Used Construction Equipment - it can save you time, money and effort
Used construction equipment isn't exactly necessary for frugal living. No doubt it won't be on your list of things to pick up the next time you go shopping. Nevertheless, it's an option you should consider if you're undertaking large projects and you think you'll get good use out of the equipment.
You should have a sizeable estate to make it worthwhile, but in many cases just a few acres is more than enough to warrant something like a skidsteer loader or a medium size tractor with implements.
I have several pieces of used construction equipment that are used for construction and maintenance around my homestead. They are tremendous labor savers. There is some money wrapped up in the equipment, no doubt, but my plan is to make good use of the equipment and then sell most of it to recoup my investment.
Let's look at the equipment and it's benefits, the drawbacks of having large equipment, and a little bit about how to select good used construction equipment.
Benefits of Used Construction Equipment
Everything has it's price, so if you're going to invest money in used construction equipment, you'll have to know the benefits you can expect for the money you're going to spend.
Generally, the benefits I realize by having heavy equipment include:
- it's there when and for how long I need it
- friends and neighbors can make use of it
- eliminates rental and delivery costs
- avoids the cost of a contractor
Another advantage, although minor, is that for selected equipment, I can sell it with the house. That can make the package more attractive as some people might be concerned about how they're going to tackle a larger place with standard yard equipment. Having some of my used construction equipment convey with the place can add considerable appeal.
Lastly, if you're thinking of making some money on the side, or starting your own business, used construction equipment like a skidsteer, trencher or backhoe can be a good investment.
Let's take a look at each equipment item and what it will help me do around the homestead.
My neighbor likes to say: "...if it can't be done with a skidsteer, it just can't be done...", and I think he's right. The skidsteer is one of the most versatile pieces of used construction equipment you can own. With a bucket and a set of forks on a skidsteer, you can:
- dig a hole
- load a dumptruck
- load and unload a pickup
- clear snow
- push brush piles
- carry heavy things by yourself
- transfer dirt
- pull fence posts
- spread soil
- back-drag soil to level it
- shave off sod
- knock down ridges on the drive
- lift heavy objects
- move heavy planters
- carry full 55 gallon drums with ease
...and the list goes on and on.
With a "wet kit" the skidsteer can be equipped with a wide range of attachments that will make many jobs much easier. Common attachments includ: post hole digger, grapple, trencher and snow blower. More attachments means more cost, so be certain the attachments will be used regularly to make it worth your while to make such purchases.
Skidsteers are four wheel drive, so they can climb and maneuver through mud and snow. If you head into deep mud or snow that gets you stuck, the front bucket can be used to "flick" yourself out in reverse, so it's difficult to get them stuck as long as you head straight into the mess.
A skidsteer can also turn inside its own tracks, so there is no need to back up if you want to turn around. It is very maneuverable, even in tight spaces.
It is also one piece of used construction equipment that you can trailer easily on a flatbed. It isn't so heavy or bulky that it can't be pulled down the road with a double axle flat bed designed to carry a few tons. This makes it easy to take to a job site a few miles or a hundred miles away.
Of all the used construction equipment you might consider, a skidsteer will likely be the most useful. Like we say out here in Wyoming: "...if it can't be done with a skidsteer, it just can't be done...."
If you're in the market for a useful piece of used construction equipment, the skidsteer deserves a good hard look.
Expect to pay $7,000 to $12,000 for a used skidsteer, depending on capacity, age and condition.
There have been more than a few occasions when my neighbor and I were in need of a backhoe. He used to have one but sold it years ago because he wasn't using it. How silly, didn't he know that the neighbors might want to use it?
Anyway, with my sights set on having my own swimming hole and places for fish and waterfowl, I bought one of the two wheel drive beasts. It's an old bugger from the 70s, but it digs a 16 foot deep hole, and that's plenty deep to go swimming.
Photo left is my 1970s John Deere backhoe. It's a big and powerful machine that saves lots of labor, time and money.
So far, I've used the backhoe to:
- dig a swimming hole
- dig a fishing pond
- rework the driveway
- bury 4 horses for my neighbors
- transplant fruit trees and shrubs
- lift loads of fire wood off my flatbed trailer
- move heavy tanks
- relocate propane tanks
- tear out small trees and brush
- dig a burn pit
- construct greenhouse #2
- dig earth anchors for greenhouse #3
- dig the footing for my chicken pen
- lift the chicken coop over a 6 foot high fence
I have many more projects for this equipment including setting the foundations for my wind turbine towers, setting in my driveway arch, digging the footings for my lean-to alongside of the barn, and digging a pit for my outside and underground wood furnace.
