Perkins focuses on a relatively niche market ? area municipalities and school districts, where jobs range from erosion control and culvert cleaning to laying sod for ballparks and rolling fairways on golf courses. Both smooth and lugged rubber tracks are used, depending on the time of year and task at hand.
Perkins figures he has 18 to 20 attachments, some that he's designed specifically for his machines and his operation. Those used most frequently include a front-mounted tiller, a Harley rake and custom-built pull blades and sod layers/rollers.
The custom-built pull blade (shown at right) consists of a cut section of oil pipe that is adapted to the loader. "We use if for mucking out silt from culverts and for pulling cattails from ponds," he says. "It has an extension so I can reach in and remove debris and vegetation. Because of the loader's flotation capability, I can go into the ponds if needed. I've been in far enough that I've had water almost to my feet. There was one instance where I had to retrieve a picnic table from a bog. A group of kids had carried it in, and with the weight disbursement of my loader, which weighs about 8,000 lbs., I was able to retrieve the table and bring it back."
The custom-built roller, which attaches to the front of the loader, measures about 8.5 ft. wide by 4 ft. high and holds roughly 500 gal. of water. "I use it to roll ball fields and fairways in the spring," says Perkins.
"There's such a variety of attachments," he adds. "Many of them virtually eliminate manual labor."
The labor savings has enabled Perkins to downsize his business from a high of about 40 employees to just himself and two other employees handling relatively the same amount of work.
In particular, the sod layer has enhanced productivity. "In the 1970s, we had 10 guys who could lay 5,000 yds. of sod a day," Perkins recalls. "Now I can get big rolls of sod that weigh up to 2,000 lbs. With this equipment, we can lay 1,200 to 1,500 yds. an hour. We recently re-did the outfield of a local ball field, where we laid almost 12,000 yds. of sod in one day."
Because of the compact track loaders' ability to access wet, mucky areas, Perkins is often called for specialty jobs. "These loaders give me the ability to bid on pond areas that aren't accessible to other machines," he says. "It's really amazing where I can go and not do any damage. A lot of the jobs we do are for developed areas around holding ponds, storm sewer outlets, etc., that aren't accessible because landowners have landscaped around everything. There's simply no access. But with a track loader and attachments, we can get in and solve the problem without hardly any damage to the turf or landscape."
From Ordinary to Extraordinary
Although Paul Daysh, California Retaining Walls, utilizes attachments commonly used on skid-steer loaders ? including buckets, forks and augers ? he says those attachments are much more productive and efficient when mounted on his compact track loaders instead. This Bay-area contractor has 12 Bobcat T300s used for grading and building retaining walls.
In fact, the track loaders have improved productivity so much that Daysh can now work year round. "They've taken me from being a nine month a year company to a 12 month a year company," he says. "The challenges of running in the winter were just too much for wheeled loaders. You just can't access many areas in the winter without a rubber-tracked machine. Since I made the transition in 1999, I am now able to work in those slippery winter conditions. With their low ground pressure, I can just be more productive. And the damage and impact to sensitive areas such as golf courses is a lot less with rubber tracks."
Daysh routinely runs in creek bottoms, and the stability of a track loader gives him the ability to also maneuver hillsides. "Our tracked Bobcats are a lot more stable and can handle heavy loads better," he says. "We custom-built some high-volume buckets that can carry about 2 yds. of material. We simply wouldn't be able to utilize that bucket on very many skid-steer loaders. The speed of operation that these tracked loaders provide makes them well worth their extra cost. Safety, stability and increased production are three factors that make these machines worth the extra money."