Ditch Witch SK500 in cold weather- Mtbr.com
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  1. #1
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    Ditch Witch SK500 in cold weather

    Anyone have experience with operating a DW SK500 (or other mini skid steers) in cold weather trail building operations? Any concerns the machine will be harmed, any tips, or cautions? Any frost concerns, that is, does the frozen ground fight back?

    We have been operating in weather down to 20 at the coldest, but a real cold snap has settled in along with some snow. The ground is sooo dry lately, that even with frost upon us, the soil is workable. At what point do you know to give up? Our lease allows for us to keep the thing all winter long, hours accumulated or not. We figure we may as well be out using it as the sun and warm weather allows every now and then.

  2. #2
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    I've used mini skid steers in cold weather before. The first time was in 28 degrees with snow on the ground. Below is a picture of a practice session for new users.

    Here are a few tips:

    Just like in warmer weather make more passes, not thick passes. It's easier to take more soil off than to put any back. If the ground is REALLY frozen, it might come up in chucks. I really depends on your soil type.

    If you have a small tarp or piece of plastic, cover the controls so they don't freeze, particularly the ignition key hole! Also, cover the hinges and the fuel cap, as they'll freeze closed, too. You could also use on piece to just cover the whole machine. Give the machine adequate time to warm up, too.

    D


  3. #3
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    We have been tarping the whole rig after a day's work, so covering the controls, ignition switch, etc is, well, covered! Thanks for the re-inforcement that's a good thing to do. Makes sense with snow fall, now that you think about it.

    The level of freeze the ground takes on will need to be determined, hmm, but with the hand labor we've been able to do (and on north facing slopes), I think much of our project can be continued with the machine.

    I just wonder if any temperature level is hard on the machine? Seems like around freezing is not hard on it, as you say, just warm it up completely. But at what point is the cold stressing the moving parts, sludging up the hyro oil, making the blade brittle? anything like that as well?

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    "But at what point is the cold stressing the moving parts, sludging up the hyro oil, making the blade brittle?"

    Metal parts couldn't care less about cold temps and certainly won't get brittle at any temperatures you can withstand. Using the hydraulics will heat the oil. Use the hydraulics easy at first to warm them up.

    Pay extra attention to greasing the pivots and maintenance items (read the manual) in sloppy conditions.

    Make sure the battery is up to the task of cold weather starts after sitting out all week. Dead battery out in the woods = no fun at all.

    Build lots of trail and have fun.

  5. #5
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    One thing we encountered last winter, was thawed mud from the day before freezing solid in the tracks overnight, and making the DW immobile. Also the rubber tracks on frozen soil provided little traction.

  6. #6
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    All good points, thanks guys. Just what I'm looking for. I suppose a spare battery or one of those portable jump-starters could be good to have at the ready. Out on the trail yesterday to do some corridor/pin flagging and realized "walking" the machine to the site will be a bit more tricky in the snow and crud. Throwing a track would be a bummer in cold/slop, too.

  7. #7
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    Hey Tim. I have been meaning to get over and visit you. We have been working tons of overtime lately, but I am hoping I can get myself and a couple of friends over on the 22nd to give a hand with the work. I an hoping to make the New Years Day ride too.

    With a gasoline engine you shouldn't have any trouble. Diesel fuel can jell in cold temperatures and fuel additives should be used, but gasoline will not have this problem. The only thing I would suggest with gas is to treat it with an additive like HEAT so that you do not have any problem getting water condensation in the tank. Filling the machine from cans that experience temperature changes and covering the machine with a tarp could both lead to getting water in the tank. Alcohol base additives like HEAT will keep the water suspended in the fuel so it can be burned.

    I recommend using synthetic oil in cold temperatures. Synthetic oils have more stable viscosity and do not get as thick in cold temperatures thus they provide better lubrication at start up. Check the manual and see what the recommended weight oil is for the temperature ranges you expect to use the machine in. If you need to change the oil go with synthetic.

