People often boast of the size, horsepower, and strength of the equipment they own and use. However, for many erosion control jobs, the right choice is compact equipment that has a smaller footprint. Compact excavators, track loaders, and skid steers are the best option for projects in limited space or where sensitive terrain can be affected.
It’s true that compact equipment has smaller engines than the big machines, and they can’t carry or move loads as big as the large equipment. But on small jobs or those with restricted space, compact equipment fits. The smaller equipment may be necessary even on large projects if the access to the site is limited.
Some other advantages of smaller machines are that they maneuver well, they don’t compact soil as much as larger equipment, and they are easier to haul to the job site, fitting on one truck or pickup and trailer. A 1-ton pickup can haul up to 8,000 pounds, covering most of these machines. Equipment that weighs more than that usually requires a bigger truck. Operating costs are also less with smaller machines. In general, tires and tracks last longer on compact equipment compared to the large machines because of less weight and impact.
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These smaller machines can tackle most any job that an erosion control company would face: carrying permeable pavers, hauling mulch bales, placing riprap or gravel, spreading soil, digging trenches, installing silt fence, or cutting brush.
So what compact equipment would the typical erosion control company require and what are the characteristics of each? What safety measures and maintenance will be needed? Should we rent or buy the equipment? Here are some answers to these questions.
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Excavators can be either tail swing or zero tail swing. They have similar uses as far as reach, digging capability, and dump height. The difference comes in how the counterweight stabilizes the machine. In a tail-swing machine, the counterweight to balance the load in the bucket is in the rear. This gives the machine more lifting power and arm breakout force. However, the disadvantage is that the machine will be wider than the tracks, meaning it requires more room to work.
Zero tail swing excavators use counterweights that are within the width of the tracks. They have a lower lift capacity but fit more easily in restricted areas or closeto walls.
A skid steer loader, or skid steer, is a four-wheeled loader with lift arms that can handle a variety of attachments. The wheels on each side are locked in synchronization, so that each set can turn at different speeds. This allows the loader to turn tightly or skid as it rotates.
Compact track loaders (CTLs) are heavier and larger than skid steers, but they are also more stable. If your project will be covering slopes and bumpy ground, the CTL may be a better choice.
All types of compact equipment can come with wheels or with tracks. Wheels are useful on hard surfaces, pavement, and some landscaped areas. Tracks spread the weight more evenly and cause less damage to soil or established vegetation. They are especially good in wet or loose soil conditions. Vehicles with tracks usually have higher maintenance requirements, increasing the cost of operation. However, they can smooth out bumps better than wheels, making an easier ride for the operator.
Robbie Toole grew up accustomed to Caterpillar equipment. His family owned a construction company, and he was operating bulldozers at a young age. In college, he became interested in erosion and sediment control. While he was a student, he interned with the Tennessee Department of Transportation and worked with a conservation group after graduation. He saw the damage that is caused by sediment flowing into waterways. When an area is cleared of vegetation, the released sediment ends up in rivers and streams, causing damage to fish and other marine life, as well as contributing to algae blooms. The runoff of the sediment also removes nutrients from the soil, meaning that farmers or landscapers must use even more additives to replace the loss. Sediment must often be removed from the waterways, and Toole says that the US Army Corps of Engineers spends millions of taxpayer dollars a year to dredge sediment out of lakes, rivers, and streams.
It is better to stop the sediment runoff than to have to fix it after the fact. “Everything drains to our rivers, creeks, and lakes, and sediment pollutes them and makes it harder for aquatic species to survive,” says Toole. He formed a company, Volunteer Erosion Control, which works on construction sites to restore vegetation and fix any erosion issues.
In 2012, Toole partnered with Mike Barto in another company, Erosion Supply. This company provides the materials needed for Volunteer Erosion Control to restore sites. Supplies provided include porous pavers, erosion control blankets, wattles, inlet protection bags, and other products.
