At first glance, and even from an experienced contractor’s eye, the general impression is “sure, that’s just a skid-steer on tracks . . . right.” Nope, not necessarily, for quite a few reasons, and most of those will boil down to the economics. Of course, compact track loaders and skid-steer loaders can certainly perform a variety of the same tasks. But, for anyone who might be considering the option of making either one a part of their fleet of equipment, they need to evaluate the costs against the productivity and the versatility in each particular application the machine is tasked to handle. Each type of loader can ordinarily undertake a particular task, but each one will surely excel in its own way, and in its own specialized construction environment.
For any construction manager with a job to do, selecting the right machine becomes a numbers game, and any amount of experience in the business of moving materials teaches that in order to manage both profitability and matching the right machinery to the right job is critical. In most cases, the conditions on the ground, such as hard surfaces like concrete or rock, will almost always point to using a skid-steer loader.
Conversely, a track-steer loader can cost up to 25% more per hour of use over a skid-steer loader in situations such as demolition or road building due to extreme track wear. And while track-steer loaders are increasingly in demand in more diverse applications, there are certainly jobsites not really suitable for compact tracked equipment. Ground or site conditions overlaid with larger aggregate, rocks and debris can seriously shorten track life, which makes a skid-steer loader with severe-duty tires the better choice for these types of environments.
Price versus Capability
When making comparisons between skid-steer loaders and track-steer loaders, one obviously needs to evaluate machines with similar specifications, such as tires and bucket sizing. Operational capacities are also rated in a different way. Skid-steer loaders are typically rated at 50% of tip capacity, while track-steer loaders are rated at 35%. Next to this is the difference in initial cost of purchase, which puts a track-steer loader in the range of 20% to 35% more than a like-sized skid-steer loader because of the increased pricing of the undercarriage components. And while this is only one part of the purchasing formula, there is still the real value of exactly what the machine can and will do, and where it is tasked to do it.
The general consensus seems to be that beyond the up-front costs in purchasing, there are quite a few features and advantages with a track-steer loader. Operational costs on a per hour basis might be higher due to track wear and extra fuel use, but it also translates into getting more work done in the same hour. Application decisions made on basic cost analysis can be deceptive. From a broader perspective, with a track-steer loader it is feasible to move 25% to 50% more material in a given timeframe, and they can operate quite effectively on softer ground or in wet conditions that would otherwise have put most jobs at a standstill.
Based on consumer feedback, track-steer loader ownership and operational costs are generally estimated at $35 per hour of operation, with track replacement running at 4% to 6% of that total, and certainly depending upon the types of jobs and job environments. The higher costs for a track-steer loader, and based on the applications, are offset tremendously if, by comparison, a skid-steer loader is completely incapable of even getting into the jobsite, much less being able to adequately do the job even if it could.
Even though the skid-steer loader is less expensive up-front, the track-steer loader is typically more cost-effective operationally over the long term. Because both types of loaders execute the tasks using equivalent attachments and applications, the primary advantage a track-steer loader possesses is its far greater maneuvering capability in adverse site environments. Track-steer loaders offer exceptional performance in muddy or snowy conditions, as opposed to skid-steers, which would be unable to perform at all. Given these realities, along with greater productivity and versatility benefits, the higher operating costs can be factored out with good operation and machine maintenance. Since time is money, a track-steer loader generally pays for itself in roughly 18 months.
Tire and Track Cost Comparisons
Skid-steer tires are considered to be the single most expensive replacement component, putting a decent general-purpose tire at around $150 to $300, depending on size and type, bringing the total to anywhere from $600 and $1,200. Naturally, severe-duty or solid rubber tires are costly, but they obviously extend tire life in abrasive or adverse ground conditions. These can run up to $800 to $900 apiece, or $3,200 to $3,600 per set. Even though the initial costs are higher, they will bring the cost-per-hour down due to much longer replacement cycles.