The nature of this large machine allows me to take it on down the road to help others in my neighborhood. It doesn't travel fast, but it can travel the roads and climb hills just fine. I took it over to my friends house to dig a grave for one of his horses that wasn't expected to live. The old machine handled the eight mile round trip just fine.
The machine is quite a brute with a 30 inch bucket, so it isn't for dainty work. Once when lifing a huge bundle of scrap wood off of my 16 foot flatbed trailer, I lifted the entire trailer off the ground with it, so it is plenty powerful to handle just about anything.
Next to the skidsteer, the backhoe gets used quite a bit. Nothing digs a hole quite like a backhoe. It is also great for lifting heavy things into and out of awkward locations.
Expect to pay $10,000 to $18,000 for a used backhoe, depending on size, age, condition and type of drive train.
A backhoe and skid steer are great for digging and scooping and things of this nature, but they aren't much good for transporting dirt away from the excavation site. For this you need a dump truck.
Even if you're only going 100 feet with the material, it's worthwhile to use a dump truck. Carrying several dozen bucket loads of heavy material back and forth from the site of excavation to the place of use is hard service on a backhoe or skidsteer. The dump truck was made for this type of hauling.
If your lineup of used construction equipment contains a loader of some sort, a dump truck might be a good complement, especially if you need to move material any distance at all.
In addition, the dump truck can help you spread the material, and that saves a lot of work indeed.
This old used construction equipment of mine has helped me:
- build up my 500 foot driveway with many tons of soil
- move tons of firewood
- carry scrap wood from the pallet yard
- transport and dump items too large and too heavy for the pickup
Whether it's soil, scrap metal, fence posts, gravel or rocks, it's nice to have a strong and flat boxed bed to toss things into for hauling. The dump feature is also a great work saver.
Here is a story about my dump truck that I feel compelled to share.
Expect to pay $3,000 to $5,000 for a decent dump truck. Like other used construction equipment, much of the price depends on age, condition, features and hours/mileage.
My last major used construction equipment purchase was a trencher. It's a bit like having a backhoe when you need to dig a hole - when you need to lay a water line, nothing does it like a trencher. If you're trying to put electrical, communication or water lines underground, a trencher makes it easy work by moving the minimum amount of soil and making a nice clean trench.
So far, I've used my trencher to:
- install a water line and 5-foot bury hydrant to the chicken pen behind the barn
- install two 5-foot bury hydrants up on the ridge, 500 feet from the house
- install 2-inch closed cell rigid insulation two feet deep around greenhouse #3
- install 480 feet of active solar soil heating lines about 2-foot deep within the insulated footprint of greenhouse #3
- install a 5-foot bury hydrant between greenhouse #2 and #3
- install 5-foot deep earth anchors alongside of greenhouse #3
I'll also be using this excellent machine to install buried water lines to my outdoor wood furnace, install a few more hydrants and electrical boxes around my place, and install 1,500 feet of heat exchanger line for a ground-source cooling loop for the house. Then it will be time to sell it.
This is a full size trencher that you ride. It has four-wheel drive and four-wheel steering, so it has both power and maneuverability that is truly remarkable. It also digs five and a half feet deep, so that works just fine for water lines, no matter where you live in the lower 48 states.
Other benefits of this trencher include a small backhoe that can easily dig 6 foot deep holes with it's one-foot wide bucket. It is handy as all hell for digging up bushes or doing heavier work that you just don't want to (and can't reasonably) do with a shovel.
It also has a 6-way leveling blade that is handy for pushing soil back into the trench and leveling other sections of ground. It's a must for deep and long trenches because the machine can create a deep and wide pile of "spoils" on either side of the trench that is a pain to fill back in with a shovel or a rake.
The trenching end of this machine is quite remarkable. It can dig in moist soil like a hot knife through butter. It can also handle rocky soil and cut through rocks or frozen ground if you install rock teeth. Rocks and frost are quite a challenge for the operator, so I just avoid that scenario altogether.
Photo right shows the trencher after it finished digging 5-foot deep trenches where earth anchors will be installed for greenhouse #3.
Expect to pay $5,000 to $15,000 for a used trencher, depending on the make, size, age, capabilities, hours and condition.
This is perhaps the least commonly used of all the equipment I have, but I couldn't pass up the opportunity to buy one at rock bottom prices. And, of course, I do have plans for it. Otherwise, I wouldn't have purchased it.
The bucket truck is a hydraulically operated arm with a fiberglass bucket attached. It is used for getting to places that might be awkward or difficult to reach on a ladder. It gives you a platform on which you can work with both hands while in the safety of the enclosed "bucket".
