Compact track loaders extend seasons. During the wet weather months, these track machines can work earlier and later where skid steers can’t (because tracks have better flotation, so they don’t tear up surfaces or get stuck). In winter, heavier track loaders can gear up for snow removal too, even though traditionally many gravitate toward skid steers.
Today, there are many different tread patterns on the market for compact track loaders (turf friendly, smooth ride/low vibration, long-lasting, aggressive and multipurpose for starters). Snow tracks are wider and feature more aggressive tread patterns than most, providing both a smooth ride compared to the simple bar lug and superior traction. Snow tracks often utilize a tapered outside edge that allows for snow and dirt to shed off and move away from the rollers and idlers as the machine travels. These tracks also tout a shorter stopping distance, ideal on snow-covered surfaces. Many brands market these tracks as not just snow tracks but an all-season-style option.
How do you operate on those tracks? When working in snowy conditions, implement the same operating procedures as when working in mud. Utilize three-point turns to protect sensitive surfaces and reduce stress to tracks. Operate on level terrain as much as possible. When on an incline, drive straight up or down. Do not make sudden changes in direction, always move slowly and always carry loads low to maximize machine stability. Even with snow tracks, track loader operation will feel differently.
“Operators will soon discover that the low ground pressure — psi per square foot — advantage for soft working conditions can be a slight disadvantage when pushing snow on hard slick surfaces with the track machines,” notes Jeff Jacobsmeyer, Kubota construction product manager. “Operators will need to start slow with a track machine to determine the limitations when pushing to avoid excessive track spinning and unwanted sliding because excessive spinning will reduce track life dramatically.
“Another thing is it’s important to check if the loader is frozen tight to the ground before operation. To prevent a freeze down situation from happening, the operator needs to be careful not to park in mud or slush that can turn to ice. A frozen down situation can break or dramatically shorten the life of idlers, rollers, final drives and rubber tracks.”
Snow work is often more difficult than typical construction. Snow inhibits visibility and hides jobsite objects. Contractors need to stay aware of their surroundings, both for safety and to prevent property and equipment damage. Operators should strap themselves in and always drive at safe speeds. Everyone knows slippery conditions make it harder to brake and maneuver, so it’s extremely important for equipment drivers to keep their eyes open for vehicles and other snow-clearing equipment.
“Parking lots often contain obstacles such as curbs, medians and parking lot islands that can be difficult to see below snow,” says Storlie. “To best defend themselves against the possibility of hitting one, snow-clearing contractors may want to take steps to evaluate their contracted property before the first snowfall to note possible hazards. Being aware of the obstacles could mean saving money otherwise spent on equipment repairs and property damage.”
“One must be careful to remove the material that is behind the track and closest to the drive sprocket as well,” says Jacobsmeyer. “The warm planetary drive causes snow to melt, and then it will refreeze later with the potential to cause problems. The compact track loader needs to be thawed out and washed with soap and water to remove the salt residue as soon as possible after use. Keeping the track tension adjusted and planetary oil changed regularly will ensure dependable service from the compact track loader.”
Greasing is also critical in winter months to keep out moisture and dirt that could then freeze in place while the machine sits overnight. DEF (diesel exhaust fluid) is a newer consideration for snow contractors, and it is a factor for units above 74 hp. DEF freezes at 12 degrees, so consider a loader with an internal tank heater to thaw frozen DEF.
Author : Keith Gribbins