Job Story: Ditch Witch’s SK800 Spearheads Landscaping Projects in Historic Michigan

Ditch Witch SK800

Equipped with a 24.8-hp Kubota diesel engine, the SK800 provides more than enough power to handle the unique landscape details required by the large island project.

Mackinac Island, Mich., located in Lake Huron between the state’s upper and lower peninsulas, is known for its wide-ranging architecture like the admired Victorian Grand Hotel and its stunning landscapes. As a popular tourist destination, much of the island is historically preserved by the State Park to maintain the island’s appeal, beauty and history. In fact, transportation on the island is limited to horse and buggy, bicycle or foot — almost all motor vehicles are banned. Though part of the historic charm, the ban is often challenging for the many businesses operating on the island, including Barnwell Landscape and Garden Services — the company that designs, installs and maintains many of the island’s resort and residential property landscapes.

“Due to the motor vehicle restriction, we do most of our landscape work manually. Everything is done by hand,” said Jack Barnwell, owner of Barnwell Landscape and Garden Services. “Only in early spring or late fall can you get a special permit for motor vehicle use to haul equipment, but it is an extremely slow and costly process.”

So, when Barnwell and his team were hired for a large-scale, multiple-building landscape project in July 2017, they reconsidered their manual processes.

“The project is the largest, private residential landscape job on Mackinac Island and will span a couple of years before it is complete. The work includes varying, unique landscapes from beautiful stone walls and staircases to flowing creeks and waterfalls, not to mention we’re moving across changing elevations,” said Barnwell. “We can do all this work by hand, but for a project of this scale, scope and size, manual work would be inherently slow.”

The customer that hired the crew, however, provided a Ditch Witch SK800 mini skid steer with multiple attachments for this project, including a heavy-duty bucket, two sizes of augers, a trencher and a fork. The unit was small enough that horses could haul the machine using a dray (horse trailer) without the need for special vehicle permits. Equipped with a 24.8-hp Kubota diesel engine, the machine provides more than enough power to handle the unique landscape details required by the large island project. And, an ergonomic operator station provides a comfortable platform to offer relief to operators during their long hours on the job.

“The SK800 has been a game changer for us,” added Barnwell. “The machine is a versatile weapon. It is compact enough to transport by horse where needed. It’s quiet so we don’t disturb residents or tourists and powerful to help us get tasks done much faster.”

For the heavy-duty jobs such as moving stone slabs, the Barnwell team now turns to the SK800. The same job that used to take 15 minutes with two or three workers with steel bars and a cart, now only takes one machine operator two minutes — a huge time savings.

“Every day since the Ditch Witch unit has been on the job, we’ve saved at least three days of work,” said Barnwell. “The machine has significantly improved our productivity. Now that we know it can easily be pulled by horse, we’ll continue to utilize it whenever we can throughout this multi-year project and other projects in the future.”

Chris Thompson is a compact equipment product manager with Ditch Witch.
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  • John Wilder
    October 11, 2017 15:31:35

    I have extensive experience with Ditch Witch machines and they are a HUGE LABOR SAVER. For example, it would take two guys at least a half day to manually dig fence post holes for my fencing business. With the Ditch Witch it took one guy 10 minutes averaging about 15 seconds per hole. So 8 man-hours versus 10 minutes with the machine, you decide. That does not even take into consideration using pallet forks to transport fencing material to the back yard and hauling away old fencing to the front to be loaded on the trump to take to the dump.