Project Profile: Big Machine, Big Decision

Jan. 1, 2011

Some business decisions are big.

A recent one for Jack L. Massie Contractor, Williamsburg, VA, was literally and figuratively big. The company acquired the first production model of John Deere’s massive 764 High-Speed Dozer (HSD), equipping it with a Trimble GCS900 grade-control system to maximize performance.

In many respects, the decision to purchase the massive 31,000-pound dozer, with its 132-inch-by-30-inch blade, was easy. The groundwork and history leading up to it made it seem almost inevitable.

“We were very interested in a machine that has rubber tracks and that could deliver fast production speed and smooth grading results,” says construction manager Scott Massie. “With the 764 HSD, we changed from being a company that had four or five motor graders to a company that now has two motor graders sitting on our lot with each clocking less than 100 hours annually.”

Jack L. Massie Contractor had begun changing how it does business, finding that grading, especially fine-grading, is better suited to dozers equipped with GPS-guided grade-control systems. The Trimble GCS900 grade-control system puts design surfaces, grades, and alignments inside the cab. It accurately positions the dozer blade in real time, significantly reducing material overages and dramatically improving the contractor’s productivity and profitability.

Photo: John Deere
The 764 articulates in the center, reducing grade cuts.

“With the way parking lots, roadways, and building sites are designed now, there’s so many utilities, storm systems, slopes, curves, and other features that it really doesn’t work for a motor grader’s 14-foot-wide blade,” states Jeff Hamm, GPS/3D tech, with Jack L. Massie Contractor. “This machine is smaller, quicker, yet just as smooth in grading -plus, it’s easier to find good quality dozer operators than it is to find motor grader operators.”

Hamm also points out that the finish surface from the John Deere 764 HSD is similar to what the company can achieve with a motor grader. “The 764 HSD has rubber tracks and a four-track oscillating undercarriage, so it basically leaves a tread print on the ground, just like you have with a motor grader. That is nice: no more raking out tracks.”           

The greater production speed that can be achieved with the 764 HSD with the Trimble grade-control system also made the purchase decision a natural. “The machine can grade twice as fast as a conventional dozer through stony and sandy soils,” reports Massie. “And at that faster speed, we are still able to achieve one-pass fine grading because we’re running the Trimble system.” The Trimble GCS900 grade-control system features an onboard Trimble CB430 control box that displays the position of each tip of the blade and compares it to the design elevation to compute cut or fill to grade. The cut/fill data is used to drive the valves for automatic blade control and is passed to in-cab lightbars that provide visual guidance to the operator.

There has been a lot of interest in the 764 HSD because of its traveling speed of 16 miles per hour. “People should understand that we’re not doing fine grading at 16 miles per hour,” Hamm says. “For us, what’s faster is our rate of production, which includes a number of factors.”

One benefit of the JD 794 for Jack L. Massie Contractor is that it can pull as well as push. “We can grade with the 764 while it pulls a scraper at the same time,” says Massie. “This is a big deal since I’d rather have a dozer pulling a $60,000 to $80,000 bowl versus needing a $300,000 scraper on the job. If you extrapolate further, I save on needing a scraper operator on the site, and even during downtimes I’d rather have a bowl sitting idle than a machine that costs five times more.” In essence, the 764 HSD can perform the work of two machines.

“The John Deere 764 HSD with the Trimble system has given us the ability to definitely double our speed,” Hamm says. “For instance, comparing the rubber-track 764 to other steel-track dozers, the 764 HSD will turn out finished product quicker. We don’t have to worry with track cuts in grade any more, or about clean-cut grading edges. It articulates in the center, so we can make a radial turn and not have the sliding of the steel tracks generating windrows and cuts. Ultimately, the 764 HSD eliminates the extra time and labor required for the follow-up and dressing off process.”

Bottom line for Jack L. Massie Contractor is this: Fewer people and fewer machines are required on the job site. The John Deere 764 HSD with the Trimble GCS900 grade-control system offers greater production value because it is bigger, faster, rubber-tracked, can articulate in the center, and can grade with precision, eliminating the need for rework, follow-up, or cleanup.

“This massive, almost futuristic machine, with the Trimble GPS grade control, is helping us redefine our business model,” Massie says. “We are faster, more productive, and yielding accurate results.” Life appears to be pretty darn good for Jack L. Massie Contractor.