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Contractors Tell Tales of Excavators' Near-Heroic Exploits

Excavators have figured prominently in the building of virtually everything that makes up the infrastructure of modern America.

Mon February 11, 2019 - National Edition
Eric Olson –CEG Correspondent


Using six Hitachi EX1200 excavators, Beaver Excavating Co. moved 1 million cu. yds. of material a month in a massive road project near the Ohio River.
Using six Hitachi EX1200 excavators, Beaver Excavating Co. moved 1 million cu. yds. of material a month in a massive road project near the Ohio River.
Using six Hitachi EX1200 excavators, Beaver Excavating Co. moved 1 million cu. yds. of material a month in a massive road project near the Ohio River. No specialized buckets were needed to handle all the rock and earth at the Ohio site. Doosan DX140LC-5 crawler excavators handled challenging soil and weather conditions in the construction of a music center in Massachusetts. In a field test, a forestry contractor based in Franklin, Tenn., used one of his LiuGong 925E excavators, with an FAE mulching head attached, to perform a land-clearing job. The versatile Kubota KX080 removed brush, ancient rock and tree stumps during the construction of a home near Laconia, N.H. Once the home is finished, it will command a spectacular vista of nearby New England mountains and lakes.

From massive road projects to clearing jobs on single-home sites, the chances are good that powerful hydraulic excavators are doing the work.

Earthmoving contractors cannot do business without a compact, mid-size, full-size or very large machine to do the work — perhaps even all four — in their rolling stock.

Excavators have figured prominently in the building of virtually everything that makes up the infrastructure of modern America: roads and highways, airports, seaports, shopping centers, residential areas, office buildings and manufacturing sites — to name just a few.

Excavator owners and users employ them to do much more than dig and haul dirt, though. The equipment's responsibilities also include site preparation, grading, trenching and other soil-related tasks. Various-sized excavators dig and grade building and home sites, build earthen dams, dig ponds and sewers, excavate ditches for water or gas lines and create terraced drainage on farmland.

A machine's ability to dig and move large amounts of earth and rock starts with the use of its prominent bucket, but the large number of attachments it can use in place of the bucket also endows it with tremendous versatility, depending on the needs of the job. The best known of these attachments are hydraulic-powered breakers, grapples and augers.

Competition among the many excavator manufacturers has spurred greater technological advances that has led to better, more efficient and more durable machine lines. Today's excavators are easier to use, have more maneuverability and can perform more tasks than ever before.

Contractors are often very loyal to an excavator and its brand, and if the machine has proven itself time and again, the builder won't hesitate to use it on many different types of job sites. And their pride in the equipment often will lead them to boast about their excavators' accomplishments.

Several different North American manufacturers were asked recently about unusual or compelling projects in which their excavators played an important role. What follows are just a few stories of the often heroic work done by these ubiquitous machines.

Ohio Makes History With Hitachi

Using six Hitachi EX1200 excavators, Beaver Excavating Co. moved 1 million cu. yds. of material a month in a massive road project near the Ohio River.

A massive, 3½-year road project in southern Ohio was recently finished one week ahead schedule, in part due to the use of six Hitachi EX1200 mining excavators.

The 16-mi.-long Southern Ohio Veterans Memorial Highway (State Route 823) project was completed in December by Canton-based Beaver Excavating Co. The new roadway, parts of which run parallel to the Ohio River, was built to bypass approximately 26 mi. of U.S. Routes 52 and 23 through the city of Portsmouth.

With a design and construction price tag of more than $430 million, the highway was also the Ohio Department of Transportation's largest project in terms of dollar value and earthwork volume.

The components of the new road include a four-lane divided highway with five interchanges, 21 bridges, 300,000 sq. ft. of mechanically stabilized earth wall and 20 million cu. yds. of excavation.

According to Rich Stidd, Beaver Excavating's superintendent on the highway project, the earthmoving consisted of 97 percent rock (sandstone, shale and limestone) that had to be blasted every day once work began in June 2015. His company also made cuts as deep as 200 ft. and used the material for fill on other parts of the project.

"On this project, we averaged 1 million cubic yards of excavated material a month with the six Hitachi machines we had running," Stidd explained. "Peak production hit 1.7 million cubic yards."

To equip itself for moving that much material, Beaver Excavating worked with its Hitachi dealer, Murphy Tractor & Equipment Co., a large Midwest dealer with 10 locations across Ohio. Murphy provided the contractor with two additional EX1200 excavators, in addition to its own four Hitachis, to handle the highway project's demands.

Stidd was pleased with the machines' performance and how well they kept up with the often frenetic pace of the work to stay on schedule. To underscore how well the EX1200s worked, no specialized buckets were needed to handle all the rock and earth at the Ohio site.

"When anyone asks my opinion on production machines, my first choice and suggestion is always going to be Hitachi due to the production, longevity and the overall brand," Stidd said.

The new bypass has reduced the travel time around Portsmouth by avoiding 30 traffic signals, 80 intersections and 500 driveways. ODOT estimates motorists can now shave 16 minutes from their drive time.

