Once you go mechanized you never go back?- Mtbr.com
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  1. #1
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    Once you go mechanized you never go back?

    I've been putting together workdays, designing, building, and maintaining trail for close to 5 years at the club level. This year, we managed to do about 900 hours of trailwork.

    One of the skid steer machines has always interested us, but been outside the club budget. Last month, the budget has allowed for the rental of a mini-x, our first taste of mechanization.

    Within the last three weeks, I've put 8 hours on a friend's Ditchwitch/6-way blade doing a private side project on our neighborhood's common area. Now I'm completely spoiled and I wonder if I'll ever pick up a Pulaski again.This "enlightenment" has led to grant applications in my spare time rather than flailing around in the dirt with a pulaski by myself.

    So, aside from a heavy increase in the McLeod to Pulaski ratio in the club tool cache and a trailer, is there anything else we need to think about before giving up manual bench cutting?

    Lastly, does anyone go back to hand benching for any reason other than lack of funds?

  2. #2
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    One thing we need to consider in our area...

    If we use ditch-witch or whatever to build trails, they would be wide enough for ATVs to ride on, even if the trailside get re-grown...they would still cause problems.

    When we build bench cut trails that are only 1-2 foot wide...the trail never gets wider and the ATVs can never gain access.
    Michael Vitti
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  3. #3
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    my big question is how long does it take to transport to the trailhead, how long does it take to get the thing to where you want to work, and then do you leave it there or haul it all the way back out?

    And there will always be those techy black diamond trails that machines, luckily, can not navigate...

  4. #4
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    Horses for courses! There are places where a machine (mini ex, walk behind mini skidsteer, etc) will be essential, build a fabulous trail *more cheaply* and faster than hand work. There are places where hand labor is needed, and preferred. Neither is the perfect answer as we are finding out first hand.

    To answer sick4surf, after the machine does its job, more masking, finish work and adding pepper to the tread can make it ATV proof. Heck, you've got a machine that can lift over 800lbs, or drag close to 1/2 a ton, why not use it to place some rocks. Plus hand labor narrows the tread easily enough. But YOU have to make that call and know your area, your users and your potential troubles. So a machine may not be for your projects, but I bet it will have applications at some point.

    Airwreck has great questions which we are also figuring out as we go. If you can't run the thing a good long while, transport, fueling, walking in to the trail project etc can take more time than the work itself!

    I doubt anyone here is advocating that *all* trails in *all* locales be machine built! But do take a look at a rental of one for a local project, or getting out to see what a mini- can do for trail work. They are far too versatile and valuable to just dismiss.

  5. #5
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    Hey. I'm Mark with the www.tarheeltrailblazers.com in the Charlotte/Lake Norman, NC area and I can say that I am spoiled with mechanized equipment. I have a friend that works for Ingersol Rand in Davidson and he was able to have his boss get a Bobcat MT-50 mini track loader donated to our club! It's a reconditioned unit that had less than 350 hours on it when we got it but it has been an amazing tool to use. We also have a Ditch Witch SK-500 and a Volvo mini excavater as well. In the proper hands, these "tools" can do a lot of back breaking work in a very short time. Bench cutting is an art in it self with this machine and hand finishing is always needed but the amount of trail that can be cut in a short time is well worth it.
    If you ever get a chance to be in the area please check out the Itusi trails at Lake Norman State Park in Troutman, NC. Most of that was cut using mechanized equipment and now we have almost 13 amazing miles of single track.
    Anyway...if you have it in your budget, do it. Don't forget about a trailer and maint. We just replaced the treads in the Kitty to the tune of $550.00 but that was $250.00 cheaper by not getting the tracks from Bobcat. And make sure someone has a truck that can pull it. I'm lucky enough to one of 2 people in the club that have a full size truck that can pull it.
    It adds another 4000 lbs. to a 5500 lb truck. (But the trailer has brakes on it)

  6. #6
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    thanks sparrow, we will be figuring out as we go as well also. The local agencies new 650 has been sitting, waiting. Plan is to work an existing trail with it first, and the section that needs the work is at the far point of the loop. We just had a storm with massive blow downs and erosion so that may change the plan also, still waiting for an assesment.

    We are also trying to secure a property for a bike park/ DJ's and it would be awesome for that, but again, waiting for approval...

    I will post reports once this thing finally hits the dirt!

  7. #7
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    To add to the comments about the width:

    You can use the machine to cut any size bench you want. Just b/c the blade is 48" (or whatever) doesn't mean that the tread has to be that size. Granted, the steepness of the slope can dictate tread width b/c you don't want to try to cut much of a partial bench on a 50% slope! One job I did earlier this year with a DW SK500 was cutting an 18" - two foot tread on 30-40% slope. No worries.

