Project Profile: One Man Band—Canadian Excavator Performs Solo Act

Sept. 1, 1999
Gx Bug Web

What a perfect partnership: one man, one machine, and a host of contractors vying for his unique skills and outstanding service. It’s exactly how Jason Rawn, an independent contractor in Calgary, AB, enjoys doing business. After starting his own excavating company two years ago—Dry Valley Excavating Ltd.—his services have made him a hot act among many of the area’s biggest contractors. And although he’s only a one-man show, his on-the-job performance has earned him more than a few standing ovations.

“During the summer, the majority of the projects are with road builders here in Calgary. I do the majority of the walkways and the subdivision work. I do a lot of acreage work around lakes as well. It’s interesting work—soft banks—so I have to use tracks a lot,” Rawn explains.

When called upon to do a job, Rawn likes to amaze spectators with his fast work and startling skid-steer trickery. And he admits he owes much of his success to the outstanding capabilities of his favorite piece of equipment, a Gehl 4625 and, more recently, a 4635. “I’ve never experienced a machine that could handle everything I put that skid loader through,” he muses. “It’s just amazing. Once I worked on a job where I ran the back and forth through water up to the axles for three weeks straight without any problems whatsoever.”

In his first year of operation, Rawn clocked a total of 2,500 hours on his Model 4625 unit. “I probably average 12 to 14 hours a day working from April to December,” he says. “It’s hard to believe. Through all the digging, hauling, drilling, and working in grim weather conditions, the only maintenance the machine ever needed was routine stuff. It really ran like a champ!” Advised that a newer model was available, Rawn was eager to get his hand on one. “Everything about it made sense for my type of business. I like a more compact machine, but one with the power and stability to let me go anywhere.” He promptly traded in his 4625 for a 4635.

As an independent contractor, Rawn handles a wide assortment of assignments. “I’m always being asked to help with something. It really doesn’t matter if it’s landscape work, light construction, or a job as simple as loading and unloading pallets of material from a warehouse. I get asked to do it all.” But because of his expertise with his machine, many Canadian contractors look to him for assistance when it comes to more challenging conditions.

Rawn has taken his skid steer into the wild, scaling the sides of mountains—some angled as high as 60°—to dig, grade, and spread asphalt for walkways and bike paths. On one assignment, he took his machine to the bottom of a diverted creek, trekking through 8 in. of muddy water while carrying bucket loads of stone up and down a 30-ft. decline.

“I really can’t say enough about my machine’s performance, especially its stability on extremely steep angles,” he remarks. “That’s one of the biggest reasons people look to me when it comes to tough tasks. But I don’t mind. I know my limitations, and so far, there have been few.

“The main things to keep in mind when operating in severe conditions are the base soil conditions and, with your machine, where your weight distribution is,” Rawn cautions. “When you’re working on steep slopes, your stability depends a lot on whether you’re carrying or pushing dirt. Usually you’re grading on the steeper stuff, so it’s less of a concern than if you were carrying a load in the bucket.” Close calls? He has had a few, but mainly when a bank has given way. “That’s why I know my machine’s limits,” he chuckles. “I work around lakes a lot. I do grading right down to the lakebeds, and a lot of times the bank will be softer than it should be. But that’s where experience and comfort with the machine come in.

“I’ve been going full-bore for three years now. During the winter I do a lot of commercial buildings: backfilling, subgrade prep, concrete prep, pipe backfilling. You need a machine with a low profile, good versatility, and excellent lifting ability all in a small package. My machine gets top points in all these categories. I use my pallet forks a lot in the commercial work. You can lift a hell of a lot.”

Attachments? Thus far Rawn owns three different buckets, an auger, counterweights, a gravel spoon, pallet forks, an 8-ft. grader blade, and a set of tracks. “The quick-attach setup is excellent,” he notes. “I can do it myself with a flick of a finger, almost. I just reach outside the cab and grab one lever.very quick. Even the track change is easy. I can do it in about 15 minutes per side.”

For a one-man band, Rawn appears to have set the stage for some time to come. And as long as his performances continue to receive rave reviews, Rawn and his skid loader will continue to book even bigger gigs.