Pulling More Than Their Weight

If you have a job site full of boulders and tough gravel deposits, chances are you’ll stick with push scrapers to do the job. But this equipment has lots of up-and-coming little brothers. Though these may not be able to perform everywhere—especially at sites with heavy lifting—the big brothers of the scraper world are lately getting a run for their money from pull scrapers. The pullers of the scraper world now operate more economically, in a wider variety of sites, and in tight spots the big guys wouldn’t dream of touching.

From Horse-Drawn to GPS and Lasers
Founded in 1917, the Ucon, IN–based Miskin Scraper Works Inc. is the oldest pull-scraper manufacturer in the world, according to Mike McCrory, Miskin Eastern sales manager. The original product was manufactured to move soil for Idaho farmers in the Snake River Basin. Back then the scrapers were only a half-yard in size and pulled by horses. They grew in size and have been growing ever since. Now they range in size from 8 to 26 yards.

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“If you’re going to use a scraper to move earth, the only time you should use a big, heavy-duty, self-propelled, motorized scraper is in heavy rock material,” says McCrory. “In those conditions where you have to do some push loading and have to pull some boulders out of the ground, the other scrapers can do that. Pull-type scrapers can do everything else. The market is probably 98% pull-type scrapers as opposed to the 2% to 5% that are motorized scrapers.”

Photo: Miskin
Founded in 1917, Miskin Scraper Works Inc. has seen three generations of family management and innovations in pull-scraper technology.

McCrory contends there aren’t as many motorized scrapers in the eastern US as there once were. “Back in 1995 it was nothing but motorized scrapers throughout the country; but, slowly, pull-type scrapers use moved west. California and the Rocky Mountain states still have perhaps the most motorized scrapers, simply due to the terrain. In the east, mountainous states such as West Virginia still have some motorized scrapers. I don’t think you’ll find any in Florida.”

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Miskin’s come up with a few different variations on design. There are rollout dumps—the largest of which is the D-26—and push-out ejectors, the E-20s. Their scrapers all dump on-grade, a critical feature, according to McCrory. This means the cutting edge does not pivot toward the ground when unloading. All GPS and laser systems work perfectly as electric-over-hydraulic controlling the height of the blade when cutting or unloading. The laser catches low spots, and the blade will move 6 inches, for example, to compensate, still creating a smooth horizontal surface.

“With our scrapers, operators can unload and the cutting edge would still be 1 inch off the ground,” adds McCrory. “The scrapers use a big piano hinge positioned behind the cutting edge; instead of having the cutting edge as part of the bucket, it’s a separate piece enabling our scrapers to work well.”

After 92 years, the company is in its third generation of the Miskin family management. Various manufacturers went from making simple farm-tractor scrapers to constructing scraper-hauler tractors, according to McCrory. “All we do is take the agricultural drawbar out and replace it with a scraper drawbar, install the scraper, and go to work. We also produce an extremely wide agricultural scraper, 18 feet wide, to cover more ground.”

Construction Pull Scraping
Lee Smith, general superintendent for Country Contractors in Indianapolis, IN, has worked in various areas of the US, using Miskin scrapers for everything from building runways and taxiways at the Indianapolis International Airport to extensive interstate rerouting projects. On one interstate project, more than 3 million yards of earth were moved in eight months. The company has also prepared sites for the building of subdivisions and stripped overburden in gravel pits and stone quarries.

“Miskin’s not the biggest name, but is one of the best-built scrapers out there,” says Smith, “Miskin is a straight-up construction scraper. They build a smaller agricultural scraper and started out with that, but their bread and butter’s in the construction industry. I know most of the people who run the company.

“If I have a complaint, I can pick up the phone and get straight through to them. That might not mean a lot to some people, but it means a lot to me. If you have a problem with their equipment, depending on who you call, you can get it taken care of quickly.”

The Hitch Is the Thing
Icon Industry’s scrapers are used for either light construction or heavy earthmoving. For 15 years the Beloit, KS–based company has manufactured scrapers mainly, in addition to rollers and a pull-type grader. The scrapers are known for their heavy-duty, 360-degree swivel hitches. Icon has patented the technology of its scrapers’ swing-wall ejector system.