The overall life of a tire is factored against surface conditions, along with the degree of ‘skid’ steering on those surfaces. The standard flotation, lug-style tires will quit long before severe-duty tires, often as short a time as several hundred hours, while others could last beyond 1,000 hours. Skid-steer loaders working primarily in dirt can get as high as 1,200 hours on a set, while machines working in proximity to milling equipment may see only a 100 hour cycle.
Just as tires on a skid-steer loader, rubber tracks are a track-steer loader’s greatest cost replacement element. Next to this, replacing carriage parts, like rollers and idlers, must be factored in as well. Again, these items send the ownership and operational expense of track-steer loaders much higher than the skid-steer counterpart. Without factoring productivity into the cost comparison, tracks for track-steer loader are going to run from $2,500 to $3,500 for a set. Nevertheless, tracks provide much longer service life than most tires, lasting an estimated 2 1/2 times longer than tires on a skid-steer loader in an identical environment, and run by the same operator.
In addition, the more experience an operator has, the life span will be extended accordingly. If all other factors are equal, tracks traveling over gravel and hard pack environments would quit in half the time versus tracks working in softer ground. These same issues apply to both tires and tracks. The average life span of a track is around 1,200 and 1,600 hours for general-purpose, general-use equipment. Tracks used on dirt or soft clay may exceed 2,000 hours. On hard ground, it may decrease to the 800 to 1,200 hour range, while regular operation on concrete or asphalt could reduce track life even more, to 400 to 800 hours. Track life is usually based on three primary factors: operator skill on the machine, the type of environment, and good track tensioning and carriage maintenance. For a track-steer loader, the third factor is the most important, and can represent 15% to 20% of the total operational costs, but can be effectively managed if the operator cares for and maintains the tracks and undercarriage, is properly trained on various applications and conditions, and really knows how to operate the machine.
The final point is, and from an economic reference, track and tire wear is the prime indicator for when track-steer loaders should be utilized instead of skid-steer loaders, or vice-versa. There may be cost differences between tracks and tires, but basically, they both wear out. A good rule of thumb would be, when rubber meets rock, rock always wins. So it is not really about rubber tracks or tires, or skid-steer over track-steer. It is about knowing how to operate and maintain either machine, and in the environment it was designed best to work in. In the end, it boils down to moving that pile of rock or dirt from point A to point B, in the shortest amount of time, and at the lowest cost per ton over the long haul. Everything else, is just down-time.
You knew late last night the storm was on its way, moving like a freight train, and showing no mercy. Sure enough, you wake up the next morning, dare to look outside, and surprise, surprise, it's time to shovel the driveway again. There’s four hours or more that you know you didn’t have on your agenda, breaking your back, tossing that frozen rain far enough out of the way just to be able to get the car down the driveway, and back to civilization. You know there’s got to be an easier way, and there surely is. It’s called an ATV.
Here’s a few ideas for anyone thinking about hanging up that snow shovel back where it belongs, and giving this amazing machine a try the next time old man winter decides to leave his calling card on your driveway. Just some thoughts on choosing the right machine, the right plow, and some accessories, along with a few plowing techniques to get the job done in no time, and without putting your back in traction.
Choosing a Good Machine
Speaking of traction, it doesn’t require rocket science to know that when it comes down to moving snow with any machine, good traction is an absolute necessity, and that means having four-wheel drive is a must for plowing snow. Unless you’ve got a friend who owns a truck rigged with a plow, and you know he’s already pretty busy at the moment, in most cases, getting your hands on a good ATV with four-wheel drive is going to be the machine of choice. A few of these models even have a locking front differential that will certainly improve overall traction when it’s needed. Some might even come with power steering to dramatically ease up on the maneuvering effort when plowing snow, so you won’t even break out in a sweat. This is particularly important because of the added weight from bolting on the snow plow kit on the front.
Choosing a Good Plow Attachment
For anyone living in an environment that happens to see a good accumulation of the white stuff over the winter, buying an ATV will prove to be a wise investment. You may even be able to recoup the cost of the whole set-up by going into the plowing business, at least in your own neighborhood. This of course will certainly prove to most naysayers, including your spouse, that it was a darn good idea.