To continue the work of the two companies, equipment was needed. Toole immediately called a Caterpillar dealer, Stowers Machinery. He bought a 287 multi-terrain loader as one of the first buys and recently purchased a 305E2 CR mini hydraulic excavator. The size of the equipment allows him to complete projects even in the most environmentally sensitive areas. He appreciates the value Caterpillar and its dealers bring to the customer.
The 287 multi-terrain loader has a high-performance power train with an Electronic Torque Management System, and an electronically controlled engine providing high horsepower and torque. The Intelligent Leveling System gives exceptional leveling capabilities and work tool positioning. The track provides passage over any terrain without causing damage to landscaping or even soggy ground. Features such as a high-backed heated seat and adjustable joystick controls increase operator comfort.
The new High Definition Hydraulic System in the 305E2 CR mini hydraulic excavator brings load-sensing and flow-sharing capabilities to enhance the performance and precision of the excavator. The bucket has 200-degree rotation, giving greater control of load materials in transfer to a dump truck or dirt pile. The compact radial design allows this excavator to work in very tight spaces. The upper body stays with 5.5 inches of the undercarriage, leaving the operator free to concentrate on the job without risking damage to the rear of the vehicle or anything else nearby. The model has a choice of rubber or steel tracks, depending on the needs of the owner. Rubbers are the standard because they can be used on grass, gravel, or pavement.
Caterpillar builds and sells other compact equipment useful for erosion control applications, including skid steers, bulldozers, track loaders, and backhoes in sizes that fit these projects. Caterpillar also has a variety of attachments that can be added to increase the flexibility of these machines.
Bobcat Company, along with Rick and Julie Kreuter, hosts of the television show “Beyond the Hunt” on the Outdoor Channel, demonstrated the versatility of Bobcat products on a recent project. Glenn and Judy Stevens, living in Unity, ME, were chosen as recipients of the 2016 Create and Conserve Habitat Event.
Each participant in the contest describes an ideal land transformation that would support conservation and wildlife habitat. The Stevens submitted a plan to care for land they own and to upgrade the wildlife habitat. “The property has been in my family since the 1960s, so it was important to continue this legacy by taking proper care of the land,” says Glenn Stevens.
The hosts of the show and a team of Bobcat operators transformed their property in four days. Three compact track loaders, including the new Bobcat T595, compact excavators, an MT85 mini track loader, utility vehicles, and different attachments were used to complete the transformation.
Included in the project were a 43,000-square-foot pond, a mile and a half of access trails, an erosion control fence, conservation plots, and a fire pit to enjoy while watching the wildlife. The wildlife expected to enjoy the food and water from the area includes moose, black bear, deer, foxes, lynx, hares, and bobcats.
Compact equipment manufactured by Bobcat has been used for years in the field of erosion control. The smallest compact excavator, Bobcat 418, has a 10.2-horsepower engine and a maximum reach of 10.2 feet. The unit weighs 2,600 pounds and has a 28-inch width. The zero-tail-swing model provides flexibility to spread and place soil in a safe radius. The bucket digging force is 1,865 pounds per square foot. The track can be retracted to squeeze through tight spaces, and the undercarriage is also retractable. Extra protection for the equipment is provided by placement of the hydraulic cylinder on the top of the boom. This keeps it from hitting the trench, bucket, or nearby structures.
The next larger Bobcat is the E320 excavator. It has a larger engine, at 13.9 horsepower, and weighs 4,300 pounds. The bucket digging force is more than twice that of the smaller excavator. It is also wider at 39 inches for the retracted size, but expands to 54 inches to provide more stability. This model is also a zero tail swing and has a maximum reach of 14 feet. Attachments, such as a variety of buckets, grading blade, and trencher, are available.
The new Bobcat T595 track loader has a rated operating capacity of 2,200 pounds and operating weight at 8,055 pounds. It has a track system built from forged steel idlers and steel imbed tracks. Drive motors and hydraulic hoses are well protected from debris, mud, and other obstacles. The interior spots multiple seat options, improved visibility, and joystick controls.
