L.P. Nurseries Sows Success With Komatsu Skid Steers

Tue August 24, 2004 - Northeast Edition
Bill Elverman

John Pileggi Jr., president of Limekiln Pike Nurseries of Chalfont, PA, is an equipment hound — when something new comes out that affects the landscaping industry, he knows about it, studies it, and asks his distributors for information because he takes pride in having an exceptional knowledge of equipment specifications and capabilities.

At the same time, he’s also a product loyalist — he doesn’t believe in having an equipment fleet sprinkled with numerous manufacturers. So in spring 2003, when Pileggi Jr. decided to break away from his chosen make of skid steers to go with Komatsu, a relative newcomer to the North American skid steer market, it was newsworthy. The deciding factor: a standard two-speed transmission in a lightweight skid steer that fit his trailers and can efficiently power his attachments. Since then, the skid steer has planted seeds of productivity previously unsown by Limekiln Pike Nurseries.

Not Far From the Tree

When Pileggi Jr. joined the family business 24 years ago, it proved the proverbial “apple didn’t fall far from the tree.” His grandfather, Bruno Pileggi, an Italian immigrant, and his father, John Pileggi Sr., built Limekiln Pike Nurseries from a lawn mowing venture to a small nursery to the wholesale landscape supplier (growing on four farms and contract growing with other suppliers) and development contractor it is today.

Pileggi Jr. took the helm of the family business and has grown it through smart business decisions and a carefully selected fleet of equipment built around speed, efficiency and power.

When his forefathers started the company 60 years ago, they didn’t have the luxury of the equipment available today.

“When my dad and my grandfather first started,” said Pileggi Jr., “they would carry a tree out of the field with a piece of burlap. That evolved into the tree cart. And then the machinery started getting better and better with smaller machinery to dig and carry your trees. Nowadays, it’s nothing for one operator [at a nursery] to dig 300 trees per day with a tree spade [on a skid steer] if he’s got a good crew with him. And that’s just one machine.”

Landscapers and nurserymen, as professionals, would be lost without the skid steer. And, Pileggi Jr.’s use of skid steers in his wholesale division and landscape site development work is the perfect case study on their productivity. But the names in the industry have changed, with manufacturers like Komatsu throwing its hat into an already crowded skid steer market. And Komatsu has an advantage.

Just as John Pileggi Jr. doesn’t fall far from his family’s tree, Komatsu’s skid steers don’t fall far from the manufacturer’s more established products. Many of the same technologies and features from its lines of excavators and wheel loaders have been built into its skid steers.

Limekiln Pike Nurseries owns a Komatsu SK815-5 skid steer and regularly uses an SK818-5 vertical-lift arm design skid steer it rents/demos from Midlantic Rents. The company also recently purchased a Komatsu WA65 wheel loader to assist in its operations.

The SK815-5 weighs in at 6,050 lb. (2,744 kg) including a 265-lb. (120 kg) counterweight), and runs at 47 hp (35 kW) with an operating capacity of 1,750 lb. (793 kg). The 6,470-lb. (2,935 kg) SK818-5 skid steer, while slightly heavier, provides the vertical-lift arm design popular in the landscaping industry for loading trucks. Both have garnered Pileggi Jr.’s respect.

“With Komatsu’s standard two-speed skid steers, there’s no other product out there in that size [weight] machine that you can get that speed out of,” he said. “And when we’re unloading street trees, constantly going down the road and unloading tractor trailers, that machine has got to move. Komatsu has built the machine that we need.”

Two Family Lessons in Success

“My grandfather always taught me,” said Pileggi Jr., “if you’re going to go out and work all day long and come home without a dollar in your pocket, you’re better off to stay home, relax with no aggravation and spend a dollar on a cup of coffee and a doughnut. And my father always taught me that, to succeed in business, the name of the game is low overhead. And that is what made us who we are today.”

More than just family sayings, the meaning is evident in the way Pileggi Jr. runs his job sites — with no time to relax, with little aggravation, and with a careful eye on his company’s overhead. With all that in mind, skid steers like the SK815-5 are the most critical tools in ensuring his productivity. The 10 mph (16.1 kmh) travel speeds of the SK815-5 and the SK818-5 help Limekiln Pike plant 200 to 250 trees per day. One recent job saw 682 street trees planted in three days between the two Komatsu skid steers and a wheel loader.

The company’s system involves a highly orchestrated use of employees, equipment and haulage materials.

Without giving away trade secrets, Pileggi Jr. explained: “One skid steer will be drilling holes [with a 30-in. auger bit] and carrying trees,” he said. “The other will be loading mulch into our Ford F450s or Isuzu crew cabs to spot throughout the site as needed. Basically, our whole operation can be run by using small skid steers, everything under CDL, being towed behind our trucks.”