As far as choices go, ATV snow plow blades come in a wide variety of costs, shapes, sizes, and even colors, beginning with 42” blades and on up to 60” DOT-style, and even V-shape designs. While the selection process can be a bit confusing, more than likely, your ATV dealer will have a few solid recommendations for fitting the right plow attachment for whatever model ATV will suit your purposes and budget. Without getting too technical, the rule of thumb is that, for any ATV with less than 500cc engine displacement, a plow less than 50” is best. For bigger engines, a 60” blade or larger might suffice. Bear in mind that most ATVs are roughly 48” inches wide, therefore to plow a path of equal width to the ATV, a 50” blade is required. And don’t forget, when the blade is angled, the plow path will be smaller than whatever the plow width is.
Choosing the Lift Mechanism
Thankfully, there are three choices to consider for the process of raising and lowering the plow attachment - by hand, with a winch, or an electronic actuator. Obviously, a manual lift mechanism is going to be most affordable option, however it is also going to be the most inconvenient and cumbersome of systems to operate, and certainly tough to lift, especially depending on the weight factors, including the snow stuck on the blade. The winch-powered lifting mechanism is a great choice, primarily because there are many other applications that call for needing one, and it is usually a must-have option for an ATV anyway. That leaves the most expensive method, the electronic actuator, which utilizes an auxiliary motor that lifts and lowers the plow blade with a toggle switch. This choice is really a no-brainer because it not only simplifies the whole process, but keeps the winch cable, and you, from getting worn out.
Plow Parts and Accessories
Oh yeah, everybody loves accessories, even when it comes to plowing snow with an ATV. There are blade markers for lining up the edge of the plow blade to avoid hidden obstacles, allowing the operator to better steer the edge of the blade. Then there are foot skids that act as anti-scalp devices for plow blades, which keep the blade from digging too deep and floating across the line of travel. Then there are steel or plastic wear bars that add strength to the blade to cut a better path. For a more effective job, there are end shields that decrease the quantity of snow that shoots from the side of the blade. And don’t forget the rubber flaps that keep flying snow from hitting you in the face, or passing over the blade to cover the radiator.
And back to the all-important traction issue. If your ATV is short on power, you may want to think about getting some chains for the tires to give the rear wheels more traction from slipping in slick snow and ice conditions. Better yet, you can consider adding some tire studs. You could try putting some small sheet metal screws on an old set of tires just for winter use. A smarter idea would be to get some tire studs that are specifically made for the job, and for your ATV tires, like Maxigrip Tire Studs. Last but not least is a pull-behind broadcast spreader you can fill with salt or ice melt to keep ice from forming after you’re done with the job. This is a great idea for when the snow piles start to melt onto your driveway.
The Plowing Process
The best education you can get is by watching someone who has experience plowing snow under their belt. Of course, you’re probably brave enough to learn on your own, but watching a pro do it might give you some pointers, and save you some time. In the end, the idea is to learn what you shouldn’t do. So here are some pointers.
Keep it slow – Speed can be a dangerous thing because the blade could unexpectedly snag on any hidden rock or curb and force you and the ATV to a bone-jarring halt. Drive at a slow and steady pace that efficiently pushes snow where you want it to go, while not damaging the blade or overburdening the engine. Your speed will really be set by the traction the ATV is capable of maintaining against the type of snow being plowed.
Without ruining your lawn or landscaping, try to maneuver the snow beyond the side-edge of your driveway. The idea here is that when the things warm up, the run-off won’t seep back on your driveway to become ice. Also, try not to push all the snow to the end of the drive, especially if it's wet, sticky, and heavy. For one thing, you do not want to build a huge, densely packed wall of snow, and the ATV will suffer for it in the process.
There are certainly a number of plowing techniques regarding a plan of attack or a choice of directional paths, but a simple ‘down and back’ method may be worth a try. It generally creates far less snow build- up in one concentrated area. Another method is to push in one direction to the edge of the drive and stop, reverse the ATV and start a new path in the same direction. Always remember to lift the blade off the ground before reversing. Then there is the art of lifting the blade as you get near the pile. Learning this tactic gives you a few key benefits. It lifts the snow to a higher grade, and allows you to push it further off the driveway. It also keeps you from careening into the wall of snow and damaging the blade. This technique is much easier with the winch-assist or electric-lift mechanisms, which simply means mastering the toggle switch.