The Bobcat MT85 mini track loader is rated at 850 pounds operating capacity and it has a tipping load of 2,458 pounds. The height to bucket hinge pin is 80.9 inches and the reach at maximum height is 18.6 inches. The width is 35.6 inches, so it can be operated in narrow spaces. It has ergonomically designed joystick controls and even a storage compartment and cup holder. The MT85 can be converted for trenching, digging, carrying materials, or sweeping by the addition of attachments.
Compact equipment can encompanss more than excavators, skid steers, and track loaders. Mini dredges also are useful for narrow, inaccessible waterways.
J. E. Borries Inc. is a family owned marine construction and dredging company located on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. After damage that occurred with Hurricane Isaac in 2012, J. E. Borries was contracted for the dredging of three bayous around Gulfport, MS. The project is called SUDS for dredging work to be done on the Stark, Upper Davis, and Simmons bayous. The plan was to dredge the bayous, deposit the fines on a shallow-draft barge, and take them to Deere Island for deposit.
For the project, J. E. Borries bought an 8-inch Badger Class dredge from DSC Dredge LLC of Reserve, LA.
At Deere Island, the dredged sediment is offloaded into a holding cell. Then the Badger dredge re-excavates the material and pumps it 2,000 feet to another location. The bottom of the holding cell is more than 9 feet, but the dredge can easily handle that depth. Over the course of the project, about 170,000 cubic yards of material will be deposited and later used for fill.
J. E. Borries’ owner, Jason Borries, says he chose the Badger dredge because of its affordability, availability, and the customer service and training offered by the company.
The dredge is manufactured by DSC at its factory in Greenbush, MI. The working width of barely 10 feet and overall length of 54 feet means that it can be maneuvered into places where larger dredges cannot go. It can still dig down 20 feet at a 60-degree down angle, giving it the capability needed for these jobs. The Badger Class, 8-inch by 8-inch, Cutterhead Dredge is made for this kind of environmental project. Another benefit is that the entire dredge can fit on a single truck for transport.
H2 Enterprises of Keenesburg, CO, is a family business that started out supplying turf. Over the years, it expanded into reclamation projects. Much of its work is for pipeline companies, but it also completes projects for governments and developmental groups.
The typical job involves a six-man crew with John Deere skid steers and farm tractors to spread seed and mulch. The projects span 36 states and have reclaimed 6,500 miles of right of way. H2 Enterprises now employs 300 people.
The company owns a large fleet of John Deere products, including skid steers and compact track loaders. Corey Huwa, one of the owners of the company, says, “Skid steers and CTLs are just so versatile. We use them for every conceivable task. We even use them where most people would use a dozer; they have that much power, yet they are far easier to trailer to a job.”
John Deere has a new G series of skid steers and CTLs with higher and longer reach, but that can still fit in restricted areas. The skid steer also has greater boom and bucket breakout forces and can travel up to 12 mph. The cab is equipped for all types of weather and has two boom styles—vertical lift and radial lift. The vertical lift rises only in front of the machine, keeping the load closer and more stable. This is a good choice for heavy loads such as sod, riprap, or paving stones. The radial lift has more reach and is good for unloading or loading trucks or for scooping and placing backfill. It is less stable, but a good operator will work easily with that issue.
The G-series CTLs rise higher and have a longer reach. The load value has increased to 3,700 pounds and they have longer tracks and wider rollers and idlers. Horsepower ranges from 50 to 75, depending on the model.
Huwa says one of the reasons for buying John Deere skid steers is the increased visibility. This feature increases safety, which is always a top consideration. He also depends on John Deere Worksight to help manage the machines, and he appreciates that John Deere has dealers in every state.
All of the major manufacturers of compact equipment also have attachments that can be used to multiply the types of jobs possible. For example, Caterpillar offers backhoe, bale spear, blade, broom, and brushcutter attachments for its compact track or multi-terrain loaders. Bobcat has a variety of buckets, diggers, and clamps that can be added to its compact excavators.