Photo: K-Tec
K-Tec’s pull scrapers can run with lighter machines that burn less fuel, still handling much of the same volume as motor scrapers.

The Icon scrapers range from 14 yards up to 21 yards and can be used in tandem. “Icon has traditionally been known for its narrow width—some 11 feet, 11 inches—and has been very popular with contractors looking for easy transport in moving from job to job,” says Curt Shoemaker, Icon product specialist. “Our pull scrapers enable operators to move dirt from point A to point B without other machinery. The Icon features scrapers that can be pushed if need be. We have our equipment stripping topsoil for mining, building highways—and they’re also a good fit in tight spaces involved with developing housing projects.

“I have 19 years of work with the self-propelled scrapers. But the ease of operations of these is so great that even an inexperienced operator, within a short time, is able to load and unload with no problems.”

If tandem work is being performed, the rear scraper is typically hard to see. To help out with this situation, Icon has standard in-cab readout that can be placed in the cab with the operator. It gives a reading of the height of the cutting bed and the height of the gate or lip up front. The operator can glance at his gauge to determine what his rear scraper is doing without having to turn around and guess.

Great Fit for the Compact Work
“Our scrapers are involved primarily with compact equipment,” says Darrel Hoelscher, chief executive officer of Hoelscher Inc. in Bushton, KS. “It started from our own use in moving dirt around the farm. Then we just kept expanding that line because of the size of the small tractors. Most of our customers are farmers. They use the scrapers for repairing or filling washouts, on terraces, rebuilding dams and clearing out space for ponds.”

The design of the company’s scrapers is close to that found in some of the bigger scrapers, according to Hoelscher. “Our scrapers are also made heavier than anything else available for that size of tractor. They can haul up to one-and-three-quarter yards. That’s with our DB scraper. We started with these about seven years ago. Back in 1978 we started out with building bale accumulators for hay bales. Now we’re able to handle landscaping as well as agricultural and construction settings.

“What makes us unique is our ability to get around in tight corners and tight spots; our scrapers are maneuverable enough that you can make a U-turn on a fairly narrow dam of about 20 feet.”

Helping Sod to Be Skim-able
James Hall of Hall Enterprises in LaGrange, KY, uses Hoelscher scrapers largely for leveling construction sites. Hall finds the scrapers especially good for building sites and around commercial excavation. Hall Enterprises uses its scrapers mostly with a John Deere 110, about a 43-horsepower TLB tractor with four-wheel drive, finding that such equipment pulls a scraper well. The company recently put up a machinery storage area that was 60 by 127 feet. All of the site work on the project was done with the scraping equipment.

On a site of less than 10,000 square feet, such as a site clearing for a barn, these scrapers are ideal, Hall points out. Occasionally Hall has used them to remove the topsoil and dump it a few yards away. Then he’ll fill in with the construction debris, including rock and clay from the excavation. With that same pan, Hall will return and scoop up the remains, placing them over the subsoil area.

The company came at this from the construction angle, where equipment not as large as that involved in excavation was required. Though Hall has used it for roads, it is for creating roads in and around buildings on private property.

Hall also finds the pan is especially helpful for skimming sod off the ground before a road is laid down. “Sod is actually very difficult to handle,” adds Hall. “It’s a lot more difficult than loose dirt and comes up in a ribbon. That’s the reason we use the skirted dirt pan. Once the sod’s removed the rock can be laid down. Then you use your roller scraper, taper lug, and graders for compaction and smoothing out.”

Photo: Humdinger
Humdinger designs its line of pull scrapers for the construction rather than the agricultural market.

Before discovering the practicality of skimming up the sod, Hall used his tractor to till up the sod. That was the only option they had. But he’s found the dirt pan a much more desirable option in dealing with sod removal.

