Anyone who has ever experienced an outage of their land-line telephone, cable connection or electricity when storms or high winds have hit have reaped the benefits of how a bucket truck can save time for linemen who must repair damaged lines for their company.
Companies and the industries listed above that they represent are greatly dependent upon the help provided by this versatile vehicle for repairing overhead lines and cables. It’s safe to say that everyone benefits from the service of bucket trucks. So what is the history behind this handy vehicle – and where is the future for it heading?
The first version of the bucket truck was known as a “cherry picker” and came out during the early 1900’s, just about the same time as the use of internal combustion engines became widely accepted. The principle used on the vehicle’s lift goes back to its application by the Romans. They used structures that are identical to our modern cranes and lifts of today.
In the Orchard – and Beyond
Despite its popularity these days as a maintenance vehicle, the bucket truck didn’t begin life in the garage of an electric company. On the contrary, it evolved from a vehicle know as the “cherry picker”. During harvesting season, trucks equipped with platforms that could be lifted were used for harvesting fruit from high up on the trees. The platform served as a safe ground for the worker while harvesting. Although conventional ladders were originally used for fruit harvesting, ‘cherry pickers’ were much safer to use. The platform was wide enough for workers to move around with less danger of falling.
Another advantage from this new invention was the minimal risk to tree damage; ladders placed against the trees for workers to climb up to harvest the fruit frequently damaged the tree trunk. With this new vehicle, the platform could be conveniently positioned near yet right above the tree without disturbing it at all. It was a further convenience because relocation from one tree to the other was so much easier with this motorized platform version. Although the name ‘cherry picker’ was a misnomer since cherries were not the only fruit harvested, that name stuck with the truck for a long time.
It didn’t take long for other industries to adapt the ‘cherry picker’ to their own usage. The electric utility company in particular found it to be a virtual blessing to the repair of damaged utility lines. It made the work of their employees easier, faster and much safer than the previous method of climbing a telephone pole and ‘hanging’ from it to complete any task!
Additional industries that picked up on and adapted their own versions of this vehicle are: forestry; sign and light; house painting and window washing; mining and construction industries to name a few. The application of different uses for this vehicle is virtually endless. As long as the task involves heights and requires a high degree of safety, then the bucket truck is the right truck for the job.
The current design for the bucket truck is the same and yet it is very different. The boom is still housed on a basic truck frame and still retains its basic functions. The difference here is the addition of an articulated boom to the design as well as varying locations for the boom on the body depending upon the needs of a particular industry.
The biggest difference in design lies in the vehicle’s safety features. New bucket truck designs are significantly safer to use. Modern versions have insulated buckets to protect workers from electrocution risks when handling electric wires. Outriggers have been added to give a much greater measure of stability during any operation. These are just a few of safety features added to decrease risks when using these vehicles.
Thoughts of the Future
Due to the ever-increasing oil prices, operating a bucket truck gets more and more expensive. In answer to this change, design has evolved toward “green” bucket trucks that can save the owner/operator usage costs as well as make it friendlier to the environment. The hybrid version is an answer to vehicle function that allows saving of operational costs with an electric motor to operate the boom. Making the size smaller is making the vehicle more efficient while making it more compact and supplementing its function with additional features.
The future of the bucket truck reflects its evolution from a ‘cherry picker’ to the modern hybrid vehicle of today. Future designs will continue to reflect the manufacturers’ response to the needs of the industries that rely upon this practical and reliable vehicle. It has indeed come a long way from its humble orchard beginnings!