There seems to be no end in sight. Since the introduction of the first compact track loaders in the late 1980s, their popularity has only grown. While no industry numbers are readily available, ASV Inc. estimates that in 1995, sales for the entire rubber track loader market grew to $10 million in total revenue. Now, 10 years later, it expects industry sales to finish at $700 million.
"This may seem extraordinary," says Brad Lemke, director of product development at ASV Inc. "But it's only the tip of the iceberg. Company projections show that the rubber track market will draw near to the same revenue as skid-steer loaders -approximately $2 billion a year -in the near future. From there, we expect it will exceed skid-steer loader sales in total revenue."
A virtual explosion in the variety and numbers of attachments, and continual upgrades in accessories and options make compact track loaders an attractive investment for many rental businesses.
Attachments that "shine"
While attachments aren't exclusive to compact track loaders -for the most part they're the same attachments used on wheeled counterparts -there are certain ones that really shine on a track machine.
"Attachments really make a track machine," says Lemke. "In general, all attachments will perform better on this type of machine because it's a more stable platform, with more power and traction to get into a greater diversity of terrains. And, since attachments are all universal now, any brand of attachment fits on any brand of machine. That makes it very easy for contractors to rent attachments they may only need occasionally."
Lemke identifies backhoe attachments and brush cutters -especially rotary and drum-style cutters -as real "shiners" for track machines. "A drum-style cutter can cut and mulch in one pass," he says. "You don't tend to see these types of attachments on wheeled machines because of the places you need to go and power you need to run them. But they really shine on the high-flow hydraulics of our machines."
A rotary brush cutter enables users to go into an undeveloped area and clear brush measuring 3 to 4 in. in diameter. "It's a quick way to eliminate brush and small trees," notes Lemke. "And the beauty of the track machine is that you can go into terrain that is hilly or swampy. You can drive over stumps, logs and brush stubble with a tracked machine. It's a perfect application for a track machine, whereas a wheeled machine just couldn't move as easily in this type of environment without damaging the tires."
Mike Fitzgerald, loader product specialist for Bobcat Co., relates that a dozer blade also makes a lot of sense for a tracked machine. In addition to 6- and 7-ft. sizes, a 96-in. model was unveiled in January. "The six-way dozer blade adjusts for maximum controllability when dozing, leveling, cutting slopes or swales and grading," he explains. "This 96-in. model was specifically designed for the large-frame compact track loaders."
One relatively unique attachment now available is a sod installer. This has proven to be a real boon for those involved in golf course and sports field projects, as well as landscaping highway shoulders and ditches. These attachments run off of the carrier's hydraulics and mount to the front of the machine. They are capable of laying sod rolls as large as 4 ft. wide and 150 ft. long.
"With a track machine, you can face forward and drive right over the sod in front of you, without concern about damaging the freshly installed sod," says Lemke. "Without this attachment, contractors would typically use a tractor to pull a machine mounted on the rear. This is more difficult to do because you have to turn around to watch the sod being rolled out behind you."
"Attachments" for attachments