For landscape contractors who struggle to find qualified CDL drivers and don’t have the time or resources to put workers through training, it makes sense to buy a machine that brings your trailer’s weight below CDL requirements —10,000-lb. trailer, 26,000-lb. (4,536 kg, 11,793 kg) combo in Pennsylvania.

A major reason the SK815-5 was purchased by Limekiln Pike Nurseries was that, between the trailer, the skid steer, the bucket, fork and auger attachments and a Toro Dingo (also used to drill holes for trees), the whole ensemble weighed less than the combination weight limit of 26,000 lb. (11,793 kg), including truck, trailer, machines attachments and crew. The inherent drawback to a smaller machine, however, is usually less power. Not so with the SK815-5, a machine that performs well through its powerful, compact design and technologies borrowed from Komatsu’s larger construction equipment, like HydrauMind hydraulics.

“You want power in a skid steer, but you also want it to be lightweight. The SK815-5 has got plenty of power for what we need,” said Pileggi, Jr. “There has not been one hole that it has not drilled. The hydraulic power is amazing. Other manufacturers right now are building all new machines with more power and all-wheel steering, but you know what? They’re too heavy to move around. You can’t move them under a 10,000-lb. limit. You can’t pull them unless you combo your truck [higher tag prices] or if you have a CDL. So I decided to buy Komatsu.”

Komatsu’s HydrauMind Hydraulics and APC

Well known throughout its line of construction equipment, Komatsu’s HydrauMind hydraulics, with its closed load sensing system (CLSS), has been outfitted to its skid steers to allow for smooth and powerful simultaneous movements (boom, bucket, etc.) and precise control and positioning of the bucket.

The SK815-5 operates all of Limekiln Pike Nurseries’ attachments with ease. Standard hydraulic flow on the SK815-5 is 16.1 gpm but can be upgraded to a Super Flow hydraulic system with maximum flow of 26 gpm for high-flow attachments, such as cold planers and stump grinders.

“Our SK815-5 does not have the high flow [Super Flow] offered by Komatsu,” said Pileggi Jr. “But it’s got a lot of auguring power. The skid steer drills fabulously. We bought high flow pumps for our skid steers, and this thing [the SK815-5] stands right up to those machines, even without the high flow.”

Also unique to Komatsu’s skid steer product line is automatic power control (APC). This feature allows for the machine to operate at full engine power during all phases of the job without concern of the engine stalling out —giving the operator confidence and full control over the machine at all times, helping increase productivity.

Joystick vs. Foot Pedals — and Operator Comfort

The proportional pressure control (PPC) joystick, with its low effort design aids in reducing operator fatigue. The PPC joystick controls both travel and loader operations and offers extremely fine metering and control. It has proven popular with both Pileggi Jr. and his operators.

“The joystick controls are great,” he said. “Our guys love them. With the old foot pedal design, you’d be running those pedals all day. If it’s a damp day, your knees would hurt. The joystick controls work well.”

The SK815-5 also offers a comfortable operating environment with an efficient use of space that makes operation easy. The gauge panel, warning lights and indicator lights are all positioned in easy view on the operator restraint bar, making monitoring machine functions effortless. All instrumentation sits within peripheral view of the operator, and function switches are placed within easy reach of the operator for comfort and convenience.

“It’s a good machine,” said Emilio Martinez, skid steer operator, Limekiln Pike Nurseries. “It’s got the power. It’s got the speed. It’s got the digging power — and the comfort is great.”

The SK815-5’s maintenance and reliability also has impressed Pileggi Jr.

“Maintenance is simple,” he said. “You hit a button and the hood opens right up, and everything [all service items] is right there. And if something did go wrong, Midlantic has someone here within an hour. Sean Kosier [Pileggi Jr.’s sales representative at Midlantic] has done everything possible to keep us happy. He’s a fabulous person with a fabulous company.”

Success Through the Generations

When asked what sets his company apart, Pileggi Jr. answered simply “speed of project execution and quality materials.” His company, without the benefit of advertisement, is known throughout the Delaware Valley as a company that gets work done quickly and gets developers released from their bonds fast. Pileggi Jr. reported.

“We’ve never failed an inspection yet.

“Everything I’ve learned, I’ve learned from my father and my grandfather,” said Pileggi Jr. ’In fact, my father’s still out there, still giving me pointers, constantly reminding me to watch my overhead. I learned to work hard from the first time I strapped on my coveralls at the age of five, and it’s all paid off. It’s been rewarding. My father often says he wishes my grandfather were here to see what the business has grown into.”