Versatile Excavators Excel in Landscaping Jobs
Bobcat 435 compact excavator lifting landscaping rock with the clamp attachment.
Landscape contractors have been using Bobcat® loaders to save valuable time and hard, manual labor for nearly five decades. Today, more of them are profiting from adding Bobcat compact excavators to their list of must-have tools.
These rugged, hard-working machines add a whole new dimension to the ability of enterprising landscape contractors to take on conventional site preparation and planting work and to venture into new services, such as retaining wall, water feature and erosion control projects.
The uses they've discovered for making money with their Bobcat excavators range from digging tree planting holes and shaping swales to placing boulders and tearing out sidewalks. These machines are loaded with standard features that make work easier, more comfortable and more productive. This list includes:
• Time-saving, multi-function hydraulics to swing the house structure and operate the boom, dipper and attachment at the same time.
• Low machine weight and rubber tracks to tread lightly over soft ground, established lawns and brick patios.
• Independent boom swing to dig easily around obstacles or alongside buildings and fences.
• Hydraulic joystick controls to minimize fatigue through a long day on the job.
What's more, these excavators can be equipped with a variety of easy-to-change Bobcat attachments for great versatility.
Of course, like all Bobcat equipment, the excavators are designed and engineered to maximize uptime and they're backed by the unmatched service and support of Bobcat dealers.
No manufacturer offers more choices of compact excavators than Bobcat. With 11 models, ranging from the ultra-compact, 1,676-lb. 316 to the powerful 16,538-lb. 442, Bobcat excavators can handle just about any landscape construction project. Depending on models, the selection includes conventional swing, Zero House Swing (ZHS) and Zero Tail Swing (ZTS) units and some optional long-arm and extendable arm versions. Plus, Bobcat compact excavators are the only brand made in the U.S.
Here are some of the ways landscaping contractors are using their excavators to provide top-notch service to their clients.
Mastering many tasks
Bart Gilmore, Courtland, Ohio, was one of the first in his area to own a compact excavator when he bought a Bobcat® 328 eight years ago. His landscape construction company, J. Gilmore Design, has owned Bobcat skid-steer loaders for more than 20 years. However, he realized the 328, with its rubber tracks and long arm, could take on jobs that his skid-steer loader couldn't tackle.
Bart Gilmore says his Bobcat excavators are real labor-savers.
"We were doing a lot of hand work and I saw the machine as a real labor-saver," he says. "It could fit through a double gate to get into backyards, it could work productively without having to reposition very often and I could transport it on a trailer behind my pickup truck."
Three years ago, he added a 341 to his fleet, which also includes an MT50 mini track loader and an 873 skid-steer loader. "Once I realized all the ways we could use the 328, I wanted a machine to save time on jobs requiring deeper digging and more reach," Gilmore says. "At first I thought we'd use the bigger excavator more than the smaller one. But we use them both about equally, depending on the size of the job. Their ability to save labor is really important for us because it's difficult to get employees in our market."
Equipped with a variety of bucket sizes, hydraulic clamps and augers with different size bits, Gilmore and his crew find plenty of work for the excavators. "There's hardly a day that we don't use them for something on a project," he reports.
Planting. The machines make easy work of drilling tree planting holes. "Instead of digging up chunks of clay spoil that we have to haul away, the auger produces a fine spoil material we can spread around before covering with topsoil," Gilmore says.
Excavating. In addition to digging footers for rock retaining walls and privacy walls, the excavators are ideal for excavating areas for decorative ponds, he reports. The multi-function hydraulics and independent boom swing make it easy to adjust the bucket in shaping the ponds and incorporating planting shelves in various configurations.
Equipped with a bucket, the excavators also save work digging out soil and placing concrete in building bases for flag poles. "What used to be a three- to four-man job using shovels can now be done by one man with the excavator," Gilmore says.
Grading. The ability of the excavators to grade sites that are too wet or too soft for the 873 skid-steer loader to handle also helps keep projects on schedule. "Parked next to these areas, the excavators can reach out with a grading bucket to clean up the site," Gilmore says. "This is important not only for meeting tight deadlines, but lets us get paid faster when wet weather would otherwise force us to delay the work."
The grading buckets and the excavators' blades save time and money shaping drainage swales and building mounds. In the past, Gilmore hired a dozer and operator to do this work. "Often it was difficult for them to produce the desired results because they are used to making things flat," he says. "Now our guys can use the excavators to create landscape forms exactly how we want them."
Placing materials. The long reach of the excavators makes it easy to set trees in place for planting on hillsides and the clamps are handy for grasping and placing large rocks when building retaining walls.
The two excavators make a great team when constructing ponds. "One is used with a bucket to place concrete for lining the bottoms of the ponds, while the other uses a clamp to set large rocks in the concrete."
Occasionally, the excavators are used to place sculptures atop concrete bases.
Demolition. Gilmore and his crew also like to use their excavators when removing concrete driveways and sidewalks and replacing them with brick pavers. In this case, they use the bucket to pry up and break off the concrete and the clamp to load the chunks into a truck. Then, they use the excavator and bucket to level the base and spread base material.
