The decision to buy a mini excavator was not lightly made- the heavy price tag ensures you slow down and think things through.
By early 2009 there were intimations of a drought. The windmill began to be starved of suction from March which was three months before the usual. I began to realise that before the land can be said to be drought proof, a lot more earthwork needed to be done. A central pond was not good enough; water traps have to be distributed throughout the property.
The ubiquitous earthmoving equipment of India is the JCB. It’s a backhoe cum dozer mounted on tires. It somehow is not good enough for small, sensitive jobs like digging swales and canals. It’s a contractor’s workhorse, requires a skilled, certified operator, drinks far too much fuel per hour and can’t be hired quickly and economically for small odd jobs. If hired, it’s charged for by the hour; so you tend to rush your decisions, besides standing by to give running instructions to a driver more used to cut-price local government contacts.
I was looking for a small machine I can operate myself, consumes little fuel, is always at hand and is capable of small to medium scale jobs. I was looking for a reliable servicing dealer. I spent weeks prowling the Internet discussion forums, watching YouTube videos and studying company catalogues.
The final shortlist was for a 2 tonne class mini excavator with engine power of around 20hp. Tata has an India made machine TMX20 but neither is it being promoted enthusiastically by the company nor was it substantially cheaper. Bobcat representatives were truly assistive and we almost decided on their model 323 or 325.The rub was the price- close to Rs.20 lakhs; the lead time for importing was 3 months. There was also the issue that I’d be importing the first machine and they would be setting up a spare system once my machine arrived.
I was hesitant. Just then a friend suggested calling a company in Gujarat which was using a number of mini excavators in their loading operations. And these turned out to be Yanmar machines, 6 of them. “How did you get them?”, I asked. “Oh, there is a dealer in Vizag, Dozco. Call them. They are quite helpful,” he said.
Within an hour I was moving in. Dozco was indeed very friendly. They were dealers for Yanmar and a wide range of all types of earthmoving equipment. They have been in business for 25 years and had an India-wide network of offices and workshops. Yanmar VIO20 had recently been introduced by them in India. I quickly clicked over to the Yanmar site and studied the specs.
The best part was hearing Dozco say this: “We had imported a first batch of 8 machine. We have sold 7 and there is one available off the shelf.” I played a YouTube video to pointReturn’s ATeam one night after we had had dinner. The video showed a 8 year old girl operating the machine.
Raju, Annamalai and Chellamma were excited. “Are you really going to buy it? We can get all our work done,” was the chorus. I also discovered the mini-excavator field is an established one. There are several third party developers of attachments for them ranging from rock splitters, augurs, mowers and varieties of buckets. Dozco quoted a price of Rs.16 lakhs plus taxes. I decided to visit Vizag to see the machine for myself.
In Vizag, I found myself quite at home with the intuitive controls within minutes of climbing into the seat. It was also a thoughtfully designed machine. Dozco were very patient and supportive. I decided to take the plunge.
I returned to Chennai raring to build a brand new garage for the machine. There was just that between us and the machine arriving. It arrived on Aug 30, 2009 amidst much excitement. The following pictures tell the story well.
Postscript: November, 2009: In the three months the machine has been at pointReturn, it has become everyone’s pet- we christened it, Baby Elephant. Villagers have sauntered over to gaze and admire it. I,the 68 yo driver, have become a minor legend in these parts.
I find using it easy and its slow pace relaxes me and enables me to contemplate my work with enough time to spare. Ideas arrive to sort out tricky situations ahead, hours go by with hardly any stress or tiredness. The noise level is low, it drinks between 1.5 and 3 litres per hour of diesel depending on the rate of work and the machine feels very stable.
I found Dozco very responsive. Filters and parts were readily available and a Dozco man came on the appointed date to service the machine. I have used it for digging ditches, forming small roads within the campus and for clearing thickets and weeds. Of course, I dug a few swales.
And then came Ringo, a master of heavy machinery. He thought I had made a fine buy and operated the machine to carve out a text-book perfect swale. Him, a large Australian riding a small machine attracted more villagers than I did. Ah well…