The counties of eastern Texas take pride in being both decidedly rural and resourceful. That spirit is inherent in every resident you meet no matter if they are generations-deep or transplants seeking relief from the sprawl of Dallas or Houston.
In Anderson County, no one might exemplify this better than Greg Chapin, County Commissioner for Precinct 1.
With 254 counties, the most of any state in the U.S., more than 2/3 are classified as rural/non-metropolitan. Each county is run by a Commissioners’ Court consisting of four elected commissioners (one from each of four precincts drawn based on population) and a county judge elected from all the voters of the county.
The burden these counties share is how to maintain their secondary roads and bridges, hundreds of miles not under the jurisdiction of the Texas Department of Transportation. There is an ongoing struggle to stretch current revenues and attract new tax dollars without upending the way of life.
County commissioner is Greg’s third job, alongside being a rancher and a meat processor. A hands-on kind of man, he is as comfortable managing the county road budget as crawling into an excavator to move dirt. That gives him a tight grip on the precinct’s equipment needs. “We are dealing with limited proceeds. We are the elected purchasing agents for the county to make the right decisions,” he says.
Precinct 1 maintains 311 miles of secondary roads, including 27 miles of dirt road. In addition to paving and patching, crews clean ditch lines to keep water flowing and prevent erosion, place culverts, widen roads and remove trees downed by frequent storms.
“We had a Gradall with high hours. It became a process of working on it three days to work three hours. It did ditching work but was limited beyond that. I was venturing for something with more versatility,” Greg says. The Gradall’s retractable one-piece boom didn’t fit the bill for Anderson County, who needed the ability to retract and reach up and over fences and around mailboxes – common obstacles along most roadways.
What if he could combine several machines into one?
“It never occurred to me that a wheeled excavator could work for us, because I related an excavator to having tracks. Then I went to New York City and saw them running up and down the streets. I thought, ‘This is something I’d like to try,’” he says.
Steve Breeden, account manager at ROMCO Equipment Co., had customers in two neighboring counties operating wheeled excavators. He was able to provide a EW180D demo machine to Greg and his operator to use for two weeks. Greg says, “That availability was a big selling point for us. It was practically brand new, with just 27 hours, and we tried everything – setting culverts, digging ditches, it just sold itself. It hands-down outperformed the Gradall, and that’s why we went with it.”
Steve says the EW180 is a good fit for Anderson County because they have so many miles of tertiary roads with little traffic. “They can drive the excavator to most sites and carry all their tools in a dump truck, without the need for an additional trailer.” The EW180 has a max travel speed of 22 mph, so it is comparable to driving a farm tractor, covering 20 miles in less than 40 minutes.
The two must-have attachments are a hydraulic thumb and tilting bucket, along with a hydraulic coupler for easy switch-outs from the cab. Says Greg, “You might have 20-30 trees down in one night from a storm. The thumb gives us the ability to drive along the road and pick up and remove the trees very quickly. We can also set tank cars (used as culverts) 16 feet deep and also have the reach and depth. The two-piece boom allows us to work right up against ourselves – that’s big for us. The versatility, mobility and cost are all factors.”
Price is always a deciding factor for municipal governments with limited funds and the responsibility of making the right purchasing decisions for their constituents. Buying contracts are strongly encouraged by the state for efficiency and cost savings. Volvo Construction Equipment and ROMCO participate in national procurement programs HGACBuy and Sourcewell (formerly NJPA), which makes the government buying process for new equipment easy and efficient.
“Using HGACBuy made for an easy purchase. If we had to buy outright we would have had to get three to four competitive quotes and go through the bidding process,” says Greg, adding that they saved over $50,000 by selecting the Volvo EW180 over other types of equipment.
Secondary to savings is having operators accept the equipment that is purchased.
David Perry, who has run backhoes, graders, dozers, loaders and excavators over his 40 years as an operator, gave the final stamp of approval. He says, “Between this and our Gradall, the controls are slightly different, but there’s not much to learn. The biggest difference is with the boom. (With the Volvo) it can retract and you can dig deep into a hole and go up and over a fence or dig underneath it.”
These two unassuming Texans may seem unlikely ambassadors for a movement to switch to wheeled excavators, but their story is common among converts.
Says David, “It’s a very good, versatile machine. If you’re thinking of getting a Gradall, I wouldn’t. With a Gradall you are limited.”