"It's impressive that Hitachi played such a huge role on the largest earthmoving project in Ohio," Stidd said. "The productivity and durability of the machines just kept the project on pace. Hitachi gets the job done."

Doosan Makes Music in Massachusetts

Doosan DX140LC-5 crawler excavators handled challenging soil and weather conditions in the construction of a music center in Massachusetts.

The hum of active construction equipment has been echoing across a unique job site in rural Massachusetts since 2017. While not very melodious themselves, these machines have been tasked with building a performance center designed to produce some of the world's most beautiful music.

The new Indian Hill Music facility is a nonprofit regional center for music education and performance. Located in the town of Groton in picturesque central Massachusetts, 45 mi. northwest of Boston, the complex is set to open in 2022 on 110 acres of farmland.

One of only a small group of nonprofit organizations nationwide that encompass a community music school, professional orchestra and outreach programs, Indian Hill Music serves 79 communities from greater Boston to southern New Hampshire. The current school is located just a few miles to the southeast in Littleton and has been in operation for 34 years.

When the new community music center is finished, it will include not only a school, but also a two-story, 1,000-seat indoor performance center — with the ability to open up to allow lawn seating for another 1,300 audience members — and a 300-seat recital hall.

ShepCo Inc., based in nearby Townsend, Mass., was chosen as the prime contractor on the new Indian Hill Music center. The company was founded and is owned by Gary Shepherd, who also serves as the construction project manager at the Groton job site.

A family-owned company, ShepCo specializes in industrial, commercial, and residential excavating, as well as site preparation. For the Indian Hill Music center, Shepherd purchased his excavation equipment from Equipment East in Dracut, Mass.

That included a Doosan DX140LC-5 crawler excavator, a machine noted for its durability and reliability. The 32,783-lb. excavator sports a standard boom length of 15.09 ft. and has a regular bucket size of 0.59 cu. yds.

Before construction could begin, though, several challenges had to be addressed.

For one, Shepherd and his crew had to deal with unfavorable ground conditions at the site.

"Most of the soil consisted of glacial till — the coarsely graded sediment of a glacier — and its content is made up of various forms of clay, sand, gravel and boulders," he explained.

Then, there was the often challenging Massachusetts weather to deal with.

"In spring 2017, for instance, we had so much rain that we thought we would have to stop working until the ground dried up," Shepherd continued. "But the crew and the equipment kept going. It was quite impressive."

His steel-tracked Doosan crawler excavators and wheel loaders were the only equipment that provided a feasible solution to power through the job site and move material, he added.

The ShepCo crew of 20 employees used the Doosan DX140LC-5 crawler excavators and their accompanying wheel loaders to dig and transport the materials to another area of the development. In fact, in a matter of three months, Shepherd's crew moved more than 165,000 cu. yds. of material — approximately 2,650 each day — from the job site.

"With the DX140LC-5, we were also using a variety of buckets to perform this work," he reported. "That included an angle-tilt bucket that can move 45 degrees in either direction."

Shepherd's crew also had to maintain a delicate touch while doing the site preparation work for the new Indian Hill Music complex, as approximately 70 acres of the surrounding land could not be unearthed, due to a state agricultural preservation restriction.

"Having the equipment necessary to overcome the challenges we faced from the weather and the soil conditions has made all the difference," Shepherd said. "The DX140LC-5 has been invaluable to our success."

LiuGong Excavator Aces Versatility Test

In a field test, a forestry contractor based in Franklin, Tenn., used one of his LiuGong 925E excavators, with an FAE mulching head attached, to perform a land-clearing job.

LiuGong North America conducted a field trial last fall to test the versatility of one of its excavators — thanks to the input it received from some of its customers.

A forestry contractor based in Franklin, Tenn., whose specialties include excavation and mulching, used one of his LiuGong 925E excavators, with an FAE mulching head attached, to perform a nearby land-clearing job.

On the face of it, the project did not appear to be too compelling, but as the excavator was not specifically designed for that type of work, the end result was a pleasant surprise to LiuGong. Additionally, the test showcased the innovative ways that many contractors employ LiuGong equipment to get their projects completed successfully.

The 925E is the largest of LiuGong's mid-sized excavators at 28 tons. According to Michael Watt, excavator product manager for LiuGong, the manufacturer worked with the contractor to optimize a 925E for use in the field test.

FAE USA, of Flowery Branch, Ga., provided the hydraulic-driven mulching head for the project. The company manufacturers a full line of attachments for a variety of road construction, agriculture and forestry applications.

"The FAE model we chose, the UMM/EX, was used in the second stage of the land-clearing job, following the primary tree and brush cutting operation," explained Watt. "This mulcher is designed for use with excavators in the 20- to 30-ton class, so we could have mounted it to one of our smaller excavators, but we believed the 925E was ideal for the job."

He added that the 925E is only a little over 11-ft. wide, making it small enough to be easily transportable from job site to job site and for maneuvering around the work area.