    Here's a tip for back sloping with a mini skid steer:

    Use the edge of the blade to cut into the back slope and let your uphill track follow the cut. The use the uphill track to track-pack the back slope. It doesn't work in very steep conditions, and sometimes it's not as pretty as hand work, but it gets the job done.

    D

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by dburatti
    To add to the comments about the width:

    You can use the machine to cut any size bench you want. Just b/c the blade is 48" (or whatever) doesn't mean that the tread has to be that size. Granted, the steepness of the slope can dictate tread width b/c you don't want to try to cut much of a partial bench on a 50% slope! One job I did earlier this year with a DW SK500 was cutting an 18" - two foot tread on 30-40% slope. No worries.

    Here's a tip for back sloping with a mini skid steer:

    Use the edge of the blade to cut into the back slope and let your uphill track follow the cut. The use the uphill track to track-pack the back slope. It doesn't work in very steep conditions, and sometimes it's not as pretty as hand work, but it gets the job done.

    D
    I agree on the width thing, no need to use the full 48". Once the loose stuff gets broadcast down hill, you have the same singetrack you would have built by hand anyway (or very close). I'll get some pics soon.

    On the backsloping, do you mean cutting with the "end" of the blade or regular "edge". I'm sitting here trying to picture how this would work...

  9. #9
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    On our SK500 we have an articulated bucket which we beleive to be one if not the best attachment for bench cutting. The blade works OK but not as well. We have a blade for our Bobcat MT-50 but it's spring loaded and pretty much sucks. I've learned how to use the bucket to bench and it does a pretty good job. I start from below the tread and cut a level bench about 6 feet long to make a level starting place for the machine. Then from there it's cut into the hill and remove the dirt. Then I'll drive up on the top of the bench, point the edge of the bucket straight down and "float the bucket over the edge to blend in the back slope. Then just a little hand fine tuning and it's ready to roll.

  10. #10
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    What bucket is that? A DW product? We have 6 way blade and are having good success with that, but would like to see you bucket!

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by mtbikernc69
    On our SK500 we have an articulated bucket which we beleive to be one if not the best attachment for bench cutting. The blade works OK but not as well. We have a blade for our Bobcat MT-50 but it's spring loaded and pretty much sucks. I've learned how to use the bucket to bench and it does a pretty good job. I start from below the tread and cut a level bench about 6 feet long to make a level starting place for the machine. Then from there it's cut into the hill and remove the dirt. Then I'll drive up on the top of the bench, point the edge of the bucket straight down and "float the bucket over the edge to blend in the back slope. Then just a little hand fine tuning and it's ready to roll.
    What blade are you using? 6-way DW blade works greats. With your bucket, it sounds like you're stuck making tread as wide as the bucket or you have to get off the trail and reestablish the 6 foot level spot.

    What part of the bucket articulates? You mean it "dumps"?

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by mtbikernc69
    We have a blade for our Bobcat MT-50 but it's spring loaded and pretty much sucks.
    That is the snow plow attachment, not a backfill blade. I showed up to a project once in an extremely rooty area and that is what they had for me. I still have nightmares.

    One of the local land agencies runs the MT50 with a bucket. I swung by to see them work it one day. I still haven't figured out how the did it, but now I know why their machine cut trail sucks. With the bucket, they have no choice but to remove all of the rocks from the trail tread.

  13. #13
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    I've built a fair amount of trail with Dingos (420 & 425). We have been able to make our benchcut as narrow (or wide) as we want it. I use a 4-5 pass system where each pass gets a little deeper and a little wider. Quit when you have the bench you want, and ALWAYS hand finish. We've also been able to leave a good number of rocks in, but you do take a few more rocks out with mechanized building than you do with hand building. The great thing about the machines, though, is that you can push/pull/lift/carry some of those big rocks over to your drainage crossings and save some wear on your back.

    We still have areas where the sideslope is too steep to feel save with a machine, or it is very rocky and you want to maintain a very technical aspect, and we hand bench those areas.

    I would definitely suggest something with a)a 6-way blade and b)diesel engine. The 4-way blade on the Dingo is not as desirable for benchcutting as the 6-way on some of the other machines. You can still achieve your desired result, but the 6-way would make it easier. I also think that the diesel engine would be beneficial for the way diesel engines develop torque over gasoline engines. I can overpower our Dingos on occasion, and sometimes it would be nice to be able to work at a lower rpm for better finesse when you need to move slowly and make gradual in blade height but still need good power to move the dirt/rock in front of you and not spin the treads. I tend to have to work the Dingo at full rpm to get full power out of it, making some of my forward/backward/start/stop movements jerky and dangerous when I'm really zoned in on what I'm doing. If the hydraulics could develop full power at lower rpms, I wouldn't have to put as much concentration on finessing the controls to avoid the jerks (over a 4+ hour day of working, it adds up to less physical exertion at the hand/arm). You still get a surprisingly physical workout behind a machine.