Team approach. The two excavators are also used with the 873 and the MT50 as a Bobcat System with the loaders hauling in materials and the excavators placing them. For example, when building a retaining wall, they start with the 328 excavator to dig out a hillside and footer drain for the structures and then bring in gravel and the wall stone using the MT50 or 873. After that, the 328 goes back to work placing this material.
On one stream bank stabilization project, the skid-steer loader transported rocks to the excavator which placed them into gabion baskets.
"We usually have at least two of our Bobcat machines on a jobsite," Gilmore says.
He knows that he can depend on his excavators and loaders to be ready for work when he is. "I can count on one hand the number of times one of the machines has been down in the last five years," he says.
He also credits much of the value he's enjoyed from his Bobcat equipment to his dealer, Bobcat of Youngstown. "They've been mighty good and supportive and have solved a lot of problems for me over the years," Gilmore says. "They also offer a large selection of rental attachments. When I need one, it's available."
Switching to a more efficient machine
For years Jim Scocozza, who owns Chestnut Hill Nursery in Brodheadsville, Pa., had used a tractor-loader-backhoe for his landscaping work. Much of the focus of his company, which includes a retail garden center, is on high-end residential projects.
Bobcat owner Jim Scocozza standing next to his 435 ZHS excavator.
While he enjoyed good performance from his Bobcat® loaders, including his current A300, he figured that a tractor-loader-backhoe was the best machine for the heavier work in the area's rocky ground. "I didn't think I needed a compact excavator," says Scocozza, whose various Bobcat skid-steer loaders had met his expectations over the years. "I thought it couldn't lift the size of rocks on our projects."
Then he demonstrated two different size Bobcat excavators provided by Highway Equipment, Drums, Pa. That opened his eyes to the power, speed and maneuverability of these machines. Two years ago Scocozza purchased a Bobcat 435 Zero House Swing (ZHS) excavator, with the optional long-arm and hydraulic clamp.
With no part of the house protruding beyond the width of the machine's tracks, it allows operators to slew freely when working alongside houses, fences and other obstacles without damaging the machine. This feature also offers more opportunities for placing spoil. The end result is faster, easier and more productive work.
"It's worked out much better than I ever anticipated," he says. "It's just the right size for us—not too big for the confined areas we often work in and not too small, either. There are very few things that we can't handle with it."
Scocozza uses his 435 for setting boulders, concrete retaining wall blocks and paver stones in place and for excavating slopes and digging footings for retaining walls. "Because of its compact size, it can backfill behind the walls very efficiently," he says.
Jim Scocozza says his 435 is much more efficient than he ever thought it would be. "We should have bought it sooner."
The 435 is especially adept at placing materials. "Operation of the machine is very simple and straight forward and it's easy to do fine detail work with it," Scocozza says. "We can move materials easily and place them exactly where we want them. The long arm gives us the ability to sit in one position and move materials over a larger area than we could with the tractor-loader-backhoe."
In addition to using the grading blade for moving topsoil, Scocozza uses his 435 with a Bobcat hydraulic breaker to save time and labor removing concrete or shale rock. "Before, we had to work around these obstacles," he says. "Now, if they're in our way, we just get rid of them.
"We're very happy with our 435. It's much more efficient than I ever thought it would be. We should have bought it sooner. It gives us the ability to get into more difficult areas where we couldn't work before. It's our number one machine."
And what about that other machine, the tractor-loader-backhoe? "We haven't used it," Scocozza replies, "since we bought our 435."
Building ponds and streams
Ron Sawyer and his two sons, Gregg and Dan, started Sawyer Waterscaping, Cheyenne, Wyo., which specializes in designing and building decorative water features. They rely on their Bobcat® compact excavator and two Bobcat skid-steer loaders for digging and placing materials. These contractors build rock-lined ponds that vary in size from those that fit into backyards to those covering an acre-and-a-half at the entrance to residential developments. Some also include streams as long as 400 ft.
They began the business eight years ago with a 751 skid-steer loader and backhoe attachment. They added an S300 skid-steer loader four years later. Three years ago, their Bobcat dealer, Colorado Machinery, Ft. Collins, Colo., gave them a Bobcat 331 excavator to try.
"We fell in love with it and bought it," says Gregg. "The longer reach of the excavator, compared to the backhoe attachment, made it much easier to place dirt and rock where we wanted it. Also, it's small enough to get into most of the backyards we work in and it’s easy to tow with our pickup and trailer."
A 331 excavator is "a perfect fit" for Sawyer Waterscaping.
In addition to excavating pond sites, the Sawyers use their 331, with 16- and 18-in. buckets to build shelves around the perimeter of the pond for planting aquatic plants. Positioned next to a pile of cobble stones brought in by a loader, the excavator picks up the rock and stacks the cobbles along the walls of the shelves and lines the bottom of the pond with them.
