Twenty-five years ago, contractors who owned vibratory plows and trenchers were up town. Most irrigation contractors still used picks and shovels. Temporary workers dug and covered trenches, and contractors dealt with the labor issues associated with this caliber of laborer.
As the residential irrigation industry grew, and manufacturers produced equipment geared more to this market with a price tag the contractor could deal with, the scenario changed.
Today, the industry is evolving even more as manufacturers again answer the call, offering solutions to labor issues faced by irrigation contractors in the present economy.
Trenching and Plowing Equipment, 2001
Equipment specifically designed for irrigation contractors are either dedicated machines, or machines with attachments. The vibratory plow and trencher were the two major pieces of equipment, but todays contractor has a third category from which to choose, the mini-trencher.
When trenchers were introduced to the residential and commercial irrigation contractor, they soon became the backbone of the crew, literally. The time and labor saved when they replaced the pick and shovel was phenomenal. The contractor was able to double the number of jobs the crew could complete in the same amount of time.
Standard trenchers, whether as dedicated units or attachments, are versatile machines for contractors to have on the job. Contractors use them for a variety of purposes, from digging valve box holes to trenches for drainpipe. In areas that have rocky soil, large roots or other difficult terrain where other machinery might not get through the soil, the trencher will minimize downtime previously spent digging by hand. In certain applications when installing irrigation, such as a new site with unfinished landscaping, an open trench is the best choice for the contractor.
Vibratory plows offer even more labor savings. They eliminate the hand labor of laying the pipe and backfilling on numerous jobs. While vibratory plows have taken their market share and are ideal for pulling pipe where minimal turf damage is crucial, trenchers are still vital to the contractor for different applications.
Some manufacturers offer separate machines for trenchers and vibratory plows, and others offer them as attachments to one piece of equipment. When I bought my Kanga mini-skid, there were many choices of attachments, more than I could afford at one time, says John Viola, owner of Viola Lawn Sprinklers in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Sometimes the purchase of one attachment can eliminate the need for one worker on a job and will pay for itself in a matter of months.
Viola went on to say, I also use the Ditch Witch model 255sx and have found it does an excellent job of pulling pipe. I have different types of equipment; the type of job determines which equipment goes to the site.
While they have been available since the 80s, it has been in the last five years that a third category of equipment, the mini-trencher, has made its own niche share in the market. Originally, these trenchers addressed the needs of the cable TV, satellite dish, and invisible fencing industries. In the landscape industry, it is used in landscape lighting for lightweight cable, and also as bed edgers. It didnt take long for irrigation contractors to see the time savings these mini-trenchers could offer their industry as well.
A number of contractors use the mini-trenchers for small jobs, such as installing drains or moving sprinklers and water lines. Others, such as David Blum, owner of Sun-Pro Irrigation Enterprise of Conway, South Carolina, use mini-trenchers for all their installations. With a crew of five, we can get two systems installed in one day and be home by five, says Blum. The mini-trenchers save us time getting the material in the ground; the jobs are not as labor intensive. Each man knows the routine we get the job done.
Mini-trenchers have been redesigned and fine tuned from the same concept as standard trenchers. As their name suggests, they are lightweight, the largest models weighing less than four hundred pounds, and compact, fitting into the back of a contractors pickup truck.
Mini-trenchers dig a trench three-eighths to four inches wide, and up to thirteen inches deep. The trencher neatly lays the soil on one side of the trench. With no trouble, the contractor covers the pipe with the backfill, leaving a barely visible seam in the turf.
Time being money, these mini-trenchers are the answer when working in tight or small areas, on jobs with many trees and shrubs, and repair jobs. They have a turn radius of less than two feet and will fit through most garden gates. The jobs that would normally require more manual labor, thus more time on the job, can now have the same profits as a wide-open lot. Repair jobs do not require pulling a trailer to the site or taking a large piece of equipment on established turf, requiring more time on the job patching up damaged turf.
I have two sizes of the mini-trenchers, says Blum. I keep different blades on each of them and use them for different applications on jobs. The cost of these machines is not so high that it is prohibitive to have several machines.
Following are some of the manufacturers of plows, trenchers and attachments:
Vibratory Plows and Standard Trenchers
Bobcat offers three trenching attachments designed for use on its smaller skid loaders. Attachment models LT102, LT203 and LT304 have digging depths from two to four feet. Bobcat skid loaders offer a bucket used by contractors to backfill. Optional turf tires are also available.
Burkeens model B-30B is a combination vibratory plow, trencher and boring unit. It pulls pipe up to two inches in diameter at depths of 12 to 24 inches. The trenching attachment has a width capacity of six inches and depth capabilities from 24 to 30 inches. It features standard wheels, which give traction in soggy, muddy conditions. A boring attachment and complete line of plow blades are also available.
A new model offered by Burkeen is the B-25 riding trencher that has a trench width capacity of four to six inches and depth capacities from 24 to 36 inches. On the front is a backfill blade.
Caterpillar offers two trencher attachments designed to operate with its skid loaders traveling in reverse. Model T9 operates off the hydraulics of all Cat steer loaders, and has a cutting width capacity of ten inches and depth capacity of 48 inches. Model T15, designed specifically for Cat 228 and 248 models, has a cutting width capacity of 12 inches and depth capacity of 60 inches.
Ditch Witch refers to its three vibratory plows designed for residential and light commercial work as pedestrian plows. All three of these units feature standard wheels.
