Cover Story/Machine Matters: Big attitude in a small package

Smaller than their more popular 14-foot brethren, 10-to-12-foot-dig-depth backhoes are welcome on constricted construction sites where space or access is limited. Upgraded drive trains make them nimble.

“These backhoes are big enough to get the job done but still easy to move around in tight jobsites,” says Doug Dahlgren, product manager, Allmand Brothers. Four-wheel drive and four-wheel steering on some models enhance maneuverability in close quarters and supply extra traction in water-saturated areas.

Easier to move from site to site than their heavier siblings, most backhoes this size can be towed with a pickup and in some limited cases can ride the roads for short distances.

Trends in Backhoes
Compact backhoes are grabbing the interest of municipalities and utility contractors. “We see a lot of opportunities in utility applications,” says Bill Gearhart, marketing manager, Yanmar. “Water departments like the smaller backhoe because it uses about a third of the fuel of a full size excavator. It won’t tear up a homeowner’s lawn and since this size backhoe is quieter, the crew can start work in a residential neighborhood at 6 a.m. and not disturb the residents.” Contractors hired by public works departments for cable and communication installations also use the smaller machines.

And these smaller backhoes don’t leave a lasting impression on lawns. A lighter footprint means you spend less time and money bringing the jobsite back to an acceptable condition after the work is completed. Transporting the smaller machines does not require a CDL or large trailer, making it easier for the crew to move the backhoe from site to site.

Contributing to the compact backhoe’s can-do attitude is a growing list of new attachments from more than 45 manufacturers. Fit the basic backhoe with blades, augers, rakes, grapples or forks and it becomes a second or third machine in the contractor’s fleet without the expense of buying another machine. Quick-attach couplers can transform a backhoe into a crusher, grabber, sweeper, washer or raker. “Flexibility is what contractors are interested in,” says David Sprinkle, staff engineer for compact tractors, John Deere. “Attachments can make one machine do the work of many and earn more money.”

The increased emphasis homeowners are placing on their property’s curb appeal and landscape design is also contributing to the uptick in smaller backhoe use, and manufacturers have had to adapt to these newer users of their equipment. “We’ve designed our machines for the novice operator,” Dahlgren says, with attention paid to controls, cabins, quiet engines and increased visibility.

Bud Martin, sales manager at Terramite, sees strength in the owner-operator contractor market. (A recent Associated General Contractors of America report says in 2005, 91 percent of construction companies had fewer than 20 employees.)

“The smaller contractors who run two to three man crews, building houses on spec or connecting a well, are concerned about fuel consumption costs,” Martin says. “These contractors also like being able to trailer the backhoe to the jobsite without needing a CDL or heavy truck equipment.”

Dahlgren sees the rental market expanding for this size backhoe. “Designing extended service life features such as joints with chrome pins and sealed composite bearings helps us reduce service downtime and damage for both contractors and the rental stores,” he says.

Take them out
Expect to see these backhoes on jobsites this spring:

Terramite’s T9 backhoe is a larger version of its T5C. The four-wheel drive front loader lifts 2,300 pounds up to 102 inches and has a breakout force of 6,100 pounds. The optional four-in-one bucket lets the front loader scrape, load, carry and grab.

Yanmar’s CBL 40 backhoe loader is the first small backhoe in the Yanmar construction product line. The CBL 40 rides on a unitized single frame chassis similar to those found on heavy-duty equipment. The hydro-mechanical transmission does not require range shifting during loader operation. The CBL 40’s two variable piston pump hydraulic system is the same system used on larger Yanmar excavators.

John Deere’s 110 backhoe has LoadMatch, a load sensing drive system similar to that used on construction hydrostatic drive crawlers to minimize stalling. The creep-to-reposition feature lets the operator power forward or backward while trenching without moving from the operating position. Optional seventh function backhoe hydraulics power attachments such as breakers, augers and thumbs.

Allmand Brothers has two backhoes in the 10-to-12 foot digging depth category. The two-wheel drive TLB 535 ESL and the newer TLB 6235 ESL four-wheel drive models sealed joints reduce service time and prevent debris from wearing on the joints. Hydraulic cushioning reduces jolting stops, so an inexperienced driver has better control of the machine.

The Ingersoll Rand BL 570 B model has a permanent backhoe, hydrostatic four-wheel drive and all-wheel steering. Attachments use the Bob-Tach mounting system on the front and the X-Change quick coupler for the backhoe.

Kubota’s L48 backhoe features an automatic hydraulic self-leveling system that keeps the bucket angle level while the boom is raised or lowered, useful in loading pallets with a fork attachment. The dedicated swing pump on the L48 performs the swing-raise-lower function simultaneously. Kubota’s optional attachments include a box scraper mower and post hole digger.