Replacing the transmission, rebuilding the control valve and updating the control systems are just a few things needing to be done to get the city's 24-year-old backhoe ready to work again.

In the city's recently passed Budget Ordinance 2019-03 for Fiscal Year July 1, 2019-June 30, 2020, $95,000 is designated for a new backhoe. The purchase is to be funded by Municipal Road Aid.

During the special city council meeting June 18, city council members requested the city's current backhoe be assessed by a professional before a purchase is made.

Monday, Steve McCord, a technician with H&R Agri-Power, visited the city's roads and grounds facility to inspect the piece of heavy machinery. McCord has been a technician for 19 years. He said the city's backhoe has been neglected over the years.

"This is the worst rusted backhoe I've ever seen," McCord said, using a pocket knife to chip away at rust on the boom arms and wheels. "Some of this is surface rust, but there's a lot of structural rust on the boom arms."

With his knife, McCord scraped about one-sixteenth of an inch of structural rust off one boom arm.

"It's not a matter of if, but when, on these booms arms beginning to crack," McCord said.

Chase Clay, city of Oak Grove assistant public works director, showed McCord around the backhoe during the inspection and pointed out his major concerns including the control levers being "froze up" and a short in the wiring harness causing the battery to go dead.

Clay, who took on this position about nine months ago, said the backhoe was never taken care of.

"(When I first saw it) it was in a lot worse shape than it is today," Clay said. "One of the seals on the outrigger cylinder also has to be replaced. It was leaking hydraulic fluid very badly."

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Since his employment with the city, Clay has sank several hours into cleaning the machine and attempting to repair it.

"I spent three days just trying to clean it to find where all the grease fittings were to try to grease it. There also are a lot of fittings that need to be replaced," he said. "I've done as much electrical work on it as I can to try to get the four-wheel drive to work, but it still doesn't work."

Clay said a lack of preventive maintenance prior to his employment has caused the machine to "go down hill." He said the machine is often used to transport road salt, which is corrosive and acidic. Road salt also is known for causing rust, he added.

After completing his 30-minute inspection, McCord said the backhoe could be patched up for the city to get maybe a few more years out of it. On site, he estimated the repairs would cost several thