Compact Trenchers: Walking the line

While walk-behind compact trenchers are among the top pieces of equipment contractors rent, dedicated trenchers are facing some uphill competition from multi-use compact excavators, mini-skid steers and compact utility loaders. But take a close look at whether these machines are your most efficient and economical choice when things get rocky. New walk-behind trenchers are giving you additional reasons to consider a dedicated machine.

Keeping a job simple saves time, money and aggravation. The first step to simplicity is using the right tool for the job. When it comes to pulling shallow trenches for pipe, cable, waterlines or fencing, a dedicated walk-behind compact trencher does that one thing extremely well. Walk-behind trenchers use less fuel, devote all their power to trenching, are ‘plug and play’ ready and are more nimble than bigger machines. While other machines can dig, they can’t trench as quickly or maneuver as readily in established urban and residential areas. Manufacturers are designing compact trenchers to meet the needs of contractors working in limited-space areas without compromising performance.

Track trends
When Toro interviewed contractors, asking what they did and didn’t like on current compact trenchers, they said equipment instability, complex controls, difficulty cross-trenching and limited maneuverability were major pain points. Contractors also said wrestling the machines on and off trailers slowed their transport efforts.

So when Toro made its introduction into the trencher market earlier this year, it replaced standard wheels with rubber tracks. The company contends that track driven walk-behind trenchers require far less physical effort to operate. The 6-to-7-inch-wide rubber tracks give walk-behind trenchers better flotation, allowing them to operate over rough terrain or loose, sandy material. Their lighter footprint decreases collateral damage to established turf and landscaping, eliminating tire ruts in sensitive applications and flat tires.

Greg Lawrence, marketing product manager for compact utility loaders at Toro, says the tracked trenchers are easier to control and have greater stability because the weight of the engine sits lower to the ground, dispersing the weight to the tracks. “Our trenchers provide a larger footprint, which increases the machine’s stability on side hills and provides smooth operations over rugged terrain,” Lawrence says.

Tim Phelps, product manager for Barreto Manufacturing, says tracks represent the future of trenching. “Each rubber track on our 1824 track trenchers covers 238 square inches, which gives the machine plenty of traction to use the full 18 horsepower the engine produces,” Phelps says.

Toro also says track trenchers make cross-trenching simpler. Instead of dipping and pulling the trencher’s wheels across the perpendicular trench to cross it, tracks easily span the trenches. This gives you more stability and accuracy because the uninterrupted trenching operation stays consistent and in-line. “It’s rare that someone will only need to trench in straight lines, so the ability to cross-trench is important,” Lawrence says. “At any place where there’s a manifold intersection, a valve box or a T-fitting, the operator may need to cross the trench several times. The tracks of a TRX prevent the machine from getting caught in the trench.”

Perhaps the most appreciated benefit of the new track trenchers is how much easier they are to get on and off a truck or trailer. The Toro and Barreto track trenchers can travel across pavement at ground speeds up to 3 mph, and boom up and on to your trailer. Barreto and Toro offer optional custom trailers that feature built-in securing systems.

Tried and true
Traditional wheeled walk-behind trenchers are also offering important features this season, giving contractors better operating performance and productivity while using a small, more fuel efficient machine.

Astec Underground
Astec Underground’s redesigned RT160 Plus low profile tool carrier trencher is extending its working seasons with new quick-attach tools including a snow blower, landscape rake and broom attachments. The RT160 Plus uses a single joystick control for forward-neutral-reverse and creep control.

Astec’s RT60 features a hydrostatic ground drive and a hydraulic boom lift that raises and lowers the working end of the trencher safely. The RT60 is available with optional 30-pound wheel weights, and 24- or 36-inch heavy duty booms. The Astec RT130 walk-behind trencher features a transaxle with an automatic differential lock that provides additional traction in tough digging conditions.

Barreto Manufacturing
Barreto Manufacturing’s 912HM self-propelled mini-trencher, with a digging depth of 12 to 18 inches, is for the landscape contractor with smaller, shallower trenching applications such as sprinkler systems, low voltage lighting or silt fence installation. The 912 is all hydraulic for reliability and less maintenance.

The Barreto 1324D and 1624D direct drive walk-behind trenchers feature easy to use controls and a safety clutch that stops the wheels and chain immediately but doesn’t kill the engine or require re-adjusting the settings to resume operation.

Barreto models 1324ST and 1624ST are steerable trenchers that use a two-pump, two-motor wheel drive. Individual wheel control levers – one for the right wheel and one for the left wheel – are positioned close together so the operator can handle them both with one hand. Twin hydrostatic pumps drive the wheels, giving precise independent control to each wheel.

Ditch Witch
The Ditch Witch models 1030 and 1230 self-propelled, manually steered walk-behind trenchers are only 32 inches wide, making them among the slimmest in this category and able to get through narrow gates and access ways. The 1030 and 1230 both feature mechanical digging drives and hydrostatic ground drives that let the operator stop the digging chain and ground drive, but keep the engine running by releasing the handlebar bail. The closed-loop hydraulic drive system allows infinitely variable speeds to match digging conditions.

Ditch Witch’s Model 1330 hydraulic self-propelled trencher reversible digging chain allows the operator to extricate rocks and soil. The hydraulic oil cooler uses less fluid for longer pump life and cooling efficiency, while the direct-drive fan helps the whole system run cooler. A two-speed hydraulic ground drive provides high speed for maneuvering around the jobsite and low speed for control while trenching. Like the 1030 and 1230 models, a standard axle lock controls the wheels.

Vermeer’s RT60 mini-trencher features foot-pedal ground drive assist that helps the operator trench in a straight line with less physical labor. A manually adjusted trench depth lever trenches up to 12 inches deep. The RT60 operator presence safety system disengages the trencher if the operator leaves the controls.

Vermeer’s RT100 and RT200 models feature hydrostatic trencher drive motors and hydrostatic twin wheel motors that eliminate locking differentials and maintain maneuverability. Vermeer’s RT100 is available in three engine configurations delivering from 13 to 15 horsepower. By selecting a particular engine option, contractors also choose fuel tank capacity, fuel consumption and maximum torque. Both the RT100 and RT200 feature hydraulic oil-coolers.

The 23-horsepower RT200 is equipped to handle the Vermeer PortaBore attachment that will do short length, small diameter non-directional underground installations under sidewalks or other above ground obstacles.

On tracks
Toro’s TRX15 and TRX19 track driven walk-behind trenchers have zero-turn capability and a smooth, simple operation. The 6-inch-wide rubber tracks mount on a sprocket-drive, with three road wheels on each side. The TRX has no handlebars, and doesn’t need the operator to lift the front of the machine to turn, so the TRX trenchers can maneuver and travel easily over pavement to load onto a trailer.

Toro positions the heavy hydraulics lower on the machine, creating a lower center of gravity. The TRX walk-behind trenchers have up to 385 foot pounds of torque and dig up to 36 inches deep.

Barreto’s 18-horsepower 1824TK track trencher is designed for easy maintenance and operation. All hydraulic system components can be easily accessed, and the system is protected with relief valves so if the chain stalls, the pre-set relief valve will protect the system from damage. A safety clutch on the left handlebar engages and disengages all hydraulic power to the track drive and digging chain without the use of micro switches. The 7-inch-wide track design on the 1824TK improves the unit’s traction, which increases trenching speed and allows zero-turn capability.

Barreto also offers a 4-by-4-foot tilt bed trailer with a built-in quick lock system.