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February 2006

Keeping His Side Job a Hobby

Bobcat S185 loader with grapple

Bobcat S185 loader with grapple

Most people are doing good if they can be successful at their daytime jobs. But somehow Kevin Koch has found a way to propel a part-time hobby into a thriving side business.

Koch Excavating & Construction Services, based in Sherwood Park, Alberta, Canada, is truly what one might call a one-man show. Koch, who also works full-time for the City of Edmonton, founded the business by himself and is not shy about admitting he likes working alone. However, in order to stay successful, he has had to hire a “staff” of machines.

For more than 20 years, Koch has relied on his skid-steer loaders and attachments to complete a myriad of freelance jobs, including construction and demolition of concrete, garages, and swimming pools, landscape installation, grading, site preparation, and material handling.

“Anything you can think of doing with a skid-steer loader, I’ve basically done it,” Koch says.

Hauling Leads to Other Endeavors
A dream to someday own an acreage prompted Koch to buy an old single-axle dump truck that had seen better days. But as it turned out, Koch didn’t have to wait until he bought that house in the country before he could use the dump truck. Shortly after fixing it up, a friend who performed concrete work asked Koch if he could use the dump truck to haul sand. “Back in those days, it was kind of at the end of a housing boom we were having around here and he was having trouble getting trucks when he needed them,” Koch says.

Koch’s friend wasn’t alone. Within a few months, others commissioned the use of Koch and his dump truck. Before long Koch was making several trips a week to the yard where he would fill his dump truck with black dirt, sand, or gravel. “You would just go to a company that stockpiled black dirt and other materials, and if someone was there, you would pay them to put a load on and away you’d go,” he says. “But sometimes when I went to get the dirt, there weren’t always loaders around. Here I had dirt to haul, but nobody to load it. So that’s what prompted me to buy my first skid-steer loader.”

Today, Koch is one man with a fleet of machines, including a Bobcat® 463, S185, and S205 skid-steer loader and an MT50 mini track loader. Koch prefers his machines just like he would want his employees if he ever hired any — reliable. Though he works seasonally, from about May 1 until the ground freezes, he typically racks up a total of 1,200 service hours on his equipment each year. At least 85 percent of Koch’s business is residential or small-niche-type work, but he also provides his services to five concrete contractors, who hire Koch to demolish steps, sidewalks, and driveways for condominiums and commercial sites. And since purchasing his first Bobcat skid-steer loader in 1984, Koch says he’s been able to focus on other aspects of his business because he’s not consumed with worrying about unexpected downtime and repairs.

Steps to Demolishing a Swimming Pool
So how can one man get use out of so much equipment? A prime example of how Koch puts all of his equipment to work occurred recently when he was hired to remove a metal-lined swimming pool in the backyard of a home in Sherwood Park. With her children long gone from the house, the elderly homeowner called Koch to ask if he could remove the deteriorating 16-by-32-foot in-ground swimming pool and surrounding wood deck. The woman had heard of Koch because a few years before he had removed and filled in two neighbors’ pools.

One of the first obstacles Koch knew he would face with this job was poor access to the backyard. Because the garage was attached to the front of the home, Koch says he had to drive his skid-steer loader along the side of the garage and then make a turn behind it in order to go between the house and the fence leading into the backyard. While the logistics might have been a problem if Koch had used a larger machine, he was able to easily maneuver around the obstacles with his compact skid-steer loader.

On residential projects such as this, where he must repeatedly travel and turn on customers’ lawns, Koch takes all of the necessary precautions so that he causes as little ground disturbance as possible. That’s why Koch equipped his S185 and S205 with flotation tires, which provide a larger footprint than conventional tires, thus exerting less ground pressure and enabling contractors to work in soft, wet soil conditions. “You can go on the grass and not damage it as much,” he says. “And when you get into soft ground, they make a huge difference. You get better traction.”

In addition, before beginning the job, Koch also laid down plywood running boards leading from the concrete driveway at the front of the garage to the swimming pool in the backyard. “The best part is when I go to pick up my plywood off the grass, you can’t tell I was there,” he says. “It saves the lawn.”

Once Koch surveyed the job and completed the prep work, he got his skid-steer loaders stationed where he would need them. At a new construction site about 2 miles away from the home, Koch used his Bobcat S205 to load clay into the dump truck. After transporting and dumping two loads of clay in the street, Koch used his S185 stationed at the jobsite to haul the clay around the side of the house, over the ground-level wooden deck, and into the pool. “What I’ll do is haul enough material so that I can basically fill half of the pool at one time,” he says. “Then I start by building a ramp system into the pool with the clay, so I can drive the machine right down into the pool, filling and packing the deep end first.”

Demolition of the swimming pool began when Koch attached a Bobcat hydraulic breaker to his S185, which he used to break away the pool’s metal sides and top trim. Behind the bolted metal siding, Koch also found a layer of concrete about a foot thick. When the pool’s sides from the ground level to the 4-foot mark were demolished, he reattached the bucket to the S185 and hauled away the metal and concrete debris. Attaching the hydraulic breaker attachment again, Koch went to work on demolishing the remaining sections. He did not remove the pool’s thin cork-lined bottom because it would disintegrate over time once the area was filled.

In addition to the swimming pool, Koch also had to do away with the large, rotting wooden deck surrounding it. To make the demolition process go smoothly, he cut the deck into sections and then used his pallet fork attachment to haul them away. Just like Koch has more than one machine, he has found how to maximize the versatility of his loaders by having more than one attachment. Besides buckets, pallet forks, and the hydraulic breaker, Koch also owns an SG50 stump grinder, landplane, Brushcat® rotary cutter, ripper, auger, and snow blade.

In all, Koch worked 10 hours a day for two days to complete the pool demolition project. On the third day, he turned the project over to his son, who was in charge of sodding the newly filled area.

Investing in Features
Because Koch places all of his trust in his machines, he spares little expense to get added features that can make him more productive and profitable. For example, Koch says he wouldn’t purchase another skid-steer loader without a Power Bob-Tach™ mounting system because it allows him to detach and attach attachments by simply flipping a switch inside the cab. He also uses his optional high-flow hydraulic systems on the S185 and S205 to quickly drill fencepost holes with his auger attachment or perform stump removal with his stump grinder attachment.

It wasn’t long ago that Koch would come home after a long day of work covered in dirt. He remembers having to work on hot summer days with the door off his cab and dust blowing in his face. So when Bobcat Company came out with air-conditioned enclosed cabs, Koch was one of the first customers who showed up at his dealership’s door.

“Years ago, my wife would laugh at me because I would come home at the end of a hot day and I would be black from the dirt. I’d even have dirt in my socks and up my pant legs,” Koch recalls. “Now with air conditioning, I leave the door on year-round and when I come home, I’m not hot and dirty. Plus I’m not breathing in all that dirt anymore.”

When it’s only you running the show, you don’t have to worry about pleasing other operators. If he wants his loader to have air conditioning, Koch buys it. If he wants keyless start, he buys it. If he wants the optional high-flow hydraulic system, he buys it. Because Koch has equipment that helps him stay productive and comfortable, it’s no wonder he never feels like his hobby is a job.

"When I get a nice 1,500-square-foot concrete driveway to break out, for me it’s like going and golfing 18 holes,” he says. “I love it and I’m good at it."