Small Illinois Contractor Moves Dirt for Big Jobs

Tue November 22, 2005 - Midwest Edition
Construction Equipment Guide

It’s a wise businessman who can find his niche market and be successful in it. Such is the case with Joe France, owner of France Bulldozing, Astoria, IL.

France Bulldozing is a four-man company that specializes in small earth-moving jobs. Besides Joe, employees include his son Brandon, one full-time equipment operator and one part-timer.

While France Bulldozing may not be seen as a big player with high profile jobs, the company’s dedication to service is recognized as second to none.

“We deliver quality, experience and the guarantee that goes on any job we do,” France said. “It’s not a written guarantee –– but we’ll make sure everything is exactly as promised when we do the job. If we don’t, word gets around pretty quick. And if we do, it gets around pretty quickly, too.

“We’ve been in business since 1989,” he explained. “Basically, we just started out working for farmers, doing conservation work and such. Once in a while we will work a big job, but we are really known for the smaller jobs we can do.”

France Bulldozing operates within a 65-mi. radius of its west central Illinois location.

“We really have never set any boundaries,” France said. “If it’s a big enough job to move for, we’ll go after it and take it.”

As expected from the company name, dozers are a staple in the company’s equipment fleet. In fact, France still has one of the first dozers it purchased 15 years earlier –– a Komatsu D58 –– and it is still running the machine.

“This 58 will be here when everything else is gone. I’m just going to keep doctoring it up to keep it going,” France said.

Even though France has a sentimental fondness for his old machine, he is no slouch at making new equipment purchases, changing out excavators every two years and dozers slightly less often.

He recently purchased a Komatsu PC200 excavator and a Komatsu D61PX-15 dozer.

“It was time to make an upgrade and get a dozer that has more comfort features for the operator,” France said. “I wanted a machine to keep my operator out of the weather, because the hours get real long, and we work in all conditions. Plus, our dozers had a lot of hours on them.”

Increased Power and Productivity

France chose the mid-size Komatsu D61PX-15 for its increased horsepower, maneuverability and operator comfort features. The D61PX-15 pushes with 155 hp at 1,800 rpm and has an operating weight of 36,420 lbs.

France Bulldozing typically uses the D61 for dirt moving, although it will be used for clearing as needed. The large power angle tilt blade offers a capacity of 4.4 cu. yds. Large multi-shank rippers capable of ripping more than 2 ft. below the surface add an extra dimension of productivity making the D61 effective in even the hardest, rockiest conditions.

“The D61 is powerful enough to tackle big jobs, yet small enough to provide a good finish grade,” Brandon said.

The dozer was recently put through its paces backfilling and grading a waterway and dry dam in a farmer’s rotating corn and soybean field.

“It’s faster, more accurate and more economical to run,” added Brandon, who estimates he typically spends 10- to 12-hour days in the cab. “Its cycle times are very fast.”

Ease of Use Keeps the Operator Happy

The D61PX-15’s performance is enhanced by Komatsu’s Hydrostatic Steering System (HSS), which eliminates the conventional steering clutch and offers faster, more agile movement when dozing –– ultimately keeping more material on the blade and therefore increasing productivity.

Powered by an independent hydraulic pump with engine power transmitted to both tracks, the outside track is allowed to move faster than the inside track for smooth, continuous turns. A larger steering pump and motor capacity allows for the minimum turning radius –– 5.9 ft. –– along with greater steering forces, ultimately keeping more material on the blade.

“The nicest features are the steering and the short turn radius. The blade control is really nice, and very easy to operate,” Brandon said.

Further aiding maneuverability, auto shift and auto down shift features monitor engine speed, travel gear and travel speed, downshifting when travel speeds are reduced to maintain optimum speed for efficient operation.

“This dozer is easy to steer and quick to respond to changes in ground conditions,” said Brandon. “We’ve rented another manufacturer’s machines in the past, but no one wanted to run them. The visibility was terrible and the blade controls were real stiff.”

Komatsu D61 dozers are outfitted with single lever joystick controls, giving the machines simple and precise maneuverability and blade control in any application. Its Palm Command Control System (PCCS) is ergonomically designed and allows the operator to maintain a relaxed posture without sacrificing control. The blade control joystick utilizes the Proportional Pressure Control (PPC) valve, and when combined with HSS allows for fine control of machine operations.

“The Komatsu’s steering, easy shifting and the quickness –– I really like how they’ve got that put together. This is the best dozer I’ve ever driven,” said Brandon.

Both Brandon and Joe agree that comfort and ease of operation play large parts in increased productivity.

“There is lots of leg room,” Brandon said. “Visibility is good and all the controls are within easy reach.”

The hexagonal shape of Komatsu’s dozer cab, designed with large, tinted glass windows, provides more room for the operator and expands front, side and rear visibility, increasing comfort and safety. Internal air pressure and air filters prevent dust from entering the cab, and new cab damper mounts suppress noise and vibration when traveling over rough terrain.

A newly designed, fully adjustable, high back suspension seat offers improved fore and aft sliding rails, while a new suspension spring provides increased strength and rigidity. The seat also is adjustable 15 degrees to the right for increased visibility during reverse operations.

Customer Service Counts

France has been buying his equipment from Roland Machinery for nearly 15 years.

“When I started in business and I needed a new dozer, another supplier told me I would have to wait a year for delivery,” France explained. “So I drove straight from there to Roland in Springfield [IL] and I had a new dozer sitting in the shop a week later. That’s how it all got started.

“We’ve been with Roland since January of ’92, and bought several PC200 excavators through Roland — as well as one other D58, and a D61 and a D65,” France added.

The Frances know that good service is the key to retaining customers.

“That’s the best part about Roland,” added Brandon. “If we need something for a day, or a month, or six months … it doesn’t matter. They’ll get it to us, and fast. The service and the quality of the machines are the reasons we stick with Roland and Komatsu.”