"The 331 is so easy to maneuver and leaves very little hand work for us to do," Gregg says. "The operation is very smooth. We can be very delicate in putting the bucket right where we want it so that the rock drops only a very short distance when we place it."
On some jobs, the 331 and the two skid-steer loaders work together. While the 331 digs a pond and excavates a stream, the loaders take care of grading work and hauling in construction materials.
"We're more than satisfied with it," Gregg says. "Our 331 is a real nice asset. It's a perfect fit for our business."
Making work easier
"We bought it to make our lives easier," says Pat Douds, explaining why he and his brother, Mike, bought their first Bobcat® compact excavator—a model 325—seven years ago.
They own and operate Douds Brothers Landscape Construction, Inc., Mars, Pa. The excavator quickly proved its value in their business of installing patios, retaining walls and outdoor living areas.
"It's a great back-saver, time-saver and labor-saver," Pat says. "We do very little hand digging anymore."
That's not the only benefit.
"Our 325 allowed us to take on larger jobs to expand our business, while eliminating a lot of employees to keep our payroll down quite a bit," Pat reports.
This year, the brothers bought their second Bobcat excavator, a 331. "We're starting to build larger retaining walls with bigger stones and we needed more power," he explains.
Two excavators mean that both of the company's crews can now enjoy the speed, agility and versatility of these handy landscaping machines.
The excavators join the company's other Bobcat equipment—an MT55 mini track loader, and 753, S185 and S205 skid-steer loaders.
For added productivity, they also purchased several Bobcat attachments for their excavators from Bobcat of Pittsburgh: a pair of 13-in. and 24-in. trenching buckets for each machine and an auger attachment for digging tree planting holes.
The excavators have replaced the skid-steer loaders for several types of work. One is excavating slopes for installing retaining walls. "The excavators can dig out the hillsides faster," Pat says. "And, they make it easy to dig the 12-in.-wide, 12-in.-deep trench for the base course and to place the larger stones for the walls."
The Bobcat excavators also out-work a skid-steer loader and trencher for digging ditches for drainage pipe, he notes.
In addition to loading trucks, the excavators are used with a rented Bobcat hydraulic breaker for tearing out concrete patios.
Bobcat excavators are making life easier for many landscapers.
The Bobcat excavators and skid-steer loader are also frequently used together to speed up projects. "We've found that it's faster to bring in construction materials, such as blocks and base material for retaining walls or gravel for installing patio pavers, with a skid-steer loader and use the excavator to place them," Pat says. "Other times, we use our excavators to unload dirt or gravel out of a truck and put it directly into the buckets of our skid-steer loaders or mini track loader to save time in transporting material to the work area."
Ease of operation is another plus for the excavators. "Any of our employees can quickly learn how to operate one of these machines," Pat says. "We're quite satisfied with how our Bobcat excavators have worked out for us."
A multi-purpose hard-working machine
A big project and unusually wet weather last fall enabled Don Snow to justify buying what he had wanted for a long time—a Bobcat® compact excavator. Snow, who has owned a half dozen Bobcat skid-steer loaders, started Snow Landscaping, Inc., Davis, Calif., ten years ago. Prior to that, he had operated Bobcat compact excavators as an employee for a landscaping firm.
"I got used to having one of these machines and what it could do," he says. "It was just a matter of growing my business large enough to keep it busy. That project allowed me to buy one."
That project involved installing a lot of irrigation lines in a new residential development. However, muddy conditions prevented him from using his Bobcat S160 with a trencher attachment to dig the trenches. That's when he bought his 325 excavator, using it with a 13-in. bucket to dig mainline ditches and bell box areas for the irrigation systems.
"It allowed us to work all through the winter to complete the job on time," Snow says.
The 325 has proven to be the right size for working efficiently in small backyards, private estates and commercial sites. "It's perfect for us," he says. "It's enabled us to do a lot of work that we had to do by hand before."
One of those manual labor jobs was digging holes for planting trees grown in container boxes. "It used to take one laborer all day to dig a hole by hand for a 3-ft.-square box in the cobble soils," Snow says. "Now, one operator can dig it in an hour or less using the 325. Also, it's easy to maneuver the excavator in and around these containers."
By replacing hand labor, the 325 allows Snow and his crew to work with bigger, more attractive boulders on their projects. In the past, he rented equipment when the job called for larger boulders.
The Bobcat excavator has also enabled Snow to expand into construction of large masonry structures, such as walls and monuments at the entrance to subdivisions. The 325 is used to dig the footings for them. "The ability to swing the boom independently of the cab lets us dig footings for curved walls, too," Snow says.
The quality of service provided by Bobcat West, Sacramento, Calif., was one of the reasons Snow bought a Bobcat excavator. "Prompt service is important to me and they provide that," he says. "Also, they have a large variety of attachments for rent, if needed."
The 325's easy operation is another plus for Snow. He reports new operators can quickly learn how to use the machine.
"Our 325 is a great machine," he says. "We're very happy with it and use it for everything. Now, crews fight over the machine because it eliminates so much hand labor. It's a real workhorse."