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Finish Grading on a Fast Track

  • Published Thu Apr 19, 2018

Not many successful businessmen plot their career accurately in fifth grade. Chris Bonacker knew exactly what he wanted to do. Now, at 32, he is right where he wants to be—running his own excavating firm.

“I’m just trying to live the American Dream,” he says, “and provide for my family, doing what I love to do.” After working in excavation in his late teens and early twenties, Bonacker founded C. Bonacker Excavating in Eureka, Missouri last July. He concentrates mostly on residential work, from digging foundations to finish grading.

“I always knew I wanted to have my own thing. I took the leap, and so far, everything’s been going good,” says Bonacker. “I've been blessed to be in all different aspects, from demolition to doing the excavation of the foundations, finish grading, and pipe work and drainage. I have a knack for helping custom builders...to help them oversee from start to finish on a custom home. I can help them line things with the landscapers or help the concrete guys make sure all elevations are working — to make the best product we can provide.”

Bonacker Embraces the Compact Track Loader Revolution

“I grew up on a dairy farm, so I’ve been on equipment since I was knee high to a bean pole,” says Bonacker. While he has operated CASE skid steers since his youth, his first experience with a CASE compact track loader was a TR320 in 2012. He currently owns a CASE TR340 compact track loader, a CX36 compact excavator, and a CX80 minimum swing excavator. “I’ve been very pleased with all three of them.” Bonacker relies on the track loader mainly for finish grading and material handling, where the radial lift design comes in handy both for earthwork and pulling materials off his trailer (the radial design generally offers the greatest reach at eye level). “I like the radial lift for picking stuff off of a trailer, pallets, and stuff like that. You put a bucket or a set of forks or a grapple bucket, any attachment on a trailer, and you transport it to a job. It just gives you a little bit more reach… the radial worked out for me.”

As compact track loaders have proliferated, manufacturers developed a wide array of frame sizes and operating capacities to meet industry needs. Bonacker settled on the 10,000-pound TR340 (90 horsepower, 3,400-pound rated operating capacity (50 percent tipping load)) for its ability to meet his jobsite needs while also being transported to jobsites easily with his pickup truck.

“I like the low profile,” he says. “You can get under trees [or do] concrete work under somebody's porch. I like the overall height of the machine.”

The varied terrain of eastern Missouri is custom made for compact track loaders, providing excellent stability and performance — both when working on slopes and in boggier materials.

“I can't ask for anything better on my [jobsites],” he says. “Sideways, and then front and back...it'll stick to a very steep hill, going up or down. For what I do in the mud, the tracks are incomparable. You're able to get through, whether it be mud or whatever you're dealing with.”

Bonacker also touted the machine’s speed, both when grading and carrying a full bucket of material.

“What I like about CASE machines is they’re very quick. One test I would always do would be getting a full bucket of material, same buckets, same class machines, and carry material up a hill. [CASE] would always stay ahead of the pack.”

Visibility on a residential or small commercial work site is also critical to ensure the safety of all workers and equipment on site. The TR340 features a low, sloped rear hood, and excellent visibility out the side windows and front door of the machine.

“Great visibility, whether it's out the side windows or being able to look behind you. The engine compartment is not half way up your back window to where you can't see.” Bonacker also outfitted his track loader with Ride Control, a feature that dampens arm movement when traveling across varied terrain in order to retain more material in the bucket and provide a smoother ride.

“To be able to push that button and get a bucket of rock and carry it across, whether it be a parking lot or a job site, and [only] lose three or four rocks versus several hundred, or half your bucket because you're bouncing over stuff, is a big thing to me.”

Dealer Support Drives Young, Growing Business

Equipment dealers occasionally look upon startup businesses with skepticism. Bonacker was familiar with Luby Equipment Services (Fenton, Missouri) from his previous job, and approached the dealer when it came time to ramp up his fleet and make the jump into business ownership.

“I've never been treated as just some guy off the street,” he says. “They've always helped me in any way that they could. If I had a break down, they would help me figure out a way to get a machine or to help keep going or help me get it fixed. The guys here have always treated me very well. The service guys and the rental guys are second to none. I can call into the rental department and they'll get me something that I need relatively quick, if not the same day. They give me a great sense of ease, to just know that they are there in my court to help me out when I need it.”

As he approaches the conclusion of his first year in business, Bonacker appreciates the good fortune he has had. He sees growth in his future, but he’s more dedicated to managing the quality of the product out in the dirt and the service he provides his customers.

“Growing up on equipment, I was lucky to have the knack to run the equipment, to be able to control something with my hands… to be able to sculpt the land and turn it into what you want it to be… to help people achieve the dreams of their home sites. I've been blessed with the ability to be able to provide a good service and keep people happy. Until that runs out, I'll keep doing what I'm doing.”

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