Excavations may be made either by machine or by hand. Each method has its advantages, each its drawbacks.
The advantages to using a machine are speed and the great amount of hard labor saved. The disadvantages are the amount of damage it causes the surrounding environment, and cost. In some cases the cost element may be overcome.
The two most commonly used machines for making excavations this size are the cat bulldozer) and the backhoe. Of the two, cats by far do the most damage. This is because a cat does not lift the dirt out, but shoves it out. To do this, and to pile it somewhere, the operator must use considerable space on at least two sides of the excavation. Everything in this space—bushes, trees, topsoil—gets ground beneath the tracks.
A backhoe takes bites of the earth and stacks it neatly to the side. It works from a stationary position with the hoe arm and bucket swinging freely above the earth. If it is rubber-tired, as some are, there is a minimum disruption of the surroundings. Unlike a cat, a backhoe can cut four almost vertical walls. It also does a neat, efficient job of water and sewer line excavations and of the drain field ditches sometimes needed for French drains.
Where a backhoe is disadvantageous is in length of digging time. It may be competitive with a cat on small excavations—say a 500 square foot house—and it may likely beat a cat when digging individual water or sewer lines, but on any job of over 500 square feet a medium sized or large cat is going to do the job in a much shorter time. At $20 per hour and up this can translate into considerable savings.
There are many more cats around than backhoes, which is another consideration. This applies especially to communities where there is a lot of logging. They're used to skid logs, make roads and clear firelines. Old cats, still somewhat in operating condition, may occasionally be bought for as low as $300, practically the price of scrap metal. Like all old pieces of machinery they can be great headaches. A cat which breaks down often winds up costing a logging outfit considerable money. So they get rid of them. If you could buy one of those old clunkers, keep it operating long enough to excavate a house or two, and sell it again at the same price, you could excavate your house for free. There are a lot of "ifs" in that plan, however.
A better idea might be to have a friendly neighbor do the excavating for you with his cat. Over the years two of my neighbors have offered to dig my houses with their machines for free. I rejected these kindly offers with thanks only because I didn't want cat tracks in my forest and the resultant destruction of the trees around the building sites. Had I built in open country, though, I'd have jumped at the opportunity.
You might not have neighbors as good as these. Or you might be too new to the area to be on such terms. There is still the possibility of hiring a neighbor with a cat to do the excavating for $8 or $10 per hour on the weekends. If he lives close enough to walk the cat over you could also save the cost of transporting it by truck or lowboy.
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