Always assume that nothing will work perfectly. No matter which plow system you select, remember to carefully examine all attachments before, during, and after each time out. Inspect for things like loose parts or cable damage, even while you’re plowing, and watch for ice build-up, which can make the whole process more difficult. A good ATV will make any snow plowing job almost something to look forward to, never mind all the other tasks the blade might be suited for around your property, like farming tasks, cleaning stables, or just pushing dirt, sand or rock around your next landscaping project. An ATV with a plow blade an exceptionally versatile tool to have around. It will save you loads of time, trouble, and a whole lot of aches and pains, and you may even forget where you put that snow shovel.
The history of the ubiquitous backhoe began way back in 1835, when its origins grew out of the use of heavy excavating equipment. Its ancestor was called a ‘dipper shovel’, which was designed to unearth hard soil and rock. It was both steam-powered and mounted on rails just like locomotives, and was moved around mine and excavation sites for loading materials into rail cars and even horse-drawn trucks. The make-up of the dipper shovel consisted of a lifting arm called the boom, a ‘dipper stick’ beam for pivoting out from the boom, and of course the digging bucket attached to the end of the dipper stick.
Over the following decades, the dipper shovel was modified in numerous configurations to resemble the now very recognizable piece of present-day construction equipment. Booms were altered, various types of attachments were added, the weight and balance ratios were modified, and the use of tires and tracks were configured to adapt to the specific job specifications. Along with the invention of gasoline and diesel-powered engines, construction equipment in general, and the backhoe specifically, became that much more versatile and adaptable.
The Building of America
The backhoe soon became an integral component of the massive efforts to construct the expanding network of roads and highways across the country, and the ever-growing underground utility and drainage operations. However, from the early 1900s until the late 1950s, the backhoe remained a rather massive piece of equipment, and the use of agricultural tractors were better suited for smaller, restricted access construction needs. Task specific kits were created to adapt these tractors to construction chores, but suitable connections or attachment points were not readily available, and construction sites were proving to be unsafe environments for both the tractor’s limited design capability as well as for the operators. Besides, these workhorses of the American farmlands were desperately needed for the agricultural demands of a rapidly expanding and hungry population.
The Construction Boom
After the close of 1945, America realized that, along with increased food production, millions of homes were needed for soldiers coming back from World War II and Korea. A explosion of residential development during the late 1950s created another push for modifications in backhoe design. Between 1945 and mid-1955, more than ten million new homes were brought on-line. By 1958, the volume of building projects set a new record at $49.2 billion, which then jumped to $73 billion by 1959. Because of this historic level of growth in residential and commercial construction, contractors across the country needed ways to save time, become more efficient, and get far more work accomplished with less equipment and fewer workers. They were faced with enormous demands for excavation of footings for home and office foundations, trenching, backfilling duties for drainage and utilities, and of course the land-grading and development plans required much more compact equipment capable of performing a multitude of construction-related jobs. While there was a massive supply of hard-working men armed with picks and shovels, what the country really needed was a better backhoe.
The Case Corporation and Elton Long
In 1957, a retired engineer from the Case Corporation named Elton Long virtually re-invented the concept of the backhoe into the present-day configuration. Earlier that year, Case had acquired American Tractor Corp out of Churubusco, Indiana. They were a small but successful company that was developing a hydraulically powered backhoe to attach to its crawler equipment. American Tractor had begun manufacturing crawlers back in 1949, and came up with numerous advancements such as the three-point hitch and the torque converter.