Keeping Weights Low for Better Fuel Economy
K-Tec offers scrapers pulled behind rock trucks, an innovative idea, according to Ken Rempel, president of K-Tec. The company offered its first scrapers for sale or resale in 2003.

“We classify ourselves as scraper specialists with a lot of concentration on what it takes to make a scraper work fast, efficiently, and with the lowest fuel cost running for the most yards of earth moved,” says Rempel.

“We played around with different types of steel, trying to get our machines lighter but stronger—which turns into more payload—as well as shaping the scraper correctly to the point where we can load many yards easily. Just to compare a bit, when we started manufacturing scrapers, the largest pull-pan scraper out there was about 18 yards. We started with about 28 yards and have gone up from there.

“That feat was accomplished with the same horsepower tractors and with keeping our hitch and tongue weight down. Most scrapers haven’t focused much on keeping the weight down on the tongue so it won’t tear up the tractor.”

K-Tec has found a way to strategically place the load and balance the machine out. Focusing on tractor hitches—so that more weight could be added to the tongue and not jeopardize the life of the tractor—has been critical for K-Tec. The company now has scrapers that are larger than a number of the largest motor scrapers available and are competing with them.

K-Tec scrapers can run with lighter machines, burn less fuel, and still handle much of the same volume as motor scrapers, according to Rempel. “We’ve managed to do that with much lower horsepowers and for a fraction of the cost—roughly half the overhead costs. Among the largest scrapers out there is the 44-yard scraper, but it also has to be pushed or push-pulled with another machine.

“We’ve managed to accomplish that with lower horsepower and a fraction of the overhead cost with our 43-yard, 36-yard, and 53-yard machines. We’re also able to pull our 1233, a 33-yard machine, in tandems—which brings you up to 66-yards. We’ve got good flexibility there with the job on long hauls and a good, solid, haul roadway able to be run on trains. For a short hauler you split them up and run them separately.”

K-Tec has stepped aside from the tradition of heavy fuel use, focusing on machines that are lighter—not less durable—and being careful about the designs of the units, spreading the stresses as well as using high-grade, long-lasting material. Rempel refers to the company goal as the “airplane or racecar effect”: all about shedding weight and gaining more speed.

“Dirt-moving is a race,” adds Rempel. “It’s how fast you can get it from your cut to your fill, and it’s how efficiently you can do it and for how little money that makes you competitive.

“We like to consider ourselves the scraper specialists giving the contractor the best bang for his buck and eliminating his problems,” says Rempel. “Between helping him with the conditions encountered and offering fuel savings, we want to be sure he’s reducing problems—not compounding them.”

Photo: Humdinger
A set of pull scrapers working in tandem can be an effective solution to a demanding soil profile.

Good Fit for Environmental Work
Chris Galloway, owner of CGR in Davis, CA, started out as an end-user of the K-Tec equipment. K-Tec felt it needed someone to support it in California, so Galloway’s company became a dealer for K-Tec as well. “Most of the work we do involves habitat restoration and some agricultural land leveling as well. We mostly work vernal pools and restore giant garter snake habitat around the valley of California.”

They take unproductive agricultural lands and turn them back into habitat for this particular endangered species for mitigation. By digging down 30 inches and re-mounding the rest of the soils, a water channel is formed, and the snakes are able to get up and sun themselves. This work provides habitat for thousands of other creatures as well, including waterfowl, insects, rodents, and owls.

“The sites tend to be made into areas containing deep water, perennial plant areas, and berm or upland areas,” adds Galloway. “Usually our clients include Fish and Wildlife Services, the California Waterfowl Association, Ducks Unlimited, and such private companies as Wildlands, Inc. (for mitigation work). Typically, we’re self-performing, but at times they rent the scrapers directly from us as well.”

The K-Tec 1236 is the scraper Galloway tends to use the most, in addition to the 1233 and 1243 scrapers. “It’s not about which scraper is the best but more about efficiencies to get the job done,” says Galloway. “We’ve sold most of our scrapers and are down to our last two. Typically carrying four in stock, what often happens is we rent them down during the season and sell them to an end user in the fall.

