S1.E4: Smart Grader Blade Satisfies Earthmover’s Quest for Versatility that Grows

Ballmann Earthworks is built on machines that not only do a lot of different jobs but also are efficient doing a lot of different sizes of jobs. Here’s how Jon Ballmann weighs the cost and payback on a ‘Cadillac’ grader attachment.

Jon Ballmann’s a contractor who chuckles when he admits “I like gadgets,” but he’s not a gee-whiz collector. This guy’s first fleet purchase bigger than a skid steer was a new crawler loader, dump truck and trailer because he could put the self-contained combo on the road to do site clearing and demolition dig basements and work higher-production earthmoving. Ballmann looks for versatility that works; not just at different kinds of tasks but also in different sizes of projects.

The track loader kept his Ballmann Earthworks growing through the Great Recession and he continues to select equipment with the same eye for growth potential.

Early in 2022, he was shopping for a grading tool to use inside buildings. He started looking at a box blade and a skid steer but the spring season brought a Cat 289D3 compact track loader and a GB-124 Smart Grader Blade ready for GPS grade control into the Earthworks’ toolkit.

It was a hefty investment, but the grader attachment’s versatility and ease of use sold it. Ballmann saved by being able to use receivers he already owns to bring GPS signal to his grader attachment. Mounting laser receivers on the masts instead provides the ability to grade for pouring interior floors.

“There’s a lot of functionality in this blade – we’re real happy,” Ballmann says. “I especially like the wings.”

The six-way moldboard is controlled at the skid steer’s joysticks. Hydraulically adjusted wings on each end of the moldboard are controlled from buttons and the roller knob on the joysticks. Wings can be pointed forward to catch and carry material like a box blade. Adjusted in-line with the blade, the GB-124 cuts an 8-ft. swath. And the operator can rotate the wings back out of the way to avoid curbs, manholes or other fixtures for side-shift-like capability.

“Without the wings we would be lost – I definitely like the capabilities versus a box-blade setup. This is definitely the machine for us.”

The blade makes short work out of fine-grading rock. And the sandy, silty loam in Ballmann’s west-St. Louis home is no challenge. Earthworks operators are refining the touch to cut heavier clay found around the river towns.

Jon ticks off versatility, operator comfort and functionality as key reasons for upgrading a finishing machine like this.

“Production is everything, and it will definitely enhance our production. I would not be scared to take this on a 50,000 or 100,000 sq. ft. building pad. So there might be some long carry distances where we can use this rather than unhook and pick up a bucket. Fold both wings in, carry rock right off the pad, then back up and open one wing again and continue to windrow material.”