    The Dingo weighs 1900 lbs and the trailer is another 1000. My 05 Tacoma is about the smallest truck I'd want to pull it behind for any kind of distance. Get brakes on your trailer. This will limit the # of people that can haul it though. Try to find a way to pay for gas for the few people that do haul it, b/c it drops your mileage significantly, and you don't want to put too much burden on volunteers who already give a lot of their time and money.

    Insurance can be hard to come by. If you buy the machine on a loan, it will be required, and it's about $150/month. Get insurance though, especially if it's for a grant, b/c you're required to have the tools/machine for 25 years.

    As you've probably figured out, they eat +/- a gallon of gas per hour. Figure that into your costs.

    Storage can be problematic. More and more people live in suburban neighborhoods with stupid restrictive covenants (like mine) that won't let you have a trailer in your driveway. We've got some nice landmanagers and a couple of people with land, so it's worked out, but it's something we didn't think of early on.

    Keep in mind that most of the grants come with strings - as in a 25-yr maintenance agreement and a ton of paperwork all along the grant process. Just make sure the person who agrees to "manage" the grant has plenty of time. Most of the grants are also reimbursement-style grants (vs. pre-funded), so simply be aware of the fact that you're often going to have to spend the money and then apply for reimbursement and wait as much as 120 days for the check to get back to you. This can be difficult when buying a $25,000 machine unless they'll give you an advance. Just something to think about.

  14. #14
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    It more than likely is the snow plow blade. It basically sucks.
    The regular bucket can be used pretty well with an experienced operator but it is limited. And remember it's a tool with an engine and only as good as the operator. I've seen some badly botched work with a Pulaski, McLeod and a machine. I'm lucky enough to be the caretaker/maintainer of it so I pretty much have it at my disposal. (Which means I've had lots of practice!) The weight on the MT-50 is nice because you can use it fill, grade and pack dirt that would take forever by hand. We have a Kubota 4X4 utility vehicle with a dump bed that can be used to hawl dirt and supplies around quickly. With it and the Bobcat you can knock out with 4 people in 4 hours what it would take with 10 people in 10 hours!

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fattirewilly
    On the backsloping, do you mean cutting with the "end" of the blade or regular "edge". I'm sitting here trying to picture how this would work...
    The best way I can describe it this: Use the bottom corner of the blade to cut a smaller bench cut where the back slope will be and then drive the machine across it to pack the back slope. Does that make sense?

    D

  16. #16
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    There is a Toro Dingo TX 420 on craigslist nearby my location. 385 hrs $7650 with dirt bucket and a 4 in 1 for more $. Seems like the Dingo is not the pick of the litter and not sure about how the gas engine holds up or the pricing. Worth a look?

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by ramshackle
    There is a Toro Dingo TX 420 on craigslist nearby my location. 385 hrs $7650 with dirt bucket and a 4 in 1 for more $. Seems like the Dingo is not the pick of the litter and not sure about how the gas engine holds up or the pricing. Worth a look?
    My advice is to test drive each mini skid steer....at least the DW SK-500 &/or 650, the Toro Dingo, and the Bobcat NT 50/52. You'll feel the difference. One of the big differences is the control interface. The Dingo requires you to have either big hands or long fingers. That matters wen you run that machine all day. There are other factors that you'll notice with a test drive, too.

    If you go with any used machine, ask for the maintenance log to show oil changes, etc.

    D

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    To address a few issues raised here....

    Trail width concern. With a small group of 8 to 10 people you should be able to use the machine to do the rough cut, having your volunteers follow with hand tools who cut the back slope, shave off some of the down slop to narrow the trial, smooth the trial bed, and then grab leaves from the surrounding area and spread then right up next to the trail bed to better define it. In the following link, SORBA-Chattanooga members did just that on Raccoon Mountain. We cut and finished a half mile of trail in two days, with an inexperience user on the machine.

    Addressing another concern, preserving technical areas/trail features. You cannot use a machine on technical areas. Drive the machine around areas you want to preserve and cut those areas by hand. You will see in some of the pictures in the link the trail goes between some trees we didn't want to cut out. We drove the machine around that area and our volunteers cut it by hand. We also drove the machine around large rocky sections to preserve those challenges. Using a machine in this way we cut about 20 miles of trail (which included several miles of hand cut technical trail) at Raccoon Mountain and Booker T. Washington State Park in about 18 months. We simply could not have put in so much trial in that time if we had to cut it all by hand.

    http://www.sorbachattanooga.org/content/EventPage14.htm

  19. #19
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    What to ask for

    We are applying for a RTP grant, deadline Feb.1.
    Specifically what machine would you request for a system of trails in SW Ohio? Lots of trees, rooty, narrow, hilly.
    Must be transportable between locations adfairly easy to operate.
    Bobcat MT55? DW, or Dingo?
    Attchments?
    Trailer?
    Anything else to include? I read about insurance and maintenance.
    Thanks.

