Many of Fischer's trenchers also utilize a backhoe or reel carrier on the front rather than simply a weight kit. "We switch based on the job," he says. Occasionally, he will also switch to a water system for use with the vibratory plow in hard ground. "We inject water into the toe of the plow shank to make it easier to go through the ground."
One tractor, multiple attachments
Changing between attachments has become an easier job, especially if you can do it in a shop.
Astec has designed its trencher tractors with hydraulics that come back to a common manifold at the rear. "There's a series of fittings at the manifold so all you have to do is mount the attachment and plug the hydraulic hoses from the attachment into the manifold," explains Wren. "It's not necessarily quick disconnect, but it provides easy access to hoses and fittings to make it easier for the customer."
"For us, it's just a handful of bolts and some hydraulic hoses," says Fischer. "It only takes a couple of hours.
"Having the ability to change between attachments gives us the ability to utilize one tractor and multiple attachments. There's a cost savings to that," he continues. "Without that ability, a trencher may have sat unused most of the summer until the ground froze. Now we can use the tractor year round and switch back and forth between a trencher and a vibratory plow. And if we find we have a job that needs a different attachment, we can just go and buy that attachment. We don't have to buy another tractor."
Like Fischer, Joe Boxrucker, operations manager at North States Utility in Eagle River, WI, also has to deal with frozen ground. He takes advantage of swapping between a vibratory plow and trencher based on ground conditions, which he says takes two employees half a day to accomplish.
Boxrucker has about 75 Case (Astec) machines, of which about a dozen routinely get a new attachment when the weather turns cold. "Our workload decreases substantially in the winter because the winter construction charge goes into affect to dig through frost. This typically sets in about Thanksgiving and sticks around through the first of May," he notes.
Boxrucker has been routinely changing attachments since the early 1990s. "What made us go to dual-purpose machines is strictly dollars and cents," he says. "The attachment costs about 20% of the unit. It's a way to utilize a piece of equipment 12 months out of the year, rather than have a unit sit for seven to eight months and be used for just a single purpose.
"Mainly, it was a financial consideration for buying an attachment and switching back and forth vs. buying an entire unit for one task," he continues. "And when we upgrade the tractor, we can still use the attachments."