It is useful for:
- tree trimming
- work on the eaves, soffits, overhangs and peaks
- accessing tower mounted equipment
- getting up to power vents on the barn
- installing trusses or framing members
- constructing a driveway arch
- insulating ceilings and upper walls of out buildings
- removing nests from aggressive bird species
The utility body of the truck is also very useful as a mobile shop. I used it extensively when building greenhouses #2 and #3. It allowed me to have many hand tools and power tools nearby and yet closed up and out of the weather in between work days.
It's hard to say what you might have to pay for something like this, but I got this 4-wheel drive F250 utility body truck with a nice 30 foot bucket for $1,000. I don't think you're going to find a great deal like this very often.
Tractor with Implements
The last piece of equipment I own is a gas-powered 1953 Allis Chalmers model C tractor with a 3-point hitch and power take-off. I wouldn't call it used construction equipment, but it isn't yard equipment either. It's a handy bugger that came with plenty of implements for "fun on the farm".
The photo above shows the model C tractor with a road drag attached to the draw bar, and of course, a "small pile" of scrap wood in the background that I use for fire wood here at the homestead.
The machine will likely stay at my place forever since it generally has great versatility, is simple to operate and easy to work on.
The implements include:
- six-way leveling blade
- mower deck
- post hole digger
- box scraper
I use it for diggin post holes, leveling the drive, cutting the pasture, pulling out roots and stumps, and skidding things around.
Primarily, the tractor is good for pulling things, so dressing up the driveway with a road drag will likely be the regular chore for this orange 4-cylinder blast from the past.
Photo left is my neighbor with his Zetor tractor and backhoe attachment. We used this one day to rip out a bunch of nasty juniper bushes that were just in the way. Attachments like this don't have the power that a regular backhoe does, but they work well for light projects.
Expect to pay $2,000 to $5,000 for a used tractor, depending on its size, age, condition and attachments that come with it.
Selecting Used Construction Equipment
If you're in the market for used construction equipment, and you don't have experience with it, then it's best to take someone along with you that does. Find a heavy equipment operator to talk to so you're at least familiar with what you need to look and listen for when "kicking tires" and test operating this stuff.
Here is what I look for:
- worn pins and bushings
- tire life
- oil leaks
- transmission leaks
- fuel leaks
- a cab for foul weather operation
- welds that show heavy use or abuse
- smooth running engine
- hours on the engine
- smooth operating joints
- general condition of the blades and buckets
- condition of hydraulic lines
Used construction equipment can be a great labor saver and frugal investment in your homestead, but it can also be a source of maintenance and repair, so don't be in a hurry to buy yourself costly and time-consuming service on the equipment.
Get to know that the market of used construction equipment offers, so you'll know what your money buys. It is often a good investment to pay a little more and save yourself the hassle and expense of repairs.
With that, let's look at the drawbacks of used construction equipment from several different perspectives.
Drawbacks of Used Construction Equipment
All is not a bed of roses with used construction equipment. Here is a quick list of what you can expect as the drawbacks of owning and operating it.
- you need space to store the equipment
- repair parts are very expensive
- broken parts often need to be welded when and where they break
- tires are crazy costly - $1,000 for two front tires on a large backhoe, and $1,000 for a single large rear tire
- an oil change might require several gallons of oil
- hydraulic line failures are relatively common and although not expensive, they are a pain to deal with
- batteries are well over $100, and they need to be kept charged for longer life
- big brute equipment can get you in trouble by going too fast and too far with smaller projects
So, you can see, there is a cost to owning and operating construction equipment above and beyond just the cost of purchasing it and paying for fuel.
Another drawback to used construction equipment is the weight. Both the backhoe and the trencher are very heavy. The trencher is over 5 tons, and the backhoe weighs more than that. The trencher needs a double axle gooseneck trailer, and the backhoe needs a flatbed pulled by a semi.
You just can't haul some of this stuff around with a little utility trailer that hooks up to your bumper hitch.
Is it Worthwhile to Own Used Construction Equipment?
So, with all the pros and cons, costs and considerations, is it worth it to own construction equipment for jobs you have to do around the house? For each of us, the answer will be different.
My approach to frugal living includes getting myself in a place that is largely independent of the grocery store, utility company and various contractors. That means I have multiple projects that require heavy equipment for years to come.
I also like being part of our "voluntary village" where we all have a range of different equipment available for use. It's one of the things that binds us together and makes us a stronger community. It's all part of my frugal living philosophy of getting help and building a team.
Of course, that also includes being able to help as well. My used construction equipment allows me to contribute to our community in a meaningful way.
Done with Used Construction Equipment, take me back to Do it Yourself