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August 2006

The Power of Renting

Bobcat 325 excavator

Bobcat 325 excavator

Jerry Walck believes in the power of renting compact equipment. In fact, he says that's what sets his excavation company apart from some of the other guys out there.

"We can match the right piece of equipment with the right job, and that's how we customize," says Walck.

In the beginning, when Walck founded SiteWorks LLC two years ago, he walked into Fisher's Rental Center in Reading, Pa., with the hope of renting his first machine. "We started with just my last paycheck and that was it. Fisher's Rental was the first one to give me a line of credit," he says. "We started renting right off the bat, and we’ve never changed."

Since, SiteWorks has rented several pieces of compact equipment to perform excavation and site preparation work for the installation of cell phone towers. In order to meet the demands of primary contractors hired by big-name telecommunications companies like Sprint, Verizon, Cingular, and T-Mobile, Walck has discovered that compact equipment with tracks enables him to work in all types of conditions, from confined and muddy to hilly and rocky.

"I think we optimize the equipment for the job. A lot of these guys have got the big backhoes and dump trucks, and they run into these jobs and they’re confined. These sites are tiny anymore," he says.

Cell Phone Tower Work Calls
Walck happened to fall into the cell phone tower installation market while working on a jobsite for another contractor. While there, an employee with the telecommunications company asked Walck why he wasn't performing the excavation work himself.

Today, cell phone tower installation projects make up nearly all 90 percent of the commercial work Walck takes on. SiteWorks, which specializes in utility installation, light excavation and grading, and concrete work, is usually subcontracted to excavate, install conduit, and build the concrete piers that the cell towers rest on. "We do all of the civil work, and then another company comes in and does all the tower work," Walck says.

Walck and his two employees perform all of these tasks with their rented Bobcat 325 compact excavator and T180 compact track loader. Typically, the machines are used in tandem — Walck excavates with the 325 compact excavator, while another operator follows behind and backfills the trench with the T180 after placing the conduit.

In recent years, Walck has seen an increased usage of compact excavators with tracked undercarriages like his 325 by others in the excavating industry. He says more contractors are recognizing the advantages that such compact and agile machines provide. With a rubber-tire backhoe, Walck says he would have to get out, spin the seat around, lift up the bucket and stabilizers, and then move it another 10 feet to continue digging. All of that precious excavating time was being wasted, he says. Now, with the compact excavator, Walck can stay inside the cab and keep digging.

The 325 also eliminates manual labor on many jobsites because it can reach areas that larger equipment can't. "We have a lot of sites that are between parking lots or in between two buildings," Walck says. "We can get in those areas with the compact excavator, and with the way the boom oscillates, you still have the turning radius of the machine. So sites that normally take two weeks, we're getting in and out of them in about four days because we don't have to hand dig them anymore."

And though the compact excavator is small in size, he has found that it's not small in power. "We can dig about 700 feet in an eight-hour shift. It's extremely fast," Walck says. "You're not sacrificing speed or digging ability."

Working in Tandem
The SiteWorks crew capitalized on the performance and productivity of its equipment during a recent cell phone tower installation project in Churchville, Pa., by operating the machines in tandem.

SiteWorks was subcontracted to install 3,000 feet of four, 4-inch conduits and build the piers for a Verizon cell phone tower near the Willow Grove Naval Air Station. Walck and his two-member crew began by digging the 3,000-foot trench for the utility lines. The trench route entailed digging along a roadway and through a golf course. Even though they ran into some rock while trenching, the crew was able to excavate more than 600 feet each day. In addition to the difficult soil conditions, Walck also had to work around mature trees and fence surrounding the golf course. "We could work well alongside the golf course fence because all we had to do was swing the boom instead of having to swing the entire machine and worry about hitting the fence," he says. "You don't run into a lot of obstacles when you’re using smaller equipment."

But that doesn't mean the job was without stress. If you ask Walck, he'll tell you that threat of hitting a fiber optic line is the biggest stress that comes with any cell phone tower installation job. “If you hit a fiber optic line, you might as well shut your doors. I’ve heard stories of contractors having to pay $750,000 after ripping up a fiber optic line. They're like the worst thing you can hit."

On this project, the SiteWorks crew dug alongside a Verizon fiber optic line. In addition to locating the line prior to construction, a Verizon employee also stayed on-site while Walck and his crew dug the 3,000-foot trench. "We routinely marked and checked the location of the line to make sure we weren’t getting too close," he says.

Again, Walck says he operated the 325 compact excavator while another member of his crew followed a few feet behind with the T180 compact track loader. As Walck excavated and placed the spoil behind him, his crew member would place the conduit and then backfill the trench. The utility lines were run from a transformer utility pole to the compound where the cell phone tower would sit.

Once they reached the cell phone tower site, the crew attached a 2-foot auger to the compact track loader to install the piers for the cell phone tower shelter. Walck says the 65,000-pound shelter sits atop a total of eight, 2-foot piers. After the concrete for the piers was poured, the site was ready for the cell phone tower to be brought in and set. In all, it took Walck and his crew seven days to complete their portion of the project.

"I think we're twice as productive with these machines," he says. "They’re easier to move to a site and you can pretty much fit them on any site."