After the buy-out of American Tractor was finalized, Long and his team brought in company-wide resources to complete the development of the first truly integrated loader/backhoe under an extremely tight schedule. By early spring, Long and Case had successfully fused these pioneering technologies together to create the Case 320, which became the first fully integrated loader/backhoe manufactured and supported by a single company. Their efforts effectively combined the functional necessity of both the loader and the backhoe, utilizing rubber tires for increased mobility on various terrains, a more advanced swing mechanism for the boom, and front and rear buckets for specialized, close-quarters work.
The new machine was very compact and proved to be extremely easy to maneuver, able to perform small jobs previously done by hand very quickly and efficiently. It could work around all kinds of obstructions and very tight confines and conditions. Attachments such as pallet forks and crane booms for the loader extended the machine’s capabilities enormously, which were the early keys to its long record of success. It became, without any doubt, a ground-breaking development in the construction industry. By adding the loader to the opposing end of the machine from the backhoe bucket, the weight and balance became much more stabilized when the backhoe was being operated. Similarly, the backhoe bucket’s teeth could be driven into to the ground to allow the machine to ‘anchor’ as the loader elevated heavy objects or materials.
The First Diesel-Powered Backhoe
The implementation of diesel power, enhanced hydraulic linkage designs, along with four-wheel drive and other features were major evolutionary components added to the backhoe over the next three decades. In 1959, Case introduced the first diesel-powered loader/backhoe, the Case 420. By the mid-1960s, the backhoe’s continual transformation had created equipment that would be used exclusively by the needs of the construction trades. In 1963, Case introduced the Model 530 Construction King, the first loader/backhoe with power-loader linkage and a two-cylinder swing system with hydraulic cushion. The exclusive ‘return-to-dig’ feature was added in 1966, and in 1967, the hydraulic telescoping extendable backhoe was added to the machine’s ever-growing capabilities.
Case also introduced the heavy construction equipment industry’s first over-center backhoe, which was patented in 1971, and then came the first unitized mainframe and component-based power-train in 1975. And to place the crowning achievement to the century-long chronicle of the progress of the backhoe in the history of this country’s remarkable development, in 1988, Fortune magazine named the now thoroughly indispensible Case loader/backhoes among the best 100 products that the United States has ever produced.
After taking your vital signs from the outdoor thermometer, the long-awaited decision seems to be at hand. Now that those ‘other’ seasons have finally come and gone, taking that first step out on some ‘hard’ water for the first time requires a good amount of preparation. Every bit of prior planning will ensure that having a good time is just about guaranteed. Like any good boy scout will tell you, being prepared means making darn sure all your gear is up to minimal standards, and forgetting even the ‘little’ things can wind up being far more than an inconvenience if the weather conditions decide to be less than favorable.
One of the best preliminary strategies would be a mental run-through of your entire day out on the ice, sifting through each and every step of your planned agenda, along with visualizing each piece of equipment you might happen to need, or wish you brought along. Don’t even hesitate to write everything down, and while you are getting it all assembled, check it off your list as you do your eyes-on inventory of all your must-have gear.
Aside from the obvious top-of-your-head kinds of things, like your fishing tackle, a good supply of bait, enough food, drinks and snacks for the whole day, and of course a good set of warm clothing and a hat, there are some additional key items that should definitely be a part of your list of ice-fishing essentials. When it comes to outdoor activities, as the old saying goes, it is wise to hope for the best, but be prepared for the worst. So, here are a few items that should also be brought along whenever going out on the ice is on your to-do list.
A Reliable Compass – When you first set out, sure, the sun might be shining and you are only figuring to be about 600 or so yards from the shoreline. However, sometime later, along comes those overcast skies, and soon after some light snow starts to fall, and the shoreline becomes nothing but a hazy blur. Before you know it, the wind is tearing across the ice, a nasty blizzard is setting in at full bore, and your sense of direction and visual perspective is now shot. Packing up your gear and heading for home is obviously the next move, except that shoreline seems to be lost from sight, and what about that stretch of bad ice and open water you know is out there somewhere. Now you know why having a compass is a great idea. If you had taken a bearing on the shoreline upon your arrival, then finding your way to safety would have been a foregone conclusion, instead of a scary predicament.
