Stephen Plunk’s door is wide open for anyone interested in using tractors and pull pans on a job.
He’s the general manager of C.L.S. Inc. in Savannah, Ga., a new rental house that specializes in what is becoming an increasingly popular way to grade a job site in the South.
Plunk first climbed on a tractor and set of Reynolds pans at the age of 10. But he really got to know the machines by learning how to grade cotton farms for flood irrigation in the mid 1960s.
Plunk arrived in the Southeast in 1999 and began promoting a dirt moving concept that, at the time, was relatively unheard of in the area. Contractors generally used articulated dump trucks or conventional push-load and self-loading scrapers.
Plunk said he was met with skepticism for the first few years.
“Most contractors thought I was nuts,” he said.
Plunk recalled one prominent Alabama contractor who scoffed at the idea and was sure that “farm tractors” could do the work of a motorscraper.
But Plunk took on the challenge; he asked the contractor only to furnish the diesel fuel and he would show what his machines could do.
By the end of the second day, Plunk said the contractor was on the machine operating it himself and ended up renting several tractors and pull pans for his next job. Since then, the contractor has replaced several of his push loaders with new pull pan units.
Plunk said pull pans are able to work in a variety of material, such as red clay, sugar sand and topsoil, but it’s not the answer for everyone’s earthmoving needs.
“I mean, you wouldn’t use a dozer to do an excavator’s job,” he said.
Still, when conditions are right, Plunk believes pull pans are the answer. He said the thing that really stands out about pull pans is how easily they can be manipulated and how versatile they are.
Tractors can pull up to three scrapers or dump wagons and can pull 4,000- to 10,000-gal. water wagons. Additionally, a contractor could use smaller tractors to pull haul road maintenance blades and compaction tools for less than it would cost to do the same task with a motorgrader and compactors.
Plunk said pull pans need very little support equipment when used correctly, which makes them more cost efficient.
Plunk has played a role in the development of the technology in the past decade. He helped Miskin develop its flagship, the 18D scraper (now 19D), and has worked with John Deere and Cameco engineers in the development of the 1810E and 1812C scrapers. During one effort, he spent time in South Africa working with Bell North America engineers in developing a new scraper tractor.
Plunk also helped pioneer the use of the super single logger tire on scraper tractors in the late 1990s, working with Firestone and Wabco/Jacksonville Wheel and Rim to develop what is now a factory option on most scraper tractors.
“I remember Deere reps telling us the singles would not work on the 9400 and they were threatening to void our warranty if we installed them; now they’re an option. Funny how that works,” he said.
Plunk admits that the tractor and pull pan combination will never completely replace conventional scrapers or off-road trucks, but they will complement any fleet as the prime mover.
“There is no one machine on the market today that can do so much for so little,” Plunk said.
Proper training on the machines and picking the right combination for the job are key to achieving cost savings.
“There are so many different types of pull pans and tractor combinations out there. The color of the tractor does not make the tractor and neither does a name,” Plunk said. “Service and production are what makes the tractor.”
In December, Plunk took his experience to a Savannah job site along the Intracoastal Waterway. A contractor was reclaiming a dredge containment site that will be used for future pumping of dredge material out of the Thunderbolt Marina.
Like many East Coast ports, the contractor faced extremely unstable, wet and mixed soil conditions. Plunk successfully recommended the contractor use a 200 hp (149 kW) tractor and a 15-yd. pan to move the dirt.
He opted for the smaller front-wheel assist tractor and equipped it with oversized flotation tires. He also set the pan up with same type of flotation tires, but that was not the only trick up his sleeve. He placed the tires with the directional tread facing backward to give the tractor the ability to help float itself by pulling material under the tire rather than cleaning it out as designed by tire engineers.
The customer, Wayne Vonner of the Thunderbolt Marina, said he couldn’t believe the work this machine was doing.
“I have to admit, I was very skeptical at first. But over the last month this tractor has proven itself to be a lifesaver on this job. We could not have done this in a timely manner without this unit,” Vonner said.
Plunk said it’s all about knowing the job and what it will take to the finish the job efficiently while remaining cost effective.
“It was always about the bottom line when I was moving dirt, I don’t think that has changed much,” he said.
Plunk said he is here to help the contractor: “If you’re making money, then I’m making money.”
Plunk believes C.L.S. is the only rental house that specializes in tractors, pull pans and related tractor-drawn equipment.
No other equipment, like dozers or skid steers take up his technicians’ time.
“This allows us to better serve our core customer, the pull pan user,” Plunk said.
For more information, call 912/657-9620 or visit www.pullpanrentals.com.