Model 100sx is a compact plow with capabilities to pull pipe up to three-quarters inch in diameter, maximum 13 inches deep. Model 255sx is a self-propelled, hydrostatic plow that is compact enough to fit through a standard yard gate. It has the capacity to pull up to three-inch pipe, maximum 16 inches deep. Model 410sx pulls up to three-inch wide pipe to a maximum of 24 inches deep. It has an optional front-mounted trencher attachment with an auger.
Ditch Witchs pedestrian line of trenchers has a width capacity of up to six inches. Model 1030 has a depth capacity of 30 inches, model 1230 has a depth capacity of 36 inches and model 1820 has a depth capacity of 48 inches. In the companys compact line, model HT25 is a ride-on, with the trencher blade on the back and a backhoe on the front. It is small enough to fit through a garden gate and has a zero-turn radius. It has a width of 16 inches and a depth capacity of 39 inches.
Line-Ward Corporation manufactures one piece of equipment, the L-2 vibratory plow. The major difference between this four-wheel drive plow and the conventional plow is that the blade is located in the center of the machine and it moves on tracks, not wheels. It will pull up to one and a quarter-inch diameter pipe, burying depth of 13 inches or 16 inches with optional blades. A variety of cutting blades and a boring attachment are available.
Vermeer has three models in its lawn plow line. The LM42 is both trencher and plow with boring, backhoe and rock wheel attachments available. The plow has a width capacity of two inches and depth capacity to 24 inches. The trencher has a width capacity of four to six inches and depth capacity of 42 inches. The LM25 model is a plow/trencher combo with a bore attachment. The plow has a width capacity of two inches and depth capacity to 18 inches. The LM11 is a compact vibratory plow that fits through garden gates. It has a width capacity of two inches and depth capacity to 12 inches.
Brown Manufacturing Corp. manufactures two TrenchMaster and two BedEdger mini-trenchers. Model 1202 TrenchMaster has a width capacity of one-half to three inches and a depth capacity of three to 12 inches. It will dig up to 20 feet per minute depending on soil conditions. Model 703 TrenchMaster has a width capacity of one-half to two and one-half inches and a depth capacity of seven inches. It will dig up to 25 feet per minute, depending on soil conditions. Model 780H BedEdger has a width capacity of one-half to nine inches and a depth capacity of two to seven inches. It will dig ten to 30 feet per minute, depending on soil conditions. Model 990H BedEdger has a width capacity of one-half to nine inches and a depth capacity of two to seven inches. It will dig ten to thirty feet per minute depending on soil conditions.
On all four models, change blades to adjust depths. Adjust widths with one bolt. Over sixty different blades are available.
Elite Trenchers offers three push models for the irrigation contractor. Model DD8 has a width capacity of two to three inches, and a depth capacity of eight inches. Model DD10 has a width capacity of two to three inches, and a depth capacity of ten inches. Model DD12 has a width capacity of two, three or four inches and a depth capacity of ten inches. All models can dig 20 to 30 feet per minute, depending on soil conditions. They also sport a depth gauge, telling the operator how deep the machine is digging at all times.
E-Z Trenchs Groundsaw EZ9000 will trench 100 feet in five minutes, depending on soil conditions. It has a width capacity of two and one-half inches, and a depth capacity from zero to 13 inches. The EZ-Bedscaper EZ8000 has caster steering, allowing a turn radius as tight as two feet. It has a width capacity of two to three inches, and a depth capacity of eight inches.
Little Beaver manufactures the Kwik-Trench, and has four models for the irrigation contractor. Model KT100 has a digging width capacity of one-half to three inches and a digging depth capacity of eight inches. Model KT200B has a digging width capacity of one to three inches, and a digging depth capacity of eight inches. Model KT1200B has a digging width capacity of one, two or three inches and a digging depth capacity of ten inches. Model KT2400B has a digging width capacity of one, two, three or four inches, and a digging depth capacity adjustable to twelve inches. All models dig approximately twenty to thirty feet per minute, depending on soil conditions.
Mini Skid Attachments
Kanga offers a stand-on riding mini-steer loader with a variety of attachments. For the irrigation contractor, there is the vibratory plow, the trencher, the backfill attachment and the boring attachment, with other attachments for specialty applications. The trencher has a width capacity of four to eight inches and depth capacity of thirty-six inches. The loader is four-wheel drive with a zero-turn radius.
Toros Dingo compact utility loader has three attachments specifically for the irrigation contractor: the trencher, the vibratory plow, and the bore drive and rod and reamer kit. The trencher has a width capacity of four to 12 inches, and a depth capacity of 42 inches. This trencher can dig vertically to allow full depth trenching at the start and end of the trench.
The vibratory plow offers an adjustable 12 inch blade that will bury pipe six to 12 inches and an adjustable 18 inch blade that will bury pipe 12 to 18 inches. The plow will pull pipe up to 88 feet per minute, depending on soil conditions.
The bottom line is, time is money. And if you are the contractor/owner/person who stays up at night worrying about the finances, or who is sweating in the heat every day on the job, or the one who has to deal with labor issues on the job every day, then you are also the one person who is looking for equipment to make the job easier and to keep costs in line on every job.
To accomplish this, shop for a variety of equipment. Buy the proper size machine for the work you normally perform, then size that machine for the job. For larger jobs, consider rental equipment to save wear and tear on your own equipment. In addition, remember, equipment does not talk back, call in sick, ask for a raise, slack off on the job while on the clock, show up late to work, take smoke breaks, ask for benefits, turn in workmans comp claims . . . etc.
Photo courtesy: Brown Manufacturing Co.