A Portable Safety Kit – This must-have item doesn’t have to be large, expensive, or complicated, it just has to have the critical essentials for small emergencies. It need only contain items like a small first aid kit, waterproof matches, extra batteries if you have a flashlight or lantern, an emergency thermal-type blanket, some candles or even a few emergency flares, and a good knife. It is also a nice idea to bring along a decent length of nylon or polypropylene rope with loops tied off at both ends. This can be quite useful in a number of ways, especially if you need a lifeline for anyone unlucky enough to have fallen through the ice. In the unlikely event you get lost, or suffer a mechanical breakdown on your sled or ATV, these small but crucial items could wind up keeping you alive if things get a bit tricky out there.
A Pair of Ice Picks: These devices could wind up saving your life, even if they are something as simple as a couple of spikes driven into lengths of dowel rod or even broom handles. Naturally there are numerous commercial versions at your local tackle shop or outfitter store. The idea is to construct them with your arms extended outward with a length of rope looped around the back of your neck and attached to the end of each ice pick. If you happen to find yourself chest-deep in icy water, reach out and drive them into the surface of the ice, and these life-saving picks will provide the grip required to pull yourself out onto solid ice again.
Hand and Toe Warmers - These inexpensive but must-have items are available just about anywhere, and bringing them along will mean the difference between having a great time out there on the ice, or packing it in for a way-too-early trip back home because someone is suffering from cold feet or fingers. They even make them in a crescent-shape to fit in the toe of your footwear. If you have never suffered from an even minor case of frostbite, it is an experience you will never forget.
Extra Clothing – Having an extra set of warm clothes, even an old pair of pants, a sweater, socks, and underwear stowed in your gear could also be quite a life-saver if you or one of your friends fall in and get wet. Having a spare pair of gloves and socks will never be considered a wasted effort on a cold winter’s day. Be sure to keep all these in some type of waterproof bag. On top of this, there is not much to be gained by putting on dry socks only to sink your foot into a cold, wet boot. Pull some plastic grocery bags over your socks before your boots go back on, It is a simple but very effective idea that will allow you extra time out on the ice before your feet begin to freeze. Another handy essential is a dry towel. After hours of handling a lot of fish, your hands will get cold and wet in no time. A decent towel will keep you dry, and keep you fishing, when frozen hands might have brought an end to your ice expedition far too soon.
Your degree of preparedness for any circumstance is usually determined by your relative distance from getting help quickly, or the time it will take to reach safety. Naturally, there are plenty more to things to think about, like portable ice-huts and shelters, ice-saws and augers, a good pair of sunglasses, some sunscreen, and even an electronic depth finder. Every potential topic or circumstance has not been covered here, but this brief guideline should help get you started. If you go out on the ice poorly prepared for ice fishing, you are likely to have an absolutely dreadful time, and if this is your first time, you may never want to go back out there again. So, be safe, be smart, be prepared, and see you out on the ice.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) have just released their Annual Report of ATV-related Deaths and injuries for the year 2008. The number of ATV-related deaths as dropped from 699 in 2007 to 410 in 2008. This is great news and reflects the fact that people are being more cautious and understand the importance of safety. This is despite having an all time high of around 10.2 millions ATVs in use.
I was really interested in the difference in term of safety between 3-wheels ATV and 4-wheels ATV but unfortunately, the quality of the data doesn't allow for such a drill down. The number of reported fatalities relating to children younger than 16 years old was also down.
Unfortunately, only 5 states account for nearly 25% of total death-related accidents in the country every year: California, Pennsylvania, Texas, Kentucky and West Virginia.
The annual estimates of ATV-related injuries also went down from 150, 900 to 135,100 which reflects a decrease of around 10%. For children under 16 years of age, the decrease is of 6% and they account for a total of 30% of all ATV-related injuries.
The most common diagnosis for ATV-related injuries were: contusions/abrasions(27%) and fractures (25%).
Please visit the http://www.atvsafety.gov/ for more information on ATV security and remember that the Maxi grip screw studs can drastically enhance your winter experience with better traction and overall safety.