Ditch Witch XT850 Works Like a Charm for NY Contractor

Tue March 08, 2005 - Northeast Edition
Construction Equipment Guide

Stienstra Electric Corp., Goshen, NY, provides residential electrical services, including wiring for new homes and service upgrades to existing structures, outdoor lighting, and power and lights for in-ground and above-ground swimming pools and spas.

Many projects require installation of underground power cable, and Stienstra Electric handles that task with its own equipment and personnel.

The company’s president, Gregory J. Stienstra, is experienced in excavation work and sees no need to turn it over to a subcontractor.

“I operated an excavating company for a time, but determined that I could be more profitable specializing in electrical work, which permits the use of much smaller, less-costly excavation equipment,” he said.

In summer 2003, Stienstra purchased a new Ditch Witch 1330 walk-along trencher and a new Ditch Witch XT850 excavator-tool carrier, which features an excavator on one end and twin lift arms for mounting interchangeable attachments that extend from the other end. In fact, it was the first of the new models to arrive at the Ditch Witch dealership serving his area, Ditch Witch of the Hudson Valley.

The XT850 quickly became the pride of Stienstra’s equipment fleet.

“The XT850 is the best machine I have ever owned,” Stienstra said. “It is small enough to get into tight places, and you can dig parallel trench beside the tracks. And you can dig two trenches at 45-degree angles, join them into a single trench, and keep on digging.”

Much of work the XT850 performs is for wiring in-ground and above-ground swimming pools and spas, which consist of a large part of Stienstra Electric’s workload.

For above-ground pools, Stienstra usually installs a filter pump circuit controlled by a weatherproof timer in a PVC enclosure and a circuit for one weather proof GFI receptacle located 10 to 20 ft. (3 to 6. 1 m) from the pool. Bonding of pool frame and wall to pump uses No. 8 solid copper wire with green insulation. Trenches usually are 40 to 60 ft. (12.2 to 18.3 m), and are dug with the 1330 unless the ground is rocky.

“For in-ground pools, we install an eight-circuit rain-tight main lug panel mounted on three-quarter-inch thick 24- by -32 inch pressure-treated plywood stained gray to match the electrical equipment,” Stienstra said. “The plywood is fastened to two one-and-a-half-inch galvanized posts. We core drill a three-inch hole in the concrete pad and cement the post in place.”

One-inch diameter PVC conduit is buried from the house panel to the pool equipment with 80-amp copper conductors to supply 120/240 power to the panel. Some customers also have a heat pump installed, requiring a 40- to 50-amp circuit.

“We install two weatherproof GFI receptacles — one next to the panel and one 10 to 20 feet from the pool,” Stienstra said. “Most have lighting in the pool. Usually fiber optic cable to pool with 3 to 5 lights supplied from one control box. But some have 12-volt 300-watt lights. Both are located about 18 inches below the water line.”

On most jobs, the XT850 digs trench from the house to the location of the pool equipment and the 1330 unit trenches to receptacles and pool lights. The XT850 backfills trench and when necessary moves soil or other material around the site. The average trench per job is 150 ft. (45.7 m).

“We also use the XT850 to trench for underground electric services,” Stienstra said. “Because the XT850 can trench outside of the tracks, it can be used to excavate along the perimeters of existing buildings to install or repair footing drains.”

The XT850 excavates similar to a mini-excavator, including offset digging, and can do a second task with the tool-carrier components. More than 70 quick-change attachments are available.

Offset excavating is accomplished with a dual-pivot arrangement. The excavator boom’s pivot point is at the front of the machine where the boom connects to the tractor. The second pivot is near the center of the machine beneath the floor of the operator’s station, under the seat. It rotates the boom assembly, including the boom swing pivot.

To offset dig, the assembly is rotated in one direction from the center pivot, and the boom is swung at the front pivot point in the opposite direction. Maximum excavator sweep is 260 degrees. The operator’s seat rotates to front- and rear-facing positions, depending on which component is being used.

The Ditch Witch XT850 is 89 in. (226 cm) wide, overall length with excavator in stowed position is 120 in. (304.8 cm), and it weighs 3,980 lbs. (1,805.3 kg), including standard excavator bucket. The machine travels on turf-friendly rubber tracks or optional “aggressive” rubber tracks for unimproved terrain. It has only four-psi ground pressure. The unit has a zero turning radius and can move around job sites at speeds up to 4 mph (6.4 kmh) in either forward or reverse. A liquid-cooled diesel engine rated at 26 gross hp (19.3 kW) provides power. The XT850, selected attachments and Ditch Witch trailer is less than 10,000 lbs. (4,536 kg), permitting the machine and selected attachments to be pulled by a driver not required to have a commercial license.

A 13-hp (9.7 kW) gasoline engine powers the Ditch Witch 1330 trencher. It has a hydraulic digging chain drive and can trench to depths of 36 in. (91.4 cm). The machine is fully self-propelled, and the digging boom is raised and lowered hydraulically. Its compact size permits it to slip through a 36-in. (91.4 cm) yard gate. Color-coded controls are easy to identify and use.

Stienstra is planning to increase the efficiency of his underground construction operations with the addition of several attachments for the XT850.

“In 2005, we want to add a six-way blade, 15-inch auger, and six-inch-wide trenching attachment,” he said. “We will continue to use the 1330 for digging short trenches and working in tight spots.”

Stienstra also plans to purchase a 5-ton (4.5 t) Ditch Witch trailer that can transport the XT850 and attachments, the 1330 and hand tools. With the addition of racks, the same trailer also can carry conduit.

For the 2005 spring season, Stienstra plans to use the XT850 for installations of approximately 100 above-ground pools, most of them for Royal Pools and Spas, New Hampton, NY.