“Before K-Tec started up, we were renting the scrapers ourselves, but those were too small. With the price of fuel, of tractors, and the availability of larger horsepower machines, the K-Tec really became a viable option for us. We could haul 36 yards with just one operator, whereas with an 18-yard scraper you really only get 12 to 14 yards. With the K-Tec you can actually push them and get completely full loads. You can’t strike a completely full load in any scraper. So if you push them along a bit they will load up that last 20% and you’re getting that extra bit for free.”

When Scraping’s Really a Drag
Dixon, IL–based Bonnell Industries Inc. produces road drag units constructed mainly for municipal or other large contractors. Though technically not construction scrapers, they do move gravel and material. The company’s smallest model, the 272, requires a minimum of 60 horsepower. Many users pull them with a large plow truck. They don’t have a unit quite small enough to be pulled with a pickup or garden tractor.

Bonnell has three models with eight different variations. They are a good fit for all the different maintenance needing to be done on gravel roads and parking lots, according to Dave Foulker, national sales manager for Bonnell.

“Anywhere that has gravel or loose material that needs to be maintained, including state and federal parks or conservation areas where we have many units in use, is a good fit for our equipment,” says Foulker. “In many of these same areas, volunteer help is used. Those individuals are able to drive a tractor to pull the drag units, so there is no need for them to drive or use a motor grader.”

Photo: Caterpillar
Caterpillar’s TS225 scrapers are equipped with lift cylinders at the end of the bowl, allowing an operator to adjust the cutting angle to handle a variety of different loading conditions.
Photo: Hoelscher
Hoelscher’s compact models are ideal for negotiating tight turns and corners.

Bonnell has also recently developed new piece of equipment called the Shoulder Conditioner for maintaining the shoulder of the road. Whether concrete or asphalt, when the loose material at the shoulder of the road, whether concrete or asphalt, gets eroded away or tire rutted, the equipment works it away from the shoulder. It also reclaims the gravel present, bringing it back to the road surface and grooming it out for safer travel, according to Joe Bonnell, president of Bonnell Inc.

“Currently, our customers may accomplish this with three vehicles,” adds Bonnell. “They’ll have a tractor with a disk to stir up the packed material, followed by a tractor with a blade on it to blade it back in. That action in turn is followed by a broom attachment to groom the material back off the painted white line of the road; all this is done with just one vehicle. We developed the Shoulder Conditioner in 2007, so it’s new to the marketplace.”

Bonnell’s first snowplow was constructed 45 years ago. The company has been making its road drags for some time, as well. “Our founder observed what some of the counties and townships were doing and using to maintain the gravel roads,” adds Foulker. “He realized they needed something better than the old converted horse-drawn graders or discarded bedsprings to maintain gravel roads. Bonnell, with the help of the people doing the maintenance, built the company’s first road drag.”

Just off the Drawing Board
Towed scrapers from Caterpillar Inc. strip topsoil and move the loose materials of the A to mid-B horizon soils in work settings that range from road construction and site preparation to landfill construction.

Cat’s line of towed scrapers brings several new things to the market, according to Dan Bruch, hauling systems marketing representative for Caterpillar. “The Cat scraper bowl uses a cellular design that provides incredible strength and dent resistance. The bowl interior walls, floor, ejector, and apron face are constructed from high-strength, abrasion-resistant steel for maximum wear resistance. The scraper floor is constructed from a box-section design that gives it strength during top loading and structural rigidity during intermittent push loading.

“With job-site safety a top concern for all contractors, Cat’s towed scrapers have hydraulically actuated dry-disc brakes as standard equipment. They are the same brakes that have been used on some Cat articulated trucks for effective stopping power.”

TS185 and TS225 scrapers are equipped with a pair of lift cylinders at the rear of the bowl. These cylinders allow an operator to adjust the cutting angle to adapt to different loading conditions. For example, in soft, sandy materials operators can lower the rear of the bowl to flatten the floor to allow the loose sand to load into the bowl more easily. In hard materials, the operator can raise the rear of the scraper to steepen the cutting angle for greater penetration. This is an exclusive feature to Cat and the former E-Ject Towed Scrapers (E-Ject Systems had been founded by a contractor at the helm of a leading construction company in northeastern Iowa. E-Ject Systems was acquired by Caterpillar in 2008).