    I would offer a minor point of disagreement with gmcttr. Metal most certainly does get more brittle in cold temperatures. I have been working on heavy equipment for over 20 years and believe me metal breaks when it gets really cold out. That said, I really doubt you guys will be trying to use the machine when it is below zero out and the machine probably doesn't make enough horsepower to hurt itself anyway. It might pay to look things over and see if you have any plastic parts that you might need to be careful with. Overall it shouldn't be any real concern for you.

    Like you have already noticed, be more careful when the ground is frozen. I don't have any experience with rubber tracks, but I have been around steel tracks and rubber tires plenty. If you get the machine on a little side hill and it starts to slide you may very well not be able to stop it. You would think that heavy stuff would have lots of traction but it seems that just the opposite is true when machinery gets on ice or hard packed snow.
    I'm not very smart, but I can lift heavy things

  8. #8
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    Hey guys, thanks for the tips. I fired the SK500 up a couple days ago, overnight low of Zero, as the sun crept up at 20 degrees. Let it idle a good long while while I got my self organized to walk it into a test section. Just wanted to see if the recent extended cold has shut us out (we've been doing hand labor in a real rugged/rocky area every other week) from working with the SK500.

    Next oil change will be with a move to winter weight synthetic.

    I was indeed able to work, the dirt is certainly frozen, but there is just not much moisture in the soil (dry fall conditions before the cold hit) and the 5" of snow is dry and fluffy. I think it'll be slower going, but we've decided to push on another couple weeks with the machine in place at the project.

    We are going to (hopefully) place a steel storage container on sight for storage of tools, the machine, etc (maybe stuff an old ATV in there for commuting and shuttling tools/supplies...) if the USFS allows.

    But cold weather work does look to be possible over winter as snow and conditions allow! This is in the Black Hills of SD at 4,000-5000 feet above sea level, we do get wintry weather.

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    Quote Originally Posted by sparrow
    Let it idle a good long while while I got my self organized to walk it into a test section.

    This is in the Black Hills of SD at 4,000-5000 feet above sea level, we do get wintry weather.
    This is a bad idea for you spark plugs at that altitude. DWs don't like to idle for long periods of time. Your plugs will gunk up and the machine will be hard to start, run, and performance will suffer. Don't idle the machine for more than 5 minutes.

    The guys at the Denver DW store remind me not to idle every time I pick up a machine for a project.

    If you want to idle the machine, then keep some extra plugs and tools handy.

  10. #10
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    Thanks, I was considering 2-3 minutes a good long while, so I should still be okay!

  11. #11
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    Another day of plowing in the snow! Got in 4 hours of work today with the SK500. We got her parked on a south facing aspect of our project, so sunny clear weather has it pushing 45 degrees where the work is right now. Glad we can take advantage of a year 'round lease with no restriction on hours.

    We'll be able to get in that extra couple thousand feet as weather permits through the winter. I'll have to snap some shots!

    Snow makes everything really slick, just emphasizes the need to go slow, make several small cuts and progress cautiously. Smart to do that anyway. I do like that the dust is non existant with a little snow on the ground!

  12. #12
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    That's why I love the Bobcat. It's got a diesel engine. Don't have to worry about spark plugs. Luckily in the Piedmont area of NC we don't see temps low enough to make the fuel gel. Plus they reformulate the diesel when it's cold anyway.

  13. #13
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    But this machine will be sitting at negative temps some, and lots of teens to low thirties. Gasoline is the better call for the Black Hills. Either way has it's pluses/minuses.

    I think our call on the Ditch Witch had more to do with their SixWay blade straight from DW, rather than setting up with a Bradco blade on a Bobcat.

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    My mom was born and raised in Sioux Falls so I understand. Place is too dang cold for me! I enjoy the seasons more in NC. Wife would rather be in FL right now.

  15. #15
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    Upper teens today, and the SK500 cranked right over, first try. We got some good work done! We even had 22 folks show up to give it 4 hours of hand work benching and finish behind the machine. Amazing crew! More photos at the SD section of MTBR

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