If you google “when was the skid steer invented?” various sources will tell you that the first skid steer prototype was an odd-looking three-wheeled loader. If you dig deeper, you will learn that the first skid steer was invented in 1957 by brothers Louis and Cyril Keller in Rothsay, Minn. The brothers were the owners of Keller Mfg., a small fabricating and general repair business. Their main business was a single-stage snowblower, but in 1956 a local turkey farmer approached the brothers to build a machine to clean out turkey barns. Tractors of the day were not maneuverable enough and were too heavy for the second story. By 1957, the first skid steer was being tested and it exceeded expectations.
Today, skid steers and their track loader counterparts still have a place on the farm but have moved into the city too. You are just as likely to see skid steers and track loaders in construction, material handling or landscaping applications. Attachments have grown beyond buckets too. Farmers will use bale grabbers to move and stack hay or manure grapples for clearing stalls in a barn. Construction-minded users know the power that can be unleashed in a hammer for breaking concrete. Once crushed, the concrete and debris can be moved with a scrap grapple bucket. Heavy-duty brush cutters can tackle trees to aid in land clearing for utilities or reclamation projects. Trenching, snow removal and site leveling are a few more of the many tasks that skid steer and track loader attachments will help you get done.
The array of attachments available for skid steers and track loaders make them good tools for landscapers. The benefits for the landscaper make it easy to see why they are so prevalent in the landscape business. There’s a wide attachment selection, and a broad range of tasks can be performed easily just by changing between attachments. They are also compact enough to operate in smaller spaces, and they move from jobsite to jobsite fairly quickly. Tools in a landscaper’s arsenal can range from seeders and trenchers to powered rakes and tillers, all from one power unit. Skid steers can even use smart attachments for precision site leveling on sports fields or in areas where a precise grade is a must. Let’s take a closer look at some of these landscape attachments.
Skid steer- or track loader-mounted trenchers have uses across various industries. From installing buried fiber-optic cables for a new development to installing an irrigation system at a sports complex, trenchers efficiently slice a narrow trench in the soil, leaving the spoil next to the trench for efficient backfill. Trenchers use a variety of chains depending on the soil type — rock, sand, clay or loam — and it is important to match the chain to the digging conditions. Widths can vary too, depending on the application, from a modest width of 4 to 12 in.
Landscapers should look for a quality trencher because it will take some abuse. With a stinger buried 5 ft in the ground, there are many unseen obstacles that are likely to be encountered. Features like sealed bearings, reversible motor, hardened chain teeth and even a depth indicator are features of a quality machine. The bearings on the chain drive system spend a lot of time in hostile environments. Sealed bearings protect against dirt that will limit their lifespan. A reversible drive motor can help the user get out of a tight spot in rock or compacted soil. Hardened teeth extend the chain life to keep landscapers in the field, being productive with billable work.
Garden tillers have been around since the 1930s. The skid steer/track loader tiller expands on the concept. Skid tillers are usually as wide as or slightly wider than the unit. Some can be manually or hydraulically offset to work closer to buildings or fences. With forward or reverse tines on one machine, the operator can go both directions while preparing the seedbed, which increases efficiency and speeds seedbed preparation. By using the curl feature on the skid steer, operators can control depth, a task that is made easier if the tiller has a depth indicator. Some brands of tiller also feature ripper shanks to rip through hard, sun-baked or compacted soils. A tiller is a must for any landscaper.
No landscape contractor should be without a powered rake. This multi-functional seedbed and soil surface preparation tool is capable of eliminating compaction and then grading, leveling, shaping and pulverizing various types of soil surfaces to create a near perfect seedbed. If rocks are a problem, a skid-mounted powered rake is also ideal for raking or windrowing rocks and construction site debris. Powered rakes need to be wider than the skid steer so that when angled, they cover the tracks. The roller typically features carbide-tipped studs for long wear life. A powered rake can be angled for wind-rowing or more aggressive pulverizing and most feature gauge wheels. Quality units are bi-directional and have variable speed.
After employing a tiller and powered rake to prep the seedbed, landscapers need a quality seeding tool to finish the job. Fortunately, the long list of available skid steer/track loader attachments for landscaping includes a seeder. Most quality models come with large capacity seed boxes with an agitator to keep the seed from bridging and the ability to travel both forward and backward. A skid seeder needs to accurately broadcast the proper amount of seed and then gently press the seed into the soil. For accuracy, most seeders utilize a ground drive system that keeps the whole process running smoothly.
Smart Box Blades
Smart box blades utilize laser technology and allow landscape contractors the option of rough or precision grading with one tool. In their base configuration, these blades allow for basic grading work to be done in applications requiring a simple rough grade, such as landscaping and initial surface prep. Precision grading can be accomplished with the addition of a 2D or 3D laser system to accurately control site preparation. Flat work, like athletic fields or foundations, are completed efficiently and accurately with in-cab controls. The controls utilize a laser or lasers and receivers that communicate to a manifold that automatically lifts and tilts the blade for a precise finish. Smart tools are not for every landscaper, but the technology behind them is becoming more affordable. Quality 2D or 3D systems are available from a number of suppliers. Features of a quality blade will include the ability to grade forward and backward with a hinged cutting edge for accuracy, a floating front axle to help keep the blade level and, of course, the ability to accept a third party 2D or 3D attachment control system.
Skid steer and track loader attachments for the landscape industry are too numerous to mention all in full detail. Other, more common attachments include buckets of all shapes and sizes, blades for snow removal or dirt work, augers for building a fence or planting a tree, graders and land planes for leveling sites and refurbishing driveways, rippers to break up and loosen tightly packed soil and grapples in as many varieties as a landscaper can imagine. In fact, when one stands back and assesses the attachment landscape, there is almost a tool for every landscaping need. If there’s not, one will be introduced soon.