Large Trenchers Are Back Making the Cut

By Frank Raczon, Senior Editor | August 29, 2013
Large Trenchers Are Back Making the Cut

After the recession, the market for large trenchers has stabilized and is now seeing growth, thanks in part to the energy sector and boom areas such as North Dakota, as well as an increase in other utility work.

Cost of Ownership

Size Class Average Price Hourly Rate*
76-130 horsepower $131,145 $69.28
131 horsepower & over $507,618


*Hourly rate represents the monthly ownership costs divided by 176, plus operating cost. Unit prices used in this calculation: diesel fuel, $3.98/gallon; mechanic’s wage, $51.24/hour; money costs, 1.75%. Source:

“We see growth in pipeline activity domestically and abroad as the oil and gas infrastructure continues to grow with the distribution that needs to take place,” says Vermeer’s Jon Kuyers, global product manager, underground business.

Matt Collins, senior product manager, compact and heavy-duty equipment, for the Ditch Witch organization, cites the fiber optic market as a plus. “The telecommunications market in general has been driving business the last couple of years—we’ve seen quite a few of our machines go out with 36- to 42-inch plows for the backbone/middle mile installations, connecting community-to-community,” he says. “In the energy sector, we’re also seeing an increase in demand for Ditch Witch quads used for 6-inch and smaller installations. Obviously, machines are configured differently according to soil type and application—trenching or plowing—but the largest growth as far as demand goes seems to be the large quad plows.”

Yes, these over-100-horsepower staples of the utility industry can be considered “back,” but the downturn did take a toll.

The recession hastened the disappearance of a couple of minor brands from North America (Marais is one), a movement among some survivors toward producing just one type or model of trencher, a focus on niches (Tesmec), and inevitable consolidation. Trencor is a case in point; it is a brand that has had various partners and parent companies and now resides in the Ditch Witch portfolio. But the name lives on.

“Our parent company, The Charles Machine Works, acquired American Augers from Astec, as well as the Trencor product line,” Collins says. “Trencor products are still available and are being produced through the American Augers facility.”

Ditch Witch and Vermeer remain the most familiar players in the greater-than-100-horsepower category.

Ditch Witch has three models over 100 horsepower: the RT100, a 100-horsepower mechanical trencher, the RT120, a rubber-tired unit at 121 horsepower, and an RT120 quad-tracked trencher at 121 horsepower.

The increased availability of tracked