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bikerbob.com
    We are applying for a RTP grant, deadline Feb.1.
    Specifically what machine would you request for a system of trails in SW Ohio? Lots of trees, rooty, narrow, hilly.
    Must be transportable between locations adfairly easy to operate.
    Bobcat MT55? DW, or Dingo?
    Attchments?
    Trailer?
    Anything else to include? I read about insurance and maintenance.
    Thanks.
    I've ridden some trails in Wayne NF. Is that what it's like where you are?

    I'd get a DW SK-650 with a bucket and a six-way blade. Check 7 Diamond for an after-market blade. They sell them through eBay. If you can afford the chain saw attachment, those kick ASS!!!! The jack hammers are fun, too, of you have a lot of rock to break.

    For a trailer, get a tandem axle trailer with a ramp gate and electric brakes. Try to load the machine on the supports and not the grid, if you know what I mean. The grid will start to sag under the weight of the machine. You'll need to have the vehicle towing the trailer equipped with a brake booster, too.

  21. #21
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    Is there a "remote" sorta jackhammer for the SK500? Like a 15' long hose that would power off that smaller hydraulic coupling up front? Imagine working your bench along with the 6 way blade, hitting a serious rocky area (as we do, FREQUENTLY) and whipping out a jackhammer to pummel out ahead of the machine a few yards, then proceed forward with the blade. Any such animal? I know there is a jackhammer that connects to the attachment plate, but we need a remote sorta jackhammer. Any thing exist like that?

    I should start another another thread on a couple DW questions, think I'll do that....

  22. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by sparrow
    Is there a "remote" sorta jackhammer for the SK500? Like a 15' long hose that would power off that smaller hydraulic coupling up front? .
    Yes.



    D

  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by dburatti
    Yes.



    D
    I recognize that photo and operator. Looks a lot like a Texan running that jack hammer in my back at DuPont State Forest.

    The Trail Dynamics crew ran a jack a fair bit in the past months on some pretty burly projects. We did a rental of an electric unit and powerful generator. I would need a demo on the Stanley unit running off of a DW again as I forgot how well (or not that works.

    As for machines, it is hard to beat the SK-650 for it's power to weight to cost ratio. TD crews a ton of machines including 2 Swecos, mini ex, SK500 and an Ibex. We just purchased a 650 to add to our fleet and I look forward to much time on that machine.

    Woody Keen
    President- Trail Dynamics LLC
    President- Professional Trailbuilders Association
    Board of Directors- IMBA
    Certified NC Clear Water Contractor

  24. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bikerbob.com
    We are applying for a RTP grant, deadline Feb.1.
    Specifically what machine would you request for a system of trails in SW Ohio? Lots of trees, rooty, narrow, hilly.
    Must be transportable between locations adfairly easy to operate.
    Bobcat MT55? DW, or Dingo?
    Attchments?
    Trailer?
    Anything else to include? I read about insurance and maintenance.
    Thanks.
    Just FYI, I'm not sure how "familiar" you are with RTP grants. Insurance and maintenance likely won't be eligible for grant funding. Just materials/equipment.

    I second the tandem axle trailer. I spec'd two 12' single axle trailers (one for each Dingo) b/c I didn't want to try to pull both Dingos on one trailer (very few of us have trucks with that pulling capacity). The single-axle works fine, but the tongue goes way up in the air (and so does the ass end of the truck) when you load/unload. Tandem axle would help with that a bit, and it should tow nicely.

    Put some cash in there for a locking toolbox to bolt to the trailer, some good chains/tie-downs and a few tools (sockets, ratchets, etc. to work on the machine, change the oil, put tracks back on in the field) and a come-along just in case you roll the machine.

    Good luck on the grant - hope you get it. The machines are an awesome addition to an arsenal of experienced builders.

  25. #25
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bikerbob.com
    Trailer?

    Thanks.
    I'm going to ask for a 7x14 two axle cargo trailer. Machine storage, tool box, hand tools all in one nice semi secure box.

  26. #26
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    Quote Originally Posted by Francis Buxton
    I second the tandem axle trailer. I spec'd two 12' single axle trailers (one for each Dingo) b/c I didn't want to try to pull both Dingos on one trailer (very few of us have trucks with that pulling capacity). The single-axle works fine, but the tongue goes way up in the air (and so does the ass end of the truck) when you load/unload. Tandem axle would help with that a bit, and it should tow nicely.

    This has less to do with quantity of axles and more to do with lack of support for the ramps. You either need to weld jacks to the rear of you trailer or carry two pieces of lumber to place under the rear of the trailer as you load or unload.

    Fold down ramps may be out of style, but they prevent this situation. I have seen cracked tongues at the trailer shop from people not using support.

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