Extra rubber on the ground is also a benefit when using attachments such as pallet forks, which Boreman uses for moving cumbersome chain-link fencing. "No one wants to ‘schlep' around a roll of 50-ft. chain-link fence," he notes. "It's not practical. The forks allow us to move material without manually manipulating it.
"Everything we do has to fall into the guidelines of productivity and safety," he continues. "Using the track loader allows us to do that. Work that was traditionally done by hand or with smaller, hand-held machines can now be done with the loader."
The loader function gained with a track loader is certainly a benefit, adds Mike Ross, national product and training manager at Takeuchi. "Contractors can use a dozer blade to sculpt the land, then use pallet forks to carry stone or block for a retaining wall, all with the same machine. With the rubber tracks on the ground and the good traction between the track and the ground, you're able to get the functionality of a dozer combined with loader functions for lifting material. A compact track loader is really a multi-functional piece of equipment."
Justifying the cost
Because of their versatility, compact track loader sales have grown tremendously in the last few years. This year, there continues to be new competitors and more models.
While no accurate numbers exist, some within the industry estimate that compact track loader sales accounted for as much as 25% of skid loader sales last year. That's in spite of their increased cost compared to a wheeled machine. "A tracked machine will cost more," indicates Moore. "But the extra productivity gained in the right application can certainly justify the extra cost."
According to Ross, some contractors he's worked with claim their compact track loaders outwork their skids steers at a ratio of two to one. "While it is more expensive, when you compare the purchase price of the machine to the productivity gained," he adds, "being able to work in all conditions outweighs the additional cost of the machine."
Fitzgerald reiterates this line of thinking. "One contractor told me that even though compact track loaders cost more to purchase, and cost more per hour to run, he gets more work done with them and the operators prefer to run these machines," he comments. "So as he needs to replace machines, he'll replace them with a tracked unit."
Puckett sums up the additional cash outlay rather simply: "I'm working when others aren't."
Boreman can also validate the premium cost, though he indicates there's still a place for wheeled machines. "I would recommend that anyone interested in a track loader do his research," he says. "For us, we needed a fleet of versatile equipment. The track loader fits into that well because it can be used in so many different environments."
In addition to wet, low-lying areas, Boreman also uses the machines in dry conditions where he wants to minimize rutting, such as on college ball fields. "There just isn't any footprint with the tracks," he says. "They eliminate any deep ruts that will eventually cost you money because you'll have to go back and fix them."
That lighter footprint is because the weight of the unit is dispersed over a wider area, explains Lemke. Ground pressure of ASV's machines are as low as 2.5 psi, compared to about 35 psi for a wheeled machine and 5 psi for a person. "These machines can realistically get into areas where you can't even walk," he says. "There are just certain jobs that a wheeled machine physically can't do. In applications where extra traction is needed, a tracked machine will be a better choice."
Lemke feels the same is true when using attachments. "Attachment manufacturers love to demonstrate their attachments on a track vehicle because it makes their attachment shine," he says. "A lot of attachment performance is limited by what the host machine can do. With a track machine, you reduce those limitations."