How Dayton’s Go-To Gravedigger Does It Himself

Published on April 3, 2023

Learn about the life of Jim Lock, owner of Jim Lock Excavating in Dayton, Ohio, who has found his passion in gravedigging. With his fleet of Bobcat equipment, Jim digs almost all the graves himself for more than 20 cemeteries in the Dayton area. Discover how his line-up of Bobcat machines, all bought from the same company, have helped him grow his business and put up a lower bid than his competitors. Read on to find out how he was able to help right a historical wrong. 

Cemeteries aren’t necessarily known as great places to work. But if you ask Jim Lock, owner of Jim Lock Excavating in Dayton, Ohio, there’s nothing better than working a jobsite smack dab in the middle of a hundred headstones. 

“I might be 95 years old and still be digging graves,” says Jim. “That is just the way I feel about it.” 

Find Your Workhorse, Figure Out the Rest

You might be wondering how somebody gets their start in gravedigging. Jim will tell you it kind of happens by accident.  

“I got started only because I like digging and working outside,” he says. “So, I bought a Bobcat® excavator and started working right out of my house to do custom jobs for friends, neighbors, people like that — whoever came down the road and wanted some excavating work done.” 

When Jim bought his first machine 35 years ago, he went with a pre-owned Bobcat 610 skid-steer loader and followed it up with a pre-owned Bobcat 732 skid-steer loader. Of course, it didn’t take long for Jim to decide he needed a new one of his own. So, he bought a brand-new Bobcat 743 skid-steer loader only a few years later. 

“That is the best machine I have ever owned,” Jim said. “I bought it in the late ‘80s. I bought attachments, then I started doing digging, then I started really expanding.” 

With a workhorse like the 743, Jim was ready to tackle just about any job from any customer — including the church down the street that called him up, said their gravedigger was about to retire and asked if he could dig graves for them. Then another church needed a gravedigger, too. “Next thing I knew, I had so many cemeteries I was digging at that I couldn’t do customer work anymore,” Jim says. 

One Man and Five Bobcat Machines Is All You Need

Today, Jim works with more than 20 cemeteries in the Dayton area and digs almost all the graves himself. He has to do everything from the excavation for the burial plot to laying the foundation for the headstone without disturbing the surrounding plots. To navigate those tight spaces and move that much earth, Jim relies on a lineup of Bobcat equipment comprised of pieces that he says “all complement each other”: 

“Every two years, I look at my oldest machine and buy a new one,” he says. “Trade-in is great because a used E35 that has done nothing but dig graves is high dollar. People love that. It is like buying a car from some old lady that just drove it to church on Sundays.” 

Jim wins a lot of work on account of that ongoing investment. With all the machines and attachments a gravedigger could ever need, Jim’s one-man crew can put up a lower bid than anybody else. Even when he’s going up against a cemetery or city’s own excavation team. 

“I have cemeteries with their own backhoes call me up because they can’t keep up with their own demand. When they have equipment problems — which they do, and I don’t because I have new Bobcat machines — they call me,” Jim says. “I dig for cities that have backhoes. They say, ‘We can’t dig them as cheap as you can do it.’ So, they hire me.”  

The gravedigging business is all about last-second calls. “You have no lead time digging graves,” Jim says. “When they call you, sometimes they need you the next day.” Since it’s impossible to schedule a week out, let alone a month or more, Jim needs to know the machines in his fleet can handle whatever calls he happens to receive each day. 

Bobcat is dependable and reliable. That is partially because of the Bobcat company I deal with. They are super people.

Jim Lock

Owner / Jim Lock Excavating

The Other Side of Gravedigging

Most of the gravedigging Jim does is exactly what you’d expect — digging new graves — but 20 to 30 times a year, Jim digs up old ones, too. 

The removal of someone’s remains from one grave site and the re-burial of their remains at another grave site is called disinterment. When Jim is digging new graves, he says the Bobcat E35 compact excavator is “without a doubt” the best machine to dig with. But disinterment requires the lifting power of the Bobcat E50 compact excavator. “That is what I use my E50 for the most,” Jim says. “When I tear down a house or when I do disinterment.”  

There could be any number of reasons behind each disinterment. Cold cases, like the ones on TV shows, do represent a small fraction of disinterment work, but a lot of the time, it is to move a person closer to loved ones or simply provide a safer resting place. Last year, Jim had the opportunity to work on a different kind of disinterment. One that would right a historical wrong. 

The call came from the sister of a Marine killed in combat during the Korean War. The Marine was an African American man who, having made the ultimate sacrifice for his country, still wasn’t allowed to be buried at the VA Center with the same men he served alongside. 

“That man deserved to be buried at the VA Center in 1952, but he was put in this regular ol’ cemetery out there,” Jim says. “This young man, 18 years old, gave his life in Korea, and I got to make sure he was properly buried. I liked that. That was a good one.” 

Those stories are yet another reason Jim doesn’t mess around with his equipment. He’s built his bottom line on those Bobcat machines, sure, but he’s never the only one counting on them to get the job done right. 

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