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John Deere Goes to Work For Ohio Excavating Firm

Tue May 09, 2006 - Midwest Edition
Construction Equipment Guide

Started more than 65 years ago as a gravel hauling company, Miller Bros. Excavating has grown to one of the top earthmovers in Ohio. The firm branched into excavating in 1942 and has continued to expand, providing services to residential and commercial customers in a 70-mi. radius around Dayton.

However, there is such a thing as becoming too big. With approximately 110 pieces of equipment and more than 100 trucks, the size of Miller’s fleet and equipment has grown to the point where it risked outgrowing the lower end of the earthmoving market — the farm ponds and gas stations.

Not Anymore

When Miller Bros. acquired its new John Deere 850J LT dozer, President Tom Miller and his team discovered that the right dozer could do the work of three machines. Clear and grub a site, pull a scraper to excavate, drop the scraper and cut the grade, then tow a roller for compaction.

On the money side of things, the 850J LT caused Miller’s equipment-moving costs to drop because it was transporting one machine instead of three. Miller also saw its small-job production jump as operating costs simultaneously went down. All of which helped explain why the folks who do its accounting are in such good moods these days.

“It’s a Swiss Army knife of a machine,” said Miller, whose grandfather started the business in 1935. “Because of the size of the machines in our fleet, it was getting tough to compete for the smaller jobs, but our 850J has changed that.”

Previously, Miller was using a number of rubber-tracked tractors to pull scrapers.

“If we ran them on rocks, we would have a lot of track problems, which drove up operating costs,” said Ryan Thomas, Miller’s equipment manager. “We wanted something that could do small jobs with short hauls. With this 850J, one machine can do the work of three. And I would estimate that the 850J costs 30-percent less to operate.”

On wet projects, the 850J can mean a full day of work for an operator, instead of half a day. With a motorscraper, an operator could work only half a day to bring wet dirt onto the new home pads. But with the 850J pulling a scraper, the operator can haul wet dirt to the pads in the morning, then drop the scraper and spend the afternoon grading with the blade.

Thomas especially likes how the 850J has decreased transportation costs.

“In Ohio, it’s getting harder and harder to move [equipment],” said Thomas. “An average move costs $600 to $700 per machine. That means it only makes sense financially if it works on that job site at least six weeks, so it’s a lot less expensive to move. The 850J is perfect for smaller jobs like gas stations and farm ponds.”

As a field service technician of Tiger Equipment, then Nortrax, Thomas became quite familiar with John Deere equipment. The staff at Miller Bros. appreciated his years of assistance and expertise enough to offer a full-time position, where he has been for the past three and-a-half years.

His tenure at Nortrax established a strong relationship that sales representative Chris Seta holds valuable because of Thomas’ helpful feedback.

“That level of communication is extremely important in monitoring a business relationship that requires continual adjustments,” Seta said.

Production With the 850J

“It depends on the cycle times,” said Thomas. “We haul 17 cubic yards per load, and it takes us about a minute to load the 17 yards. On one job we could load and unload in three minutes. The ideal haul length for the 850J is between 300 and 1,200 feet.”

“Peak productivity is between 700 and 800 feet,” added Miller.

Improved maneuverability also is a big hit with Miller’s crews.

“You can get around a tight job very well,” said Thomas. “We thought it would be like bringing in a train, but that 850J is really good in close quarters.”

Hydraulic controls on the 850J have been adjusted to let the blade controls regulate the hydraulics on its pull-type scrapers. All the operator does is flip a toggle switch to change from blade control to scraper control.

The hydrostatic drive on the 850J makes it especially easy to run because the operator doesn’t need to change gears.

“You just set it at maximum speed, drop the pan, and the dozer will slow down and apply the power to the pan,” explained Thomas. “The engine speed stays up, so your pan hydraulics are fast and responsive.”

Operator Mike Couch agreed, and recalled an 11,000-cu.-yd. project in Tipp City, OH — a Dayton suburb.

“With the 850J, you could go into the cut top speed, drop the pan, and the hydrostatic drive automatically would slow the machine down,” said Couch. “It gave us a nice even cut. “It’s got plenty of power. And I like the long-track design. Plus, this machine grades better, and you can feel the dozer working better than a high-track machine.”

Miller bought the company’s first John Deere grader in the 1960s.

Since then, a major share of Miller’s fleet is John Deere equipment, including 21 excavators, 10 wheel loaders, two dozers, and an articulated truck. It appreciates the quality of service it gets from its John Deere dealer.

As an example, Miller cited a service call made to Nortrax in the fall of 2004. The company was on a project for sporting goods retailer Gander Mountain when an operator broke a dipper stick on its 450C LC excavator. The break occurred on a Sunday afternoon, and by mid-morning Monday, the excavator was back in action.

“There was a structural failure in the stick,” said Miller. “At about 6 a.m. on Monday, the mechanics took the stick from one excavator and put it on our machine. Nortrax’s product support has been great.” CEG

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