The above two scraper models also use an industry-exclusive, four-wheel, walking-beam suspension that provides a smoother ride, reduced side-to-side sway, and easier finish grading. In addition to increased operator comfort and less stress on the pulling machine, the smoother ride can often allow the faster return speeds, thereby decreasing cycle times and increasing productivity.

Cat’s towed scrapers are designed to be pulled by Cat track-type tractors and Challenger MTS800-Series and MTS900-Series special application tractors. “The system of a Challenger MTS800 Series Tractor and a Cat towed scraper provides a blend of outstanding power and flotation and excel in softer underfoot conditions,” adds Bruch. “Challenger MTS900 Series are better suited for harder ground conditions. Use of the Challenger tractors gives the contractor the added versatility of being able to pull other job-site equipment, such as construction disk harrows and sheepsfoot compactor rollers. The system of a steel track-type tractor with a towed scraper is most effective in any ground conditions but require shorter haul distances.

“Cat’s towed scrapers excel for contractors removing topsoil with the following ideal conditions: haul distances under 2,500 feet, material to be moved has a bank density of less than 3,000 pounds per cubic yard, and no large rocks or stumps. For long haul distances or materials with a bank density of greater than 3,000 pounds per cubic yard, contractors should consider other earthmoving systems such as Cat wheel-tractor scrapers or Cat articulated trucks with Cat excavators.

“The key to performance is selecting the best system for an application. It is important that a contractor understand that no one system is the best for all applications. Contractors need to consider the following factors before selecting a hauling system: What type of material is being moved? What are the underfoot conditions? How much material has to be moved?

What is the total job-cycle distance? If you have a handle on those questions you should be able to choose the best system; the job will go much smoother if materials, conditions and amount of material moved all match your scraper system.”

Keeping Equipment Going
“Anyone who owns a 613, a 615, or a 623 is using a machine that our engineers helped design and manufacture for Caterpillar,” according to Randy Holloway, one of the owners of Humdinger Equipment Ltd. “We were involved in building the 417 Noble pan, various government equipment projects, cotton-picker mainframes for Case IH International, forklifts, and a wide array of oilfield products.”

The Humdinger scraper is sold primarily in the construction market, not the agricultural market. “Our biggest selling feature in our 619G [the G stands for gumbo] is the throat opening for dealing with sticky material,” adds Randy. “Our machine has an ejector to push sticky material out of the machine. Every environment has different soil. Conditions can go from being sand to clay within just a few miles.

“We try and modify our units to help meet our individual customer’s needs so that the machine will perform better in that environment. We’re a custom shop more than one putting out a product and hoping it works for you.

“Another large advantage we have against our competition is an old scraper heritage. We’re not scared to ‘push load’ the Humdinger. Our axles and rear-end design, coupled with our hitch configurations, allow push loading in some of the most difficult jobs.

Holloway points out that the system uses 6-inch and 8-inch steel ball hitches. “Our hitches have lasted up to four to six years in some conditions and have much engineering input and investment tied into them. Whenever a hitch or pin breaks and you pull off hoses involved on the unit, you have downtime and money lost; we don’t want that.”

Humdinger can also install side rails on a machine as well as additional modifications, from AR-200 to AR-400 steel, to make them more durable in an abrasive environment. Instead of hoses, the units are equipped with steel lines to cool down the hydraulic fluid as it runs through the scraper. Heat-treating is done to most product wear parts, and the rollers running the ejectors can be flipped over to the other side when wear begins.

“We don’t want to be selling parts; when you’re doing that your customer is running into downtime,” says Holloway. “We’d rather keep them running. It’s all the little things that add up, and that’s what our customer base sees. Our best customer is an experienced scraper user. We move dirt cheaper in the long run, because when you factor in your downtime and resale value, Humdinger scrapers cost less.

