by e-mail at