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Contractor Takes a Peek at John Deere AutoLoad Scraper

Mon November 19, 2007 - Southeast Edition
Construction Equipment Guide

At first, change can be intimidating for some.

But Alan Cawthon is glad he made the leap.

The owner of Alan Cawthon Inc. — dba Peek Grading — based in Jackson, Ga., Cawthon used to have his crews working with open bowl ejector scrapers pushed by bulldozers.

Under the direction of Metrac Sales Representative Wayne Clement, Cawthon upgraded to the John Deere 9520 Scraper Special pull tractor with 1810E and 2112E open bowl ejector scrapers.

“We were scared of this type of scraper system at first; you know it’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks,” Cawthon said. “We thought it wouldn’t work in the hard dirt.”

However, Metrac sent its scraper specialist, Merlin Penner, out to show Cawthon’s crew how to best use the new machine and the easiest way to make the transition from the old equipment.

“Working with Merlin, he showed us some tricks. I don’t know if he’s Merlin the Magician, but he certainly sold us on how to use these units,” Cawthon said.

Clement said Metrac will not do a demo without Penner setting the tractor up and working with the operator in person.

“When we first got the contract to sell pull tractors and scrapers over two and a half years ago, it was a stroke of luck on our part to be able to have him join our company,” Clement said. “He’s got the knowledge that helped us out tremendously.”

Cawthon decided at a recent job in Griffin, Ga., located approximately 40 mi. north of Macon, to try out John Deere’s new AutoLoad system on a demo 9520 with two 1810E ejector scrapers. As a subcontractor for MEJA Construction Inc., based in Jackson, Ga., Cawthon’s crew was grading a 40-acre tract for a middle school and athletic fields. The job, during which they moved 110,000 cu. yd. of dirt, began in mid-September and ran approximately one month.

Cawthon observed several benefits of the machinery during the demo.

“The AutoLoad system definitely looks like it saves the tires,” he said. “There’s a bit of a learning curve to the system, but I can put a new operator with minimal training and, a week or two later, he’s making good production.”

Cawthon also expects the new machines will reduce fuel usage. “It’s not lugging the engine as much.”

He sees less of an impact on the machine’s drive line components, such as the transmission, the drive shaft and the differentials, because of the steady pull.

“When you’re doing it manually, you’re bogging down,” he said. “You try not to, but you’re going to do a bad load every so often. But with the AutoLoad system, you take that out of the equation.”

The new tractors and scrapers are the latest in a series of tools Cawthon has used to get his jobs done.

“We’ve been in this business for about 20 years. In the past, we’ve used standard scrapers with a dozer pushing it. We’ve used self-loading paddle pan scrapers. Just before we bought the pull tractor and scrapers, we were using articulating dump trucks and a big excavator,” he said. “We’ve still got the articulating trucks and big excavator — they’ve got their place. But the cost savings I’ve noticed with using the John Deere pans with two articulating trucks and a trackhoe — you gotta have two operators in the trucks, one in the trackhoe, someone pushing material into the fill area and someone on a compactor.”

With the John Deere 9520 and two pull scrapers, Cawthon only needs two people to do the same job, saving both labor and fuel costs.

One of the keys to that cost savings is the ability of the tractor and scraper combination to compact the soil.

“For most material, you can achieve a 95, 96 or 97 percent compaction if you have good dirt straight off the tires,” Cawthon said. “We try to put a lift in and then, when we dump, we’ll run across the site loaded and turn around and dump coming back out of the fill area, so you’re always putting more traffic on it. You’ve got to turn around anyway, so you might as well do it this way.”

Cawthon is grateful of the working relationship he has built with Metrac.

“Sometimes in this business, it’s not the cheapest price that counts, it’s what you get on the service side and the machine expertise. When you put that much money into a piece of equipment it has to pay off,” he said. “We figured John Deere has been building big tractors to pull big stuff in the fields longer than anyone else. So we figure the same would hold true on the construction side. I see we were right.”

Peek Grading was founded in 1972 by Cawthon’s father-in-law, Frank Peek. CEG Staff

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