La Crosse, Wisconsin. Komatsu’s D39PX-21 Crawler Dozer is helping the La Crosse County Highway Department and its neighboring counties keep on top of road work projects. Tim Hammes, Assistant Patrol Superintendent, talks about some of his department’s job tasks and how the D39 Dozer is playing an important role.
“It’s a lot of responsibility as we maintain and care for over 1,000 miles of state and county roads” say Hammes. He continues “we basically work on the road right-of-ways which entail a lot of ditch and bank sloping, ditching for drainage, ripping out and installing culverts and box culverts and so forth.”
“When it comes to purchasing a machine for the county we accept bids from manufacturers/distributors and naturally price plays a factor in our choice of equipment,” says Hammes. He adds “Komatsu did very well with their bid but, it’s definitely not the only part of the decision-making process.”
Hammes says, “First of all, we want to make sure we are purchasing the right machine for the required job tasks in terms of weight, horsepower and so forth; we (Highway Dept.) establish a series of specifications that each machine must meet before we will even allow them to submit a bid.”
Hammes continues “we also value the opinion of our operators and we want them to feel safe in the machine; if an operator feels safe in a machine they can concentrate better on the job at hand. Our operators are given the opportunity to test and then complete a check list of what they liked and disliked about each machine’s performance.”
“Overall, the Komatsu D39 did very well,” says Hammes. He adds “the operators liked the visibility of the machine, the maneuverability and how well it handled the steep grades and slopes as well as the responsiveness of the controls.”
Hammes says “our department purchased a Komatsu PC220LC-7 Excavator from Roland (Roland Machinery Company, Komatsu’s Wisconsin Distributor) back in 2006 and I feel it has been a great machine in terms of productivity and reliability. I felt the D39 would be a good addition for the same reasons and because of its versatility so I was pleased when the county decided to go with the Komatsu.”
Since the majority of La Crosse County Highway Department’s dozer work is on uneven surfaces such as roadside ditches, etc. they chose the D39PX-21. The PX Model gives the operator an additional 7” of shoe width and 5” more track gauge than the standard D39EX-21 model which in turn provides for greater machine stability and reduced ground pressure (psi).
Hammes feels his department has a wide range of versatile equipment and says “I think this is important because it allows us to assist other counties and perform work that we or they might otherwise have to contract out.”
That proved to be the case this year when parts of the Midwest were hit with a series of powerful storms. While a large majority of the Southeast suffered from the worst drought on record in 2007, heavy rainfall and subsequent flooding of record proportions struck parts of the upper Mississippi River Valley.
In particular, one storm system produced rainfall in excess of 10-12 inches within a 24 hour period. The heaviest amount of rain was concentrated in an area stretching from Rochester, Minnesota, through La Crosse, Wisconsin. In fact, at the height of the storm, some areas were seeing rainfall of 1 to 2 inches per hour.
This resulted in widespread floods and mudslides that closed numerous state and county highways and several months later many counties are still engaged in repairs and preventative projects.
Hammes and his crew are helping a neighboring county by working on a section of Wisconsin State Highway 162 affected by the mudslides. Hammes says “at one point this road was closed due to the slides; naturally, our first priority was to get all the roads open. Now, we are trying to maintain roadside drainage and ditching for the water to flow and make sure it’s not encroaching on the road or shoulder.”
He adds “this particular bank is approximately 30 feet in height and the slope is 2:1. It’s this type of terrain where the Komatsu Dozer performs exceptionally well. He adds “we have to contend with the steepness of the slopes and the soil types. We don’t know what we’ll encounter on any project; it varies from topsoil, to heavy clay and sand to some rocky spots. The Komatsu Dozer shows great stability and handles these tasks quite well.”
Hammes and his operators also like the horsepower and drawbar pull of the machine. Hammes says “we went with the smaller 10 foot blade for reasons of safety and logistics since we do a lot of work alongside the edge of open roads and because it doesn’t hang over the trailer as we transport the unit almost everyday.” He adds “the geometry is the same on the smaller blade so the dirt rolls well; plus, the machine has plenty of power to push the material along.”
His operators also like the D39 dozer. Steve Knudson, and operator with over 20 years experience, says “my big thing is visibility, and not just the blade visibility but the visibility out the front and sides of the machine as well.” Knudson adds “to me it’s simple-if you have good visibility you’re safe; when I look out the sides of the machine I can see not only the blade but the tracks as well which gives me a secure feeling. I have operated a lot of dozers throughout the years and I feel the overall visibility in the D39 cab is the closest to an open ROPS machine.”
Hammes recalls “this storm system caused another mudslide on which a large section of the hillside had shifted. We had to level the hillside off and I was debating if I should use our dozers or if I should bring the trucks in and start hauling the dirt. I thought the project might be too large in terms of the amount or quantity of material to move combined with the steepness of the slope.”
Hammes continues “my operator said we should give the D39 a chance and I’m glad we did because the machine did an excellent job. We used the Komatsu PC220LC and the D39PX and basically, we leveled out a hillside and stabilized it with rip rap as a proactive measure for future rainfall.” He goes on to say “it took a little more time with the dozer but in the end it proved to be cost-effective because we didn’t need to bring in additional equipment and operators to haul and dump the material elsewhere.” Hammes says “after that particular job that I began referring to the D39 as ‘the little dozer that could.’”
“Overall, I’m very impressed with Komatsu’s D39 Dozer,” says Hammes, adding “it goes back to what I said, that if an operator feels safe and comfortable in a machine they can concentrate on the job. My operators like the performance, visibility and stability of the unit. We have encountered some pretty steep banks and slopes along the way and with the D39 our operators are not apprehensive; this machine has always gone where we need it to go.”