Manitou America/Edge Attachments (formerly CE Attachments) also has a full line of universal attachments that fit various models and brands. Boom lifts, brooms, scrapers, silt fence installer, and brush mower are a few of the selections that can be attached with the universal-style ALL-TACH system. Also available is a POWER-A-TACH system to quickly install and remove attachments. The operator hooks up the necessary hydraulic lines.
Using these attachments means more uses from the same compact equipment, giving the owner more flexibility in the jobs that can be performed with only one machine. The attachments chosen must be the right size for the equipment. An attachment that is too heavy will wear out the equipment faster and might pose an injury risk to the operator.
How Can Operators Stay Safe?
Safety is the top priority every time an operator steps into any machine. The emphasis on safety starts with training. The major manufactures have training modules to help. For example, Bobcat has a course for compact excavator operators that includes learning the operating features of the machine, identifying the controls and their functions, and getting familiar with all safety features. Knowledge of safe maneuvering and using the machine, as well as the principles of lift capacity while using the excavator, are covered.
Caterpillar University is an online training program that teaches all aspects of operating machines safely and efficiently. The company also has Demonstration and Learning Centers to show how the machines should be used.
A Safety Manual series developed by the Association of Equipment Manufactures (AEM) covers safety for compact equipment. Here are some tips:
- Know what the manufacturer’s recommendations are.
- Understand the limitations of each machine and stay well within them.
- Be sure to understand and use all safety features, such as roll-over-protective structure (ROPS), falling-object-protective structure (FOPS), seat belt, pull-down seat-bar restraint, and control interlock systems.
- Hydraulic leaks are one of the biggest hazards. Never try to touch the leaking hose, even with gloves. Shut the machine down and call a technician.
- Avoid steep slopes, and if one must be crossed, travel with the heavy end of the machine pointed uphill.
- Carry loads in the lowest possible position to improve machine stability.
- No riders should ever be allowed.
- Don’t ever pass under a raised boom or bucket.
What Maintenance Is Required?
The equipment companies that sell compact equipment have detailed maintenance plans and agreements. John Deere has a plan called Condition Based Maintenance that aims to extend machine life, increase productivity, and lower operating costs. The plan depends on actual machine health to show what maintenance is needed. The company also offers maintenance agreements so that maintenance can be scheduled to be performed by a John Deere technician at a convenient time.
Caterpillar provides service and operation and maintenance manuals for each of its machines. They have planned maintenance schedules to ensure that the operator knows what must be done to keep the machine running smoothly.
Any downtime for a repair that could have been prevented is loss of money and might mean missing a work deadline. A well-maintained machine is also a safer one.
Rent, Lease, or Buy?
One big financial decision for compact equipment is whether to rent, lease, or buy. Major manufacturers have a variety of programs available. Rentals are usually for short times, such as a week or a month. Leasing terms are longer, up to three years. There are advantages and disadvantages to each option. Here are some guidelines for the decision.
Renting can be a good idea if the equipment is only used part of the year. One advantage is that the long-term maintenance, repairs, parts, and storage are the responsibility of the rental place. Also, you are guaranteed the right machine for the job, as you can turn in one machine and rent another at any time. A disadvantage arises the longer the rental continues; the price can soon be much more than leasing or buying.
A long-term lease is a good option if you don’t have upfront cash to buy the equipment or the ability to finance a purchase. In lease agreements, the company will figure the cash-value depreciation into your payments. You will not have to worry about resale when you want new equipment. At the end of the lease, you can return the machine for newer equipment.
Renting or leasing gives contractors a chance to try out equipment to see what is best for the projects they have. These are especially good alternatives for a new business owner or one who is expanding into new lines of business.
Buying can be attractive because manufacturers will often have great offers. You will build up equity in the machine while using it. This option is usually the lowest total cost for the machine, although maintenance costs will be paid by the owner.
Purchase of compact equipment can be accomplished with cash or through a financing plan. See your dealer for details and benefits of each option. Some dealers also sell used equipment, which might be a good path for your company.