Necessary accessory

Adding job-specific attachments to your company's compact equipment inventory can help you save time and labor costs – as well as lightening the load, literally, for your crews.

Photo courtesy of Bobcat

Using small-scale loaders/tractors with compact attachments “is a big labor saver,” says Jason Walker, president of Pate Landscape Company in Montgomery, Alabama, which bought its first compact equipment 19 years ago.

These days, there’s a compact attachment for practically every job – whether grading a lawn, digging a hole, or picking up and removing debris. By letting the vehicle take on the task, jobs that once might have fallen on your crews to do by hand get done quicker, and with less potential risk of employee fatigue or injury.

Tom Beldon, sales manager for John Richmond Landscaping, in Richmond, Virginia, has seen his firm’s compact loader and hydraulic grapple attachment dramatically reduce the time involved in clearing out brush and other yard debris, for example. “The grapple works like a set of tongs to grab and remove piles of brush or trash,” Beldon says. Before the company bought its new compact loader roughly a year and a half ago, John Richmond crew members would likely have had to “haul debris out by hand with wheelbarrows or lay it on some kind of trestle and drag it out,” he says.

Further, compact equipment can work in confined spaces where other full-sized equipment simply can’t. “Obviously, they’re compact, so they can get in smaller areas,” Walker says. “But they’re also easier to operate. It takes less training to get someone skilled at operating a compact loader than it does for a full-sized piece of equipment, like a tractor or skid loader.”

Walker estimated that most workers can be up to speed on safe driving and maneuvering of a compact loader within about a day. And switching out the attachments is quick and easy. “I’d say you can switch the attachments out in a minute or less,” he says.

In addition to being easier to use than some full-size equipment, compact loaders also typically cause less overall stress and damage to the jobsite because their lighter weight means less ruts and turf destruction.

“There weren’t a ton of options... Now, everything you can imagine, it’s there.” Jason Walker, president, Pate Landscape Company

An attachment for any job.

Compact tractor/loader manufacturers continue to expand their attachment offerings. You can find attachments for practically every application, including buckets, blades, rakes, tillers, seeders, augers and more.

Dan Fiorillo, lead designer and salesperson at Landscape Consultants in New Cambria, Kansas, says their firm has found a clamp attachment – which operates like a grabber – to be effective and helpful at “easily and safely handling large retaining wall blocks and steps.” Before purchasing the attachment roughly two years ago, the heavy blocks might typically have been maneuvered by a full-size skid fork with a pallet attachment. “But there’s always the chance of somebody getting a finger or a limb caught under (the pallet), and this (clamp attachment) pretty much takes that out of the equation,” Fiorillo says.

In addition to the hydraulic grapple, Beldon says crews at John Richmond Landscape have found the power rake attachment to be particularly useful. “It’s made to rake and grade and level your lawn – including cleaning up weeds and debris on the lawn – and then you can spread out topsoil too to power rake in preparation for a new lawn,” he says.

The grading rake attachment was one of the first compact attachments Walker’s firm purchased as well, along with a tiller and a bucket. “There weren’t a ton of options at that time (nearly 20 years ago). It was kind of the beginning of the market,” he says. “Now, everything you can imagine, it’s there.”

Rather than buying and stocking attachments simply because they’re new and available, Walker prefers to add new attachments to his inventory only once a job comes along where he needs them. “I wouldn’t buy one just to have it sitting around,” he says. “We have kind of everything we need right now.”

Walker’s compact attachment lineup currently includes a boring attachment and a trencher, both of which he says often come in handy during irrigation installations.

Still, the tried-and-true grading rake might get the most regular use by Pate Landscaping’s crews, he says. “When you’re preparing for sod, instead of having to put a 10,000-pound tractor on it, you’re able to go in with this smaller piece of equipment that doesn’t have as large of a footprint, and doesn’t do as much damage,” Walker says.

Crews at John Richmond have also found that the power auger often comes in handy when it’s time to dig holes for planting, and their articulated fork attachment makes it easy to move and install new trees without disrupting the root ball during the process.

One more tool.

Of course, some jobs will simply call for larger-scale equipment, but compact loaders and attachments can offer another, helpful tool in your firm’s overall landscape toolbox, Walker says.

“This is just one more tool. It’s never going to replace a skid loader, but for small companies just starting out (investing in a compact loader) would be a good place to start.”

Walker and Beldon say maneuvering their compact equipment and attachments to jobsites couldn’t be easier, thanks to custom trailers – offered by the product manufacturers – that come with built-in spots for all the attachments. And, because the trailers are relatively lightweight, they can be pulled by a standard pickup truck.

“We keep our compact equipment on a dedicated trailer that pulls behind a truck,” Beldon says. “Each day, one of the account managers determines who’s going to be using the equipment that day, and we hook up the trailer to their truck – that way they have all the attachments on site and available.”

John Richmond Landscaping’s compact equipment and attachments are in such demand with crews that the company is looking to purchase another unit sometime soon. “We have four crews, and just one compact unit, and they’re always sort of fighting over it,” Beldon says.

The author is a freelance writer based in Kentucky.

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