Making It BIG

Grounds managers' jobs are anything but mundane. On any given day, your crews might be mowing, collecting garbage, repairing vandalized property, fertilizing, installing flower beds, collecting leaves, clearing snow, etc. It doesn't matter whether you maintain sports fields, city parks, college campuses, cemeteries, highways, industrial office parks or government facilities, you need a variety of different machines to successfully accomplish the multitude of tasks you're responsible for.

Sometimes you encounter a big job that requires a big machine capable of covering lots of ground and withstanding a great deal of punishment. Also, with labor in short supply due to increasingly tight budgets, these machines have to be able to perform the work of several individuals in a fast and efficient manner.

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Take large plots of wide-open turf, for example. Why have two or three crewmembers zipping around on three different zero-turn mowers when one person can do the task with one wide-area mower? In certain instances, this can be the ultimate solution for increased productivity.

SPREADING OUT

Gilbert Pena, commercial segment strategy manager for John Deere, says it all comes down to a series of decisions the grounds manager must make in order to determine what machine is right for his or her situation. Deere offers 72-inch decks for both zero-turn and front-mount mowers, depending on what frame-type you prefer.

“The zero-turn radius mower with 72-inch deck will accommodate a lot of mowing in quick time, but the front-mount mower has a heavier duty frame, same deck size, and can do lots of things other than mowing when you add attachments,” Pena says.

The next step up, Pena says, is WAMs, or wide-area mowers. These are best suited for wide-open areas, but grounds managers still have to decide whether the area requires a fine cut or not. Deere's 1600 Turbo Wide-Area Mower, for instance, can cut up to an 11-foot-wide swath with one out-front deck and two wings.

“But this is still a grooming mower that doesn't sacrifice quality of cut,” Pena says. “It has a higher cost, so the grounds manager must ask, ‘how much do I mow and how often am I mowing?’ The answers to those questions will determine the level of capital fund investment he or she should pursue.”

If the area to be mowed doesn't require a high quality cut, then Pena says the solution might be a tractor pulling a rotary mower that can cut up to a 15-foot swath in one pass. If ground contours are an issue, Deere offers a 72-inch flex deck to handle uneven terrain. The price goes up with each heavier duty model, but so does the life expectancy and productivity, which Pena says is what customers pine for.

“The development of the 1600 WAM had to do with requests from customers,” Pena says. “They needed increased productivity, the ability to do more work with less labor. Labor is the most expensive and unpredictable piece, so you need to know how productive the machine is for the labor that is utilized.”

The largest mower Jacobsen offers is the HR-9016 self-propelled rotary that cuts up to a 16-foot swath and up to 16.5 acres per hour. But just because it's a mammoth doesn't mean it has to be mammothly uncomfortable — it features an air suspension seat, considered a fairly high-end extra for machines like these.

“This machine has a big advantage over a tractor-pulled rotary,” says Todd Kierstead, product manager for Jacobsen. “It has more flexibility, more power, more maneuverability, and leaves less of a footprint.”

A 4-wheel drive machine, the HR-9016 features three decks, one out front and two on either side. If the operator needs to access a tight area or drive the mower from one site to another, he or she has the option of automatically folding up the two side decks. Attachments such as a snow blower, plow or broom can also be added for versatility. Kierstead believes Jacobsen will dedicate itself even more to this large mower market in the future.

“We have a big opportunity for growth with the large rotaries because we haven't been particularly strong in that market, particularly with emphasizing these mowers to our dealers,” Kierstead says. “So because we haven't been strong, there is lots of room to improve.”

BIG BUT VERSATILE

Many mower manufacturers fill one part of the solution for grounds managers not seeking monster mowers for gargantuan-sized, wide-open fields but still needing as wide a cut as possible with lots of versatility. Walker is one of them. Its answer? The Model T and Model D front-mounts, which grounds managers can fit with any of Walker Mowers' 11 different sized decks. Whether a 36-inch deck is needed for tight spaces or a 74-inch deck fits the bill for large-area mowing, the one machine does it all.

