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Archive for the ‘Machinery’ Category

I could get hooked on Heavy Equipment Forums

Something about stopping in on Heavy Equipment Forums makes me feel like a skinny kid surrounded by Real Men Who Do Real Work, but then I’m reminded that most new machinery has joysticks and power steering and the whole idea of machines is to avoid manual labor.

One issue that has some equipment people up in arms is the new California emissions controls, which won’t be such a big deal for very large operators who go through a lot of machinery and constantly have to upgrade. Medium to small contractors with only a few tractors will have to make the same engine upgrades as the big guys, which could put them out of business, as this post notes:

Now we have a situation where ALL machines that get used over 100 hours per year need to be replaced of retrofitted. The large companies that replace their machines regularly already do this, so it is of minimal concern to them. The mid size contractor who typically buys a used machine is now bearing the brunt of this cost, as now he needs a new machine whether he has work for it for 5,000 hrs per year, od 200 hrs per year.

The very small user, the property owner or owner operator with one machine is not affected as much, as there are exemptions for them. Although the opportunities for the owner operator will get limited as more jobs require tier 3 or newer machines or you can’t work there.
The average sitework contractor is bearing the brunt of this reegulation, because most of them do not do a volume of work to justify the payments on brand new iron, and if they do, they likely fall in the larger first catagory.

For a contractor doing small to mid sized jobs, the only way he can get the work is by using older, less expensive iron, as the jobs are not of a long enough duration to pay off a new piece, and if it does not work for just a short while, it will choke you with the payments.

The real kicker here is that when all the studies were done, they found that just the federal rules on the manufacturers would get the emissions to the same place by normal fleet retirement only a few years later than this massive retrofit and replacement they have enacted. I think it was 3 or 4 years to get to THE SAME PLACE!!

Now we have been forced down a road that will break the backs of many small to mid sized companies, as they will not be able to finance the amount of new equipment and retrofits that the law says we need just to operate.

Rest of the thread’s here.

And this one is fun: newbie asks which tractor he needs to build a fishing pond on his farm.

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Tom Mangan posted at 11:18 pm February 5th, 2009 |

Tons o’ great Caterpillar equipment pictures

One of the regulars at Heavy Equipment Forums stopped in on the Milton Caterpillar dealership and grabbed a bunch of pictures of Caterpillar machines. Here’s a spanking new dozer:

The thread also has interesting details about Cat’s dealership operations, including which are the biggest, and a bio of the Holt dealership in San Antonio, Texas. All must reading for tractor geeks.

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Tom Mangan posted at 10:55 am February 4th, 2009 |

Who would steal an entire earthmover?

I never imaged anybody’d have enough nerve to steal anything as large as a bulldozer, backhoe or excavator, but this piece in Compact Equipment magazine outlines the many ways equipment gets stolen — to the tune of $1 billion a year — and how to prevent thefts. One vignette about a contractor who put a “curfew” on his machinery to prevent anyone from using it without his permission:

Consider the case of a Tracy, Calif., contractor who got a call on his cell phone late one Sunday night indicating that somebody was trying to start his Caterpillar backhoe during the curfew. Upon arriving at his yard after he remotely confirmed the backhoe’s location via the online satellite image in the software, the contractor found his guard dogs poisoned but all his equipment intact. Unfortunately the neighboring contractor’s yard was also broken into and the identical model backhoe, which was unprotected, was stolen.

Organized crime rings are the major players and they will case multiple jobsites and yards to plot out target A, target B, etc. So when the thieves’ attempt for a quick grab was thwarted by the disabled machine, they simply went for the next available, easier target. By immobilizing the equipment with a curfew, the target was “hardened” and the vandals were deterred. This technique is also very effective in warding off other subcontractors and late night joy riders, who typically end up damaging the equipment, jobsite or themselves.

I read somewhere last month that people were stealing Cat generators in northern California to provide power for illicit marijuana plantations.

Doesn’t take as much nerve as you might suspect to steal a tractor: thieves climb the fence, get the machine running, use it to knock down the fence and load it onto a trailer. Usually on a weekend because nobody’s around the job site.

The threat of theft, however, turns into a selling point for Caterpillar’s high-tech machinery tracking system, which uses GPS to note where machines are running and communications software to tell site operators when machines need maintenance or repairs. It also tells the cops where stolen equipment is (until the crooks learn how to disable it, of course).

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Tom Mangan posted at 8:12 am February 3rd, 2009 |

Good times for equipment auctioneer

Bloomberg reports on a company that’s making a killing off second-hand machines:

A global recession that’s hobbling sales growth at farm- and construction-equipment makers including Amsterdam-based CNH Global NV and Caterpillar Inc. hasn’t hurt Ritchie Bros. The Canadian company auctioned off a record $3.57 billion worth of equipment last year, a 12 percent increase over 2007, as financially strapped buyers sought alternatives to high-priced new machines.

Ritchie Bros. opened new sites last year including one in Paris and is expanding in Orlando, Florida, its biggest U.S. venue. While Caterpillar is eliminating workers, Ritchie Bros. said it hopes to add to its sales force this year.

See, General Motors would never sell a car or pick-up that lasts as long as a good old Cat dozer.

Of course, Cat also has its own site for selling used tractors.

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Tom Mangan posted at 7:25 am January 28th, 2009 |

California dozer owners say emissions rules will derail stimulus

Washington Post this morning reports that contractors in the Golden State would just as soon keep their old tractors and not be forced to spend big bucks upgrading them to suit California’s environmental rules.

