From Fitzen to Cameroon.

Team Fitzen on a Unimog training assignment in Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon.

Team Fitzen’s recipe for success is quite simple. Henning Heitmann and the whole team quickly won the hearts of the YouTube community with their passion for agricultural machinery and bags of natural charm.

“We are farmers” are the words of a song from one of their popular videos. And that just about hits the nail on the head. It all started with a red Unimog U 1000 424 equipped for agricultural operations which the friends bought together with money they had saved. Henning had just completed his training as a farmer and was looking for a suitable vehicle to use on the North German dairy farm he runs with his father. The young machine fans were quickly impressed by the all-rounder from Mercedes-Benz.

They were not about to keep their enthusiasm to themselves: in 2017 they launched a video channel showing what the boys from Fitzen got up to with their Unimog, and it now has over 20,000 subscribers. YouTube was followed by channels on social media such as Facebook and Instagram.

In the main, the content produced by Unimog Team Fitzen still has its roots in the field of agriculture. However, along with exciting adventures in their Unimog, the North German YouTubers also regularly report on events and restoration projects. They even went overseas for a vehicle training project.

 

In operation worldwide.

Unimog Team Fitzen worldwide – a fitting way to describe the latest evolution of the team of North German Unimog fans. Their longest trip to date was a two-week assignment in Cameroon. Henning Heitmann and Moritz Gerau spent the time in central Africa training employees of the state road maintenance department to use a Unimog U 300 and a U 400 fitted with mulchers for roadside maintenance.

By container to central Africa.

From a farmyard in sleepy Fitzen to training in central Africa in a matter of months – how does that happen? The Unimog fans from Schleswig-Holstein had acquired thousands of followers on social networks thanks to their pool of expert knowledge and informative videos. And the authorities in Cameroon were looking for experts to provide training on Unimog implement carriers they had recently acquired. The match was made, and the contract went to Henning Heitmann. In Moritz Gerau he found a ready partner for the project: a Unimog expert who had already demonstrated his practical and theoretical credentials as head of the regional group of the Unimog-Club Gaggenau.

In their search for suitable equipment for maintaining the verges of the national highways the Cameroonians plumped for a 2003 Unimog U 300 with a Mulag front mulcher and a 2004 Unimog U 400 with a Gilbers body-mounted mulcher and front attachment arm with hedge trimmers. Performance and efficiency were at the top of the list of deciding factors.

Now the only thing missing was the right team of trainers – and in mid-September they boarded a flight to Cameroon. From Duala they made the 200-kilometre journey inland to the capital of Yaoundé, where they finally met up with their local contact.

Problem-solving skills: top of the class.

It was straight down to business on day one, with a trip to the Ministry of Transport for a meeting with the minister’s secretary of state in person. Then it was off to the real scene of the action – the “Matgenie” depot. On the grounds of the machine park, the two Unimog vehicles underwent a thorough inspection and the mulchers were attached.

However, the functional tests that followed revealed a couple of problems: the mechanical Gilbers front arm attachment worked well but the body-mounted mulcher wouldn’t start and there was no power going to either the control panel or the switch box of the Mulag front mulcher. It was time to improvise and get the technology working.

The problem in the mulching head of the Gilbers was easily diagnosed – a bearing was stuck. The hard task was locating a replacement and installing it using the limited range of tools available, but the expert team soon chalked up their first success.

By contrast, it took somewhat longer to fix the power supply for the Mulag – something was wrong with the switch box. “The only measuring device we had was a bulb with two wires,” said Henning Heitmann and Moritz Gerau. After replacing two switching relays with some help from the local electrician, who despite the primitive measuring device was able to achieve surprising results, it was finally possible to control the mulcher using the control panel in the Unimog cab.

At work: repairing a bearing stuck in the mulcher head of the Unimog.
Teamwork: the combined skills and expertise lead to success.
Taking a breather: Henning Heitmann in one of the orange Special Trucks.
At work: repairing a bearing stuck in the mulcher head of the Unimog.
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Not your average roadside verge.

With preparations complete, anticipation was mounting ahead of the real start of the pilot project. “Time to hit the road,” came the message for the trainee crews and the two Special Trucks. On leaving the depot it soon became obvious why they were so urgently needed: Yaoundé and Duala are connected by one of Cameroon’s most important arterial roads, used every day by hundreds of lumber lorries and container trucks. Due to the proximity of the equator, the roadside vegetation grows incredibly quickly here. Added to this, maintenance had hitherto always been done by hand, meaning that the verge was only cut every two years. As a result, the two Unimog experts found themselves confronted by grass and shrubs growing to a height of up to 4.5 m – including some pretty tough bamboo-like plants.

The Unimog trucks faced a tough job here – and showed exactly what they were capable of: one or two passes was all it took to produce the required results. The two men from Fitzen recall: “Our work exposed a great deal of roadside rubbish. But the mulchers dealt with that as well. Personal highlights included a powder extinguisher that was crushed in the jaws of the mulcher and caught our attention as it emitted a huge white cloud.”

It was mission accomplished for the prospective operators, too. After an induction into the sensitive feel of the joystick and the electro-pneumatic switching, the two experts taught them about the technology and driving characteristics of the implement carrier. Soon the orange all-rounders were moving reliably through the chaotic traffic of the capital – and getting on with the job of clearing the verges. 25 crew members took part in the crash course and at the end they had earned their licence to mulch. To cap things off, the deputy minister arrived in person to gain his own impression of the new orange all-rounders.

In action: the towering vegetation was no match for the Unimog attachments.
The trainers from Fitzen have the full attention of the aspiring Unimog drivers.
Certified employees: proud road maintenance workers after their training.
In action: the towering vegetation was no match for the Unimog attachments.
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The highlight: unconditional hospitality.

A special assignment like this naturally also involves a considerable cultural experience. Henning Heitmann and Moritz Gerau refused to let the occasional obstacle get in their way: “Fortunately, Cameroon is a bilingual country. Along with French, English is the second official language. But 80 per cent of the population speak French, so with our meagre French skills we soon had to hire one of the locals as a translator.”

The two of them were impressed with the interest shown by the young Cameroonians and their willingness to learn. “The greatest pleasure of this little adventure came in the evenings in the city. Our contact guy – who was Cameroon-born but has German citizenship – felt it was important to introduce us to the local culture. Our visits to bars, the street food and the meals with his family were the highlights of our trip – as were all the many welcoming and interested locals we were privileged enough to meet.”

The verdict: “Our assignment was completely worthwhile: we were able to explain to the employees in person how the equipment worked and set them up to carry out repair and maintenance tasks. It would have been easier if there had been fewer electrical systems, though. But the Unimog’s reliability and durability make it better suited than any other vehicle for operations here.” So, would they take on an assignment like this again? The two of them are open to anything.

Curious?

More from Unimog Team Fitzen in social media:
YouTube | Facebook | Instagram

 

Image material: © Unimog Team Fitzen

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