“We feel it needs to handle both small and large areas,” says Tim Cromley, marketing manager for Walker Mowers. “Plus it can handle a variety of attachments we make including a snow blower, chipper, rotary broom for paths, debris blower and boom sprayer.”

Grasshopper offers 72-inch decks in both its front-mount and mid-mount mower lines to accommodate grounds managers who need to mow large areas efficiently. No matter how fast a mower cuts, though, a large area will require a grounds manager to sit for a long time. With that in mind, Grasshopper implemented a “stay-in-the-seat” comfort ride that takes fatigue out of the equation. On some mowers, the speed at which the operator mows will bounce them out of the seat, which cuts the power (as a safety precaution) and produces an irregular cut. The Grasshopper design, however, allows the operator to maintain good control of the mower at a faster speed and higher quality of cut.

One jumbo-sized attachment for Grasshopper's front-mount is a 132-inch shielded sprayer, which covers ground quickly while allowing the mower to retain its full zero-turn maneuverability. The mowers can also be equipped with beacon lights for the mowing of large roadside areas. And let's not forget sunshade canopies perfect for large-area jobs that require all-day mowing and hence long-term exposure to the sun.

MORE THAN MOWING

Mowing isn't the only task that sometimes requires a big machine. Grounds managers have to top dress numerous athletic fields and aerate large areas of turf as well. Specific to these tasks, Turfco Manufacturing offers two behemoths, the CR-10 loader-material handler-topdresser and the TM-62 aerator. The CR-10 is capable of casting material up to 40-feet wide, while the TM-62 aerator offers a 62-inch wide aeration width. The CR-10 requires a 40-plus hp tractor to pull it, while the TM-62 requires only a 25-hp tractor.

“Productivity and reduced labor are the number one and two things we look at,” says Tim Gray, regional sales manager for Turfco. “Plus, we try to make each machine as versatile as possible by allowing it to do more than one job. That way, if it's a $20,000 piece of equipment, the grounds manager will have an easier time getting that purchase approved.”

The CR-10, for instance, also doubles as a material handler and loader. Grounds managers can use it to backfill drainage ditches as well as relocate material, and not worry about turf damage as the machine features turf tires with light psi. Turfco has acknowledged that grounds managers do a variety of tasks that require a variety of different-sized machines, which has defined their approach to the market.

“For applications for large machines, we have put a lot of resources into this by creating its own dedicated division within our company,” Gray says. “But we divide our business 50-50 between large machines and small machines, but of course it takes more time to manufacture the larger machines [so output might lag behind small machines].”

George Bendon is a freelance writer who currently resides in Ohio.

The Big wheels

Here is a closer look at the equipment featured within this article. This information is not intended to be comprehensive, and no endorsement is implied by this listing. For specific information, contact the manufacturer directly.

900 Series (Grasshopper)

  • 72-inch deck
  • Mowing speed up to 10.5 mph
  • 32-hp gas or liquid-cooled engine

1600 Turbo Wide-Area Mower (John Deere)

  • 57-hp, turbocharged, overhead-valve, 4-cylinder, liquid-cooled Yanmar diesel engine
  • On-demand or full-time mechanical rear wheel drive
  • Mow up to 68 acres in an 8-hour day with a nearly 11-foot cutting width

CR-10 loader, material handler and topdresser (Turfco)

  • 4-cubic yard capacity
  • Casts up to 40-feet wide
  • Four turf tires

HR-9016 Turbo (Jacobsen)

  • 192-inch overall cutting width
  • One 92-inch out-front, multi-flex front deck; two 59-inch swept-forward wing decks
  • 87-hp Kubota turbo diesel engine

Model D or Model T zero-turn mower (Walker Mowers)

  • 74-inch side discharge deck

RM 22 rotary mower (Brouwer by Jacobsen)

  • Three 92-inch decks that cut a 22-foot swath
  • High strength grade 60-10 gauge deck material
  • High flotation tires follow ground contours

TM-62 aerator (Turfco)

  • 62-inch wide aeration width
  • 3.13 acres per hour

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