About $30 billion of Obama’s $825 billion economic stimulus plan is being set aside for highways and bridges. Some of that money would be squandered unless the new president blocks a rule that might keep some earthmovers from doing their economy-lifting work, a group of contractors says.

The Associated General Contractors of America wants Obama to put up a federal barrier to a California clean-air rule that regulates off-road diesel engines already in use. It will require the replacement or retrofitting of the engines of earthmoving equipment. The state has an estimated 180,000 loaders, graders, excavators and other heavy equipment.

“What is the point of stimulus money if it’s used to replace equipment instead of building?” asked Mike Kennedy, general counsel of the Arlington-based group. The regulators “assumed costs could be passed along, but economic circumstances have changed so dramatically that the rule has to be reopened.”

I think about 100,000 Caterpillar employees could answer that question pretty readily.

My guess is the contractors win out on this one, though: I mean, ordering an immediate upgrade on 180,000 diesel engines is a pretty steep request.

The challenge being, the long-run benefits of cleaner-burning engines far outweigh the short-run economic costs. You’ll notice Cat isn’t bewailing clean-rules; it’s building cleaner engines.

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Tom Mangan posted at 11:42 am January 21st, 2009 |

More old stuff: 1917 Holt Caterpillar 75 operators manual

Google’s digital book archive includes a digitized copy of an operators manual from 1917 signed by Mr. Holt himself. Here’s a lubrication chart from Page 45:

Lubrication Chart for Caterpillar 75

Click on “About This Book” for more background. Here’s a Google images search for the old beast.

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Tom Mangan posted at 9:48 am January 21st, 2009 |

Amusing time-wasters at

I needed something to occupy myself while waiting for the predicted Obama-bounce to, well, bounce, so I did some nosing around at and found this very cool Web tool: The Build and Quote page, where you can pick your dream Caterpillar machine and configure it with the latest high-tech implements of digging, dragging, scraping and lifting. The tool covers only a fraction of Cat’s product line — sorry, no monster mining trucks or D9’s to armor-plate and strike fear into your political rivals — and it’s not nearly as sexy as the “make your own car” tools at the automakers’ sites. But it does have one unexpected tidbit: suggested retail prices!

Used to be you had to actually be in the market for heavy machines to get a clue on what they cost. Thanks to the Internet, any old tractor geek can go shopping for gear he’ll operate only in his dreams.

The configure tool covers an assortment of backhoe/industrial loaders; hydraulic excavators; multi terrain/compact track loaders; skid steer loaders; track loaders; track-type tractors; and wheel loaders. You can add buckets, blades and other goodies. I really had my heart set on configuring an elephantine D11 dozer, but alas, the tool goes only up to the midrange D7. I settled on seeing which was the cheapest, and which was the priciest.

Cheapest: 216B Series 2 skid steer loader, starting at $29,080 (above).

Priciest: D7R Series 2 bulldozer, starting at $453,390 (right)

See there, you can pick up a nice mini-tractor for the cost of an SUV and actually put it to enough productive use to get back what you paid for it (at $25 an hour you’d get your money back in six months and still have use of the tractor for another 10 years; try that with with your Ford Fusion).

The cheapest dozer, the Cat D3, will set you back 80 grand, but hey, think how much less grief you’d get from your Life Partner for buying something that involves work vs. blowing it on a Porsche Boxter? Just sayin’…

(Betcha didn’t know this: Cat carries a line of simulators to train people to use their equipment. Definite Star Wars vibe without the truck or tractor wrapped around.)

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Tom Mangan posted at 8:24 am January 20th, 2009 |

Cool stuff being made: forging

The National Association of Manufacturers blog takes a break from its required union bashing (sorry, membership in the Newspaper Guild has requirements, too) to offer a series of videos about various construction processes. Here’s one on forging metals:

More cool stuff videos here. has a few Caterpillar-related posts, too.

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Tom Mangan posted at 1:26 am January 17th, 2009 |

Caterpillar tractor pictures at Flickr

Just for fun I created this slide show:

It has over thousand pictures in it, so don’t get carried away. It’s actually cooler if you go to Flickr to see the pictures larger.

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Tom Mangan posted at 7:03 am January 16th, 2009 |

Let’s look some old tractors

How about we step away from the scene of this bear market mauling for a moment and enjoy the simple pleasure of gawking at pictures of stuff you’ll never see on Antiques Roadshow. Like formerly rusty old wrecks from the early days of Caterpillar. (Look, this has to be work-safe or the overlords will ruin all our fun).

Given the size, complexity and butt-ugly appearance of an aging tractor, it’s fairly remarkable that so many people get a kick out of nursing them back to showroom condition. It’s also interesting how many ancient-machine restorers step away from their workshops and build Web sites devoted to these beasts. is one fine example. I loved this old pic from the 1930s:

The author says that’s his dad at the controls of a Diesel 75.

Here’s one he fixed up himself.

Another site: Crow’s Nest’s Caterpillars page. Here’s restored Caterpillar D4 with a HT-4 Traxcavator loader:

Finally, here’s an old Cat used to bulldoze snow in Maine from this guy’s site:

Here’s what it looked like when he started.

My Antiques tag archive has previous old-tractor posts.

OK, back to fretting over the state of the global economy.

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Tom Mangan posted at 9:23 am January 15th, 2009 |