Compact tractor-loader-backhoes (compact TLBs) used to be thought of as toys when compared with the big iron on jobsites of days gone by. Today, however, they are taken more than seriously by seasoned contractors and novice weekend warriors alike, thanks to their size, versatility and light feet on the turf.
Compact TLBs are generally classified as any TLB with a digging depth of 10 feet and under and with less than 35 horsepower. Although there are no SAE guidelines, most manufacturers agree on this.
Weight is another consideration. Most compact TLBs weigh less than 6,000 lbs. and can be towed by a 1/2- to 3/4-ton pickup with an appropriate-sized trailer.
"Heavier machines might require a heavy-duty trailer and a driver with a CDL (commercial driver's license)," says Doug Dahlgren, product manager at Allmand Bros. "This makes it easy for anyone to rent and transport compact TLBs."
Best of both worlds?
Compact TLBs might not be better than skid steers at loading or superior to compact excavators at digging, but when an operator needs to do both, they really shine.
"[Compact TLBs] are dual-purpose machines," says Bill Gearhart, marketing and product manager at Yanmar Construction Equipment. "The backhoe is designed for trenching or deep hole digging and the loader is designed for moving larger amounts of material. In most countries around the world, contractors prefer to use an excavator for digging and a separate wheel loader for material handling. The compact TLB is designed to handle both of those jobs in one machine. This is perfect for jobs where both functions are needed but there is only one machine operator available or when renting or transporting multiple machines to the jobsite is not justified."
Dahlgren adds, "They are ideal anytime it's more cost-effective to rent or own one piece of equipment than two."
Bud Martin, sales manager at Terramite Corp. agrees. "The rubber-tired compact TLB was built as a combination loader and backhoe," he says. "It combined both the loader and backhoe into one versatile piece of machinery. The skid steers were built as a loader and to function as a backhoe you must replace the bucket with a backhoe attachment. This adds time and money. The excavator is just that, an excavator. It does not have the ability to carry and place materials. The drive system, braking and steering of the compact TLB is less prone to damage turf or sidewalks."
Compact TLB advantages
Versatility, ease of use and the ability to be easy on the turf top the list of reasons why compact TLBs excel on the jobsite.
"A backhoe can do less damage to ground or turf than a skid steer or track loader since skid steers and track loaders skid the tires or track on one side to turn," says Gearhart, adding, "The operator can quickly and easily switch between the backhoe and the loader function. Skid steers do have backhoe attachments available but the loader bucket must be removed and the backhoe installed, which takes extra time to switch back and forth. A TLB could be seen as safer to mount and dismount than a skid steer/track loader (where the operator must climb over the bucket to enter the operator's area)."
He adds, "One major advantage of a compact TLB over an excavator is the compact TLB can move material over a distance much faster than an excavator. An excavator bucket is much smaller than a compact TLB loader bucket and the compact TLB can travel many times faster."
Keith Rohrbacker, construction equipment product manager at Kubota Tractor Corp., notes that compact TLBs offer another advantage to contractors just starting out. "They can't afford the latest and greatest machines, and generally start out with a used compact TLB," he notes. "It can do all of the tasks associated with specialty machines, but with a much lower initial investment. As time goes on and profits increase, then newer and/or more specialized machines can be added to the company."