“The guys we sell to are 99% in the dirt-moving business, with landfill applications being a very large market for us with customers such as Texas Disposal, the largest independent landfill owner in the state. We also have units running with other large landfill organizations and sell the majority of our equipment to companies that build large developments. Most of the guys we sell to are those that have to move millions of yards annually and do it 365 days a year.”

Down to a System
John Deere pull-scraping equipment comes in very handy in construction applications requiring bulk hauling or precision leveling of materials. These include highway construction, commercial or residential site preparation, overburden removal in mining, levee or reservoir construction, and precision leveling of commercial or agricultural land.

The John Deere AutoLoad System allows the tractor to control the scraper’s depth of cut while loading and the blade height while spreading the materials, providing smoother cut-and-fill areas and increasing productivity and service life of the equipment. Also, the John Deere Implement Management System (IMS) enhances the operation of the scraper tractors.

Operators can use this productivity tool to program and execute a series of vehicle functions with the touch of a single switch. Combining the AutoLoad and IMS features of the John Deere scraper system allows for reduced training requirements and consistently higher productivity while lessoning operator fatigue over extended hours of operation.

When loading the John Deere scraper system using IMS and AutoLoad, for example, the operator engages the differential lock on the tractor and the AutoLoad control of the first scraper. When the first pan is loaded, the operator can press one IMS switch, which simultaneously lowers the gate, raising the first scraper to the carry position and lowering the second pan into the cut, where AutoLoad manages the loading of the second pan. When the second pan is loaded, the operator can press the second IMS switch to lower the gate and raise the second scraper to its carry position and disengage the differential lock of the tractor. Using John Deere’s technology reduces the use of the operator controls by up to 50% when compared to manually loading the scrapers, according to Michael Rieth, scraper systems product consultant for John Deere Thibodaux.

The John Deere scraper system is best used in soils ranging from sand and topsoil to clays weighing under 3,000 pounds per cubic yard. Tandem scrapers are better used for job sites with a haul distance under 3,000 feet. Triple scrapers are better used for haul distances over 3,000 feet.

The John Deere scraper design started back in the early 1980s in Thibodaux, LA, with the factory of Cameco Industries Inc., a manufacturer of equipment for sugarcane harvesting and processing. Cameco manufactured two models of carry-all and ejector scrapers. These scrapers were manufactured for use in Africa and the Middle East to level sugarcane fields. In 1998, John Deere purchased the Cameco factory, now called John Deere Thibodaux.

In 1999, the Cameco scrapers were redesigned to meet customer needs in the US market and distribution began through the John Deere dealers. Through the years, the company’s scraper design has evolved to increase productivity and reliability as the domestic market developed from primarily precision leveling farmland to bulk hauling materials in construction applications. Today, John Deere Thibodaux produces 10 models of John Deere carry-all and ejector scrapers for customers around the world.

“The economical advantage of the John Deere scraper system is experienced in several ways,” adds Rieth, “When looking at the investment cost of our system, we are usually one-third of the cost of the traditional systems. Our system requires half of the labor needed to load, carry, and spread the materials. No other system is more versatile than the Deere system.

“Our scraper system is most efficient when directly pulled with the scraper tractor and using the AutoLoad and Implement Management Systems. However, we can also be top-loaded with excavators and push-loaded by dozers if the application requires. When the weather or job-site conditions change, we increase versatility and production by connecting single, double, or even triple scrapers to the scraper and tractor matching those conditions.”

For other customer needs, such as disking, compacting, or watering, users may disconnect the scrapers and pull those implements with the scraper tractor as well, adds Rieth. “Speaking of compacting, the surface area covered by our system’s wheels allows our customer to reach and sometimes exceed 90% compaction without the use of additional compacting equipment,” he says. “When the final numbers are run, customers are seeing a 30- to 50-cent savings per cubic yard when using the John Deere scraper system over conventional methods.”
About the Author

Peter Hildebrandt

Peter Hildebrandt writes about construction, technology, and industry.

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