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
Certain "attachments" for attachments are also making track loaders more efficient. One example is a Hydrasmooth ride control valve, which enhances load and carry applications. "This valve is basically an accumulator that is ‘T-ed' into the boom cylinder," explains Mike Ross at Takeuchi Mfg. "The accumulator absorbs the spikes in pressure on the loader arms as a load is carried over rough terrain. I recently saw this installed on a Takeuchi TL130 that was using a tree spade attachment. I was very impressed with how well the ride control evened out the ride, especially with a heavy tree ball in the spade."
Another attachment Ross identifies is ATI Bradco's hydraulic tilt-tatch for loaders. "I saw a contractor use this attachment with a grading bucket in a residential subdivision last month and it was very impressive," he says. "The contractor was cutting drainage swales around the new homes. The building code calls for 6 in. of drop for a 10-ft. radius around the new homes. The contractor was able to cut the swales to code with usually only one pass. Without the tilt-tatch, it was taking him three passes. This cut his time in half, and we all know that time is money on any jobsite."
Options as standard features
In addition to an explosion of versatile attachments, equipment manufacturers are upping the ante by turning options into standard features, then creating new options and accessories that enhance the performance of their machines. ASV now offers high-flow hydraulics as standard on all of its models. And Takeuchi offers a roll-up door that allows the operator to run the loader with the door open or closed. Takeuchi also offers a standard pilot-operated joystick, and it incorporates planetary final drives in its machines to provide a gear reduction that significantly increases the overall pushing power of the rubber track loader.
Bobcat prides itself on enhancing the serviceability of its machines, giving owners the ability to reduce downtime and complete jobs in a timely manner. Key engine maintenance items on its compact track loaders are accessible by opening the rear swing-out tailgate, explains Fitzgerald. And because the engine is mounted transversely, routine maintenance can be performed from one side. Other engine and hydraulic components are easily accessed by simply tipping back the operator cab.
Bobcat also has several operator-friendly options on its four compact track loaders, including selectable joystick control and a deluxe instrument panel. Selectable joystick controls on the T250 and T300 models allow the operator to choose between ISO and H-pattern hydraulic controls. This enables owners to enjoy the option of adjusting control patterns to the operator's preference. The selectable joystick controls also have an inching feature that provides efficient operation in tight spaces and improved control of speed-sensitive attachments, such as trenchers and mowers.
The deluxe instrument panel has a keyless-start security system, function lockouts, job clock and a shutdown system in the event of an emergency. In addition, the panel is capable of displaying information in eight languages, which has proven worthwhile in markets where operators predominately speak languages other than English.
Climate-controlled cabs are also becoming a popular option among manufacturers of track loaders.
"Whether you're in the north or the deep south, [operators] can continue to work during extreme temperatures," says Lemke. "About 70 percent of our RC100 machines go out with this option.
Takeuchi TL140 Track Loader
Deere CT 322 and CT 332 Compact Track Loaders
Bobcat T140 Track Loader
Gehl CTL70 Track Loader
ASV Posi-Track RCV
New Holland LT185.B and LT190.B
Case 445CT, 450CT Compact Track Loaders
Mustang MTL20 Track Loader