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How to operate a backhoe

from: Robert Moritz

An equipment operator from Windsor, Ontario, Nick Market has been called the "best of the best" of backhoe operators in North America. He was the 2007 Case Backhoe Rodeo Series Champion. "Nobody expected a Canadian to win," he says, laughing. "It was quite an upset."

But Market wasn't always a pro operator of the 14,000 lb. behemoth. "My boss told me it'd take me a year to be a good backhoe operator. But I've always been competitive and I was a farm boy so I knew how to handle equipment. I learned it in two weeks. It does take about a year to get comfortable, though. I'm at the point now where I can move the machine like my own body. You'd be surprised how delicate the steering is, they can turn as quickly as a car. A lot of the courses you can take are 6-weeks. You learn about the machines and all of the basics, but you really need a lot of seat time to get good."


1. Open the Bucket

Sit firmly in the cab and familiarize yourself with the controls. "There are a lot of gears and levers and functions you have to get to know. And you have to make them all work at the same time. It's a lot of hand-eye coordination. The key is to get the feel of the hydraulics," Nick Market says. First, put the stabilizers down to steady the backhoe, and release the boom lock. Push the left control forward to extend the backhoe's stick. Push the right control to the right to open the bucket.

2. Lower the Boom

Know where you're digging. "You need to keep your eyes open and be aware of what's around you. A backhoe is a huge piece of machinery and it's easy to back into things. Be especially careful if you're digging around utilities."Push the right control forward to lower the boom.

3. Start to Dig

Push the right control to the left to curl the bucket inward, lowering it into the ground to scoop up soil. "It's usually a good idea to go in at an angle," Market says.

4. Lift the Load

Pull the left and right controls back at the same time to retract and raise the boom while keeping the bucket curled. "Don't overfill the bucket," Market says. Most backhoes have a reach of 14 feet. A device called an extend-a-hoe adds another 4 feet of reach.

5. Dump the Dirt

Push the left and right controls to the right to open the bucket, pull the stick toward the cab and dump the load. "Don't raise the load up too high," Market says. "There's a major tip factor there." He also operates the machine at full throttle. "It's all about precision, control and speed," he says.

Hint: Don't be afraid of speed. "When I teach somebody, I have them push the machine full-throttle. if you operate at a low rate, you don't use the machine to its full potential and it takes a lot longer to get the job done. It's all about precision, control and speed."

Warning: "It's important to never leave your seat when you operate a backhoe. And never go underneath the machine. Know your safety manual and make sure the machine has been inspected and everything is in good working order. It's a lot of common sense."


Extend-A-Hoe: A mechanism that allows the stick on a backhoe to be extended for deeper digging. Most backhoes have a reach of 14 feet. An extend-a-hoe adds another four feet of length.

Boom: A swing frame pivotally connected to the main frame of the tractor on a pair of vertical pivots.

Stabilizers: Stabilizers prevent movement of tractor equipment while digging.


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