All of the backhoe-loaders are also set up to tow a pickup truck behind them. “This allows our operators to be fully self-contained,” says Varga. “They can hook up to their company pickup truck with a tow bar and get around the city from job to job and always have their truck equipped with fuel, tools and such on site.”
Although Varko Excavating has expanded into larger earthmoving projects, Varga continues to see backhoe-loaders as a mainstay in the fleet. “Their mobility is especially useful,” he points out. “We can easily dispatch a machine to a jobsite, whether it be for a quick 20-minute job to lift or clean up something at one site, or to do a more involved job like excavate a broken sewer line and then backfill and compact it once the repair is made.
“I don’t ever envision a time where we will phase out backhoe-loaders,” he adds.
Longevity and Durability Are Essential
Laclede Gas Company is the largest natural gas distribution company in Missouri, serving approximately 631,000 residential, commercial and industrial customers in the City of St. Louis and 10 other counties in eastern Missouri. Mike Menendez, assistant superintendent of transportation, handles the specifications for the company’s extensive equipment fleet, including its roughly 75 backhoe-loaders.
“We do several different things with backhoes,” he says. “We have some full-size backhoes, like John Deere 410s and 310s. Most of those are used on what we consider a main crew. In other words, they’re putting brand new gas mains in the ground.” These can range anywhere from 6- to 24-in. lines.
“We also use [backhoes] in our service department,” he continues. “They’re used to install services from the mains to the homes or to a business, and everything in between. They’re also used for doing maintenance on underground utility lines… If we have a leak, they may be used to dig up that leaking area and service that main.”
Most of the units used in service and maintenance work are JCB 1CX and 2CX models. “One of the reasons we get the JCBs is they are four-wheel drive,” Menendez says. However, a rugged design is perhaps the most critical factor. “It’s a smaller backhoe, but it’s heavy duty.”
Because most employees are not full-time operators, and multiple employees with varying experience levels may use it over the course of a day, the machine’s ability to withstand potential abuse is paramount. “One of the things we look at when we’re buying backhoes is longevity — that it has the durability. It has to have a heavy-duty loader. It has to have a heavy-duty backhoe,” says Menendez. “We’re rough on stuff. Durability is a big factor.”
Attachment capability is another big factor in backhoe-loader selection. “We use hydraulic breakers… We also use tampers,” says Menendez. “Once we are done with a job, we’ll use that tamper to tamp down the line.” Consequently, he specifies high-flow hydraulics whenever possible. “If there is an option between a standard machine and a high flow, I’ll get the high-flow hydraulics.”
Extendible dippers are specified on full-size models to provide as much reach and digging depth as possible. This allows for any possible contingency once crews are in the field. “It may say in our prints that [a line] is 5 ft. deep,” says Menendez. “It could be 20 ft. deep because road construction and what not has changed our elevation over the years,” Menendez points out.
The John Deere models are also spec’d with “wobble sticks” for the backhoe. “Our [operators] are a little bit older, and they have better feel with those,” says Menendez. “When you get into something, you can kind of feel it better on the hydraulics than you can on the electronic pilot controls.”
All models (excluding the 1CX) are outfitted with cabs. A clear view to the work area is a high priority. “The glass needs to be in such a fashion that you don’t have blind spots where you’re digging,” says Menendez. “We’re digging around gas lines. There is no room for error there. Visibility is a big thing.”