"Yet, it's a very aggressive rig, with a 190-horsepower engine and an operating weight of 57,350 pounds," Watt continued. "That means it's big enough to crawl through debris and give its operator a solid, secure platform while working with a 62-inch-wide, 4,585-pound attachment."

The LiuGong 925E's hydraulic capabilities power it with an aggressiveness that's ideal for both the attachment and the application.

"We also made a slight modification to the 925E's hydraulic system to optimize the operation by installing a flow diverter to prioritize the attachment, rather than the movement of the excavator itself," Watt continued. "With this priority given to the attachment, the excavator movement would slow the travel, swing, boom, arm and bucket movements. That's not necessarily a bad thing, since you don't want to be making big, fast moves while the mulcher is in action. In fact, it leads to a smoother and more precise operation."

LiuGong saw the field trial as a complete success. Watt said the customer could have used a skid steer or tractor-mounted unit, but the 925E gave him the advantages of a high-performance, crawler-mounted unit that could be placed and utilized anywhere within its reach. By attaching a mulcher, an operator can place the cutter over obstacles and fences and work on anything within 360 degrees without having to reposition the rig.

"We asked the customer to work it hard, and he did, for over 200 hours on this job," Watt beamed. "It ran all day – every day – while showing no signs of stress or overheating. It handled everything easily. We hadn't marketed the 925E for forestry before this, but it will certainly have forestry applications in the future."

Compact Kubota Battles Force of Nature

The versatile Kubota KX080 removed brush, ancient rock and tree stumps during the construction of a home near Laconia, N.H. Once the home is finished, it will command a spectacular vista of nearby New England mountains and lakes.

As an owner of a compact excavator, Marc Bourgeois was also interested in determining how much versatility he could extract from his machine. To clear a rough piece of land in the Belknap Mountains area of east-central New Hampshire, he spends time putting a Kubota KX080 through its paces when time and weather allow.

Bourgeois' goal is to groom the 50-acre parcel to become his future home. The beautiful property encompasses a 1,600-ft., partially wooded hillside, as well as a farm field and a small pond. Once his home is built, it will afford him a spectacular vista of the nearby New England mountains and lakes, just east of Laconia, N.H.

It is safe to say that he employed an expert eye when selecting the 18,000-lb. Kubota KX080. That expertise has been honed by more than 20 years of operating and selling construction and forestry machines through his company, MB Tractor & Equipment. The full-service dealership has two main offices in nearby Tilton and Plaistow, N.H., plus five other locations in New Hampshire, Maine and Massachusetts.

Back at the hillside property, Bourgeois and a small crew have been tasked with removing a relatively large amount of brush, trees and tons of rock to get the site prepared.

The first thing he did was employ the KX080, with a mulching head, to take out the brush. The results were just as Bourgeois expected.

"That mulcher was just fantastic for clearing brush and the KX080 is wonderful on slopes and reaching down embankments," he said.

The bigger challenge for Bourgeois, though, was removing all the medium- and large-sized rocks sticking out of the ground. Common throughout New England, these surface rocks and boulders were deposited throughout the region eons ago as the ice sheets retreated.

But the Kubota KX080 was able to undo this ancient tangle by routinely plucking and piling the rocks, despite its compact size.

"We had an articulated rock truck there so the Kubota could load the rocks onto that truck with a thumb," he said. "The thumb and the hydraulics on that machine are so smooth that you get into such a good rhythm of grabbing, swinging and loading rock that almost seems like you are using your own arm. It took us weeks to do, but we ended up taking about 4,000 cubic yards of rock from the property."

The Kubota KX080 then turned its attention to assisting in the removal of the trees and large stumps across the homesite acreage.

"With a lot of stump piles on the property, we didn't want to bury them there because they would decompose over the years, which could lead to the ground caving in," Bourgeois explained. "So, we put a hydraulic cone skidder on the Kubota and took all the stumps to be split into smaller wood debris, which could then be burned. It's the cheapest way to dispose of them because otherwise they are too costly and difficult to haul."

Many of the trees were felled and limbed by hand, before being laid down in 25-ft. lengths. That allowed the Kubota compact excavator to lift and place them into the rock truck to haul away.

Bourgeois said the KX080 excavator always impresses him with how nimbly and quickly it maneuvers around the various terrains on his property.

"The fact is that Kubota has probably the best and smoothest hydraulics," he continued. "Their excavators are so user-friendly they will make you feel like a pro when operating them. That's what people like about them. It's not chunky — everything has such a nice motion. It is a well-balanced machine that is quiet, super-dependable and runs spot-on every day with no issues."

As a result, MB Tractors has done very well in selling and renting Kubotas in the region, primarily to contractors, landscape construction people and many large property owners, like Bourgeois, who want a reliable and durable piece of equipment.

Performance, versatility, efficiency, reliability and durability are all attributes that make for a desirable excavator. Based on those traits, every earthmoving contractor in North America can regale an audience with favorite tales like these in which an excavator was often the deciding factor in the success of a project.