Big Toys For Big Boys

I have to admit I think I missed out in getting the male gene that makes males lust over big construction equipment.  Maybe it has just been dormant, as over the past two and half years our neighbour boy (now 3.5 years old) has been enlightening me on the fascinating world of big machines. 

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Shopping For Big Toys

It all started on my way home from yoga when I found a book in a Little Library in Hillhurst titled “My Big Big Book of Machines”and grabbed it for him.  I must have read it to him a hundred times since then. 

By age two, he knew the names of over 20 pieces of construction equipment  - and so did I.

So, when I was offered the opportunity to write a piece for Construction Connect titled “Big Toys for Big Boys,” I jumped at it.  Specifically, the assignment was to pretend I was shopping for a big piece of construction equipment, it couldn’t get much better.

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First stop - Cervus Bobcat.  

I thought I’d start small and work my way up, but boy was I in for a surprise. Who knew a bobcat could do so many things?  In fact, they have a 78-page glossy catalogue titled “We have an attachment for that.”  Indeed, they have 80+ attachments that can convert a bobcat into a backhoe, excavator, skid loader, grader, bulldozer, trencher and forklift.  They are like mega transformers!

From a construction perspective, I am told the bobcat, because of its smaller size, works great on sites with limited space for manoeuvring.  The bobcat’s versatility allows it to be used for everything from digging basements and small parkades to lifting trusses into place.  It can even clear sidewalks of snow and dirt and then be used for landscaping and fence post digging.  There is even a 3D grade control system that allows the driver to quickly and accurately sculpt the land around a new house or larger buildings.

I am beginning to wonder how I have lived without one for so long.

At almost two year's of age we watched together as a big toy demolished the housed next door. 

At almost two year's of age we watched together as a big toy demolished the housed next door. 

Next stop - Wajax Equipment.

Their inventory included nearly three dozen types of construction machinery including backhoe loadersskid steersfull size and mini excavators, soil stabilizersarticulated dump trucks, and earthmoving equipment, among many, many others. It is exhausting learning all the names and what they are used for let alone all the details.  Almost as complicated as analyzing the golf swing.

And, not only do they offer a huge selection of construction machines, but also a choice of brands with intriguing names like Yale, Hyster, Liu Gong, YMZ, Hamm and Wirtgen

Thanks to friends at University District for allowing me to get up into a big toy and see their mega construction site from the a unique perspective. 

Thanks to friends at University District for allowing me to get up into a big toy and see their mega construction site from the a unique perspective. 

Excavator Is King

Buying big toys is truly mindboggling to the first time buyer. What I did learn was on any construction site, the excavator is KING, able to be used for demolition, digging and lifting.  They come in all different sizes - mini (.5 to 7 tons), midi (7 to 12 tons) and large (40 to 60 tons) and can be equipped with wheels or tracks. I even learned some that can do 60 km/hr. on roadways.


Dos and Don’ts

Ritchie Bros. website has a blog on the Five Factors to consider when deciding to rent or buy heavy equipment.  Some are pretty obvious:

  • Know your current financial situation,
  • Consider the length of project,
  • Consider how frequently will you be using the equipment (it depreciates even when sitting idle),
  • Consider the equipment’s availability to rent when you need it. 

The comment I found most interesting was that when you rent, you are often paying for the newest equipment with the latest technology, which can be more expensive and you may not need or use all of the features (sounds a bit like buying a smart phone).  The blog also suggests purchasing well-maintained used equipment can be more cost effective than renting over the long term. 

Link: When To Buy or Rent Heavy Equipment Blog

Getting my feet dirty.

Getting my feet dirty.

Auction vs. eBay vs. Kijiji

Ritchie Bros. sells thousands of pieces of heavy equipment every week through their live unreserved auctions and online marketplaces - IronPlanet and EquipmentOne.  Established in Kelowna, BC in 1958 and now headquartered in Burnaby, BC with 110 locations in 25 countries, they opened their first permanent auction site in Edmonton in 1976.

Trent Vanderberghe, Vice President, Sales, at Ritchie Bros. thinks “one of the top reasons people buy equipment and trucks from us is selection. Our live auctions are often called equipment supermarkets, but without price tags. We conduct more than 350 live auctions around the world each year. We sell hundreds, if not thousands, of items in each auction, with each item being sold completely unreserved—no minimum bids or reserve prices.”

He adds, “At our live unreserved auctions and IronPlanet’s weekly online auctions, buyers choose the final selling price; not us nor the seller. There are no price tags; every item is sold to the highest bidder, regardless of price. We offer clear title or your money back. We identify and arrange for the release of any liens or encumbrances on the equipment we sell. If we can't deliver clear title, we offer a full refund of the purchase price.”

Just this past June, Ritchie Bros. sold a 2013 Manitowoc 16000 440-ton self-erecting crane for $2.25M US at a Houston Texas auction. Impressive.

Who knew you could learn things on eBay about the dos and don’ts of buying construction equipment. I loved the blog on buying Construction Excavators which gives valuable tips like making sure you know about all of the excavator’s features, parts and functions before you go shopping and lists some of them for you.  It suggests asking about things I never would have thought about – like an anti-vandalism feature.  And yes, you can buy construction equipment on eBay - they even suggest search words to use. Who knew “zero tail swing excavator” was a good search term.

The eBay article also provides tips for buying used equipment. “The seller should be clear about owner history, how long, and in what capacity, the excavator has been used, and what the reason for selling is. Records of service and repairs should be available, as well as descriptions of any problems or issues. If buying online, the shopper should carefully inspect photos, which should be of the equipment for sale rather than stock images. Communication between buyer and seller is crucial: if a seller withholds information or does not answer questions, it is best to walk away.” 

Just for fun, I went on the Calgary Kijiji site and typed in “excavator.” Well, 305 ads came up. On the first page alone there was everything from a 2010 John Deere 350D LC Excavator for $94,900 to a HOC TE301 to a 2006 Hitachi ZX 270LC Hydraulic Excavator for $65,000.  On the second page was a Cuso 5327 PD(13-Yard) Hydro-Excavator Truck for $194,000 – very tempting (the little guy next door would be impressed if I had one of these).

Link: eBay: Dos and Don't of Buying Construction Equipment 

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On Site Education

I wasn’t done yet. More “field research” needed. I asked so I decided to ask my friends at University District if they could set me up with someone to chat with about all the big toys being used to prepare their site for their mega development. I met up with Chris Peters, Project – Supervisor/Estimator – Special Projects with Volker Stevin Contracting Ltd who was wealth of knowledge. 

I learned that over this summer they had $2.3 million of equipment on site – Two Track Excavators ($1.1M) Track Loader ($300K), Track Dozer ($400K), Wheel Loader (250K), Padfoot Roller ($130K), Smooth Drum Packer ($80K) and Skidsteer ($60K).  FYI…they own, not lease or rent.

Peters also enlightened me as to what the sequence of events is that takes place to get a bare piece of land ready for housing developers to build their projects.

For the deep utilities the sequence is:

  • Large Excavator: digs out the trench, places gravel on the bottom, drops the pipe to the crew, places gravel on top of the pipe, repeat
  • Wheel Loader: feeds gravel to the bucket of the excavator with spoon, brings pipe to the side of the trench from storage area
  • Track Dozer: pushes material back into the trench for backfill, smoothes out the dirt once backfilled to grade
  • Track Loader: carries material for backfill, works in conjunction with the dozer, moves piles of excess dirt
  • Padfoot Roller: compacts each lift of backfill as the track loader and dozer push it back in
  • Small Excavator: compact in tight areas, around manholes and utilities
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For the surface work the sequence is:

  • Grader: pushes clay and gravel from high to low areas, spreads dumped materials, sets material to grade
  • Scraper: picks up and hauls excess material which grader has windrowed or places material for grader to spread
  • Smooth drum roller: compacts the clay and gravel as the material is placed in lifts
  • Paver: once curbs have been placed (either machine poured or hand formed) the paver lays out asphalt mix from dump trucks
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University District 101

As for what challenges they faced in preparing the University District site, I was surprised to learn some of the pipes were placed 9+ meters deep.  I also hadn’t thought about the issue of their working adjacent to the Alberta Children’s Hospital meant keep dust and noise to a minimum and working around traffic and pedestrians.  As well, they had to maintain water and services to the all the buildings nearby while performing upgrades.

Peters even invited me to come to the University District site and see the equipment for myself, even climb up onto one of their pieces of equipment for an “operator’s view” of what it is like to operate a big toy.  I felt like I was the “king of the castle” as little boys would say.  Tim, the real operator told me that a good shift is about 10 hours long with about 9 of those actually sitting and operating the equipment.  He said, “the bigger the toy, the easier it is on the body as you don’t get bounced around as much as you do on smaller equipment.” Good to know.

This is fun...

This is fun...

Learning To Operate

Part of my assignment was to take at least one piece of equipment for a test drive and perhaps attend a training lesson. My first thought was to check to see what post secondary schools offered heavy equipment operator (HE0) training. I quickly found that Olds College has a 12-week program followed by a two-week practicum - that seemed a bit excessive for my needs. All I needed was a quickie lesson. 

And no, I couldn’t just train on one or two pieces of equipment either.  You must successfully complete training and testing on six pieces of equipment – Grader, Skid Steer, Loader, Excavator, Packer and Rubber Tired Hoe.

Also, certain my assignment editor wouldn’t spring for the $12,000 tuition and the next class didn’t even start until September (my deadline was mid August), Olds College was a “no-go.”

Nonetheless, a quick call to Sharyl James, Trades Programmer at Olds College was enlightening.  She told me they have had students as young as 17 enrolled in the program, but they must be 18 at the time of completion.  And they also have had several students over 65 take the training. Guess I have a couple of years yet to take the training.

Students have included retired bus drivers, outsourced IT specialists, correctional officers, landscapers, oilfield workers and of course, individuals wanting to start their own building company and do the excavating for their projects themselves. 

Olds College’s HEO program is also popular with new Canadians - with students from around the world, including Kenya, India, Sri Lanka, Korea and Cameroon – signing up. James points out “one of the big advantages of our courses is that we are a college so we can help special needs students whose second language in English.”

A view from the driver's seat!

A view from the driver's seat!

Last Word

If you think buying, leasing or renting a new or used car is complicated, don’t even think about becoming a procurement officer for construction equipment. The options are mind-boggling, and a mistake could be very costly.  I think I might stick to Toys-R-Us.

If you like this blog, checkout these links: 

University District: Calgary's First 24/7 community?

2015 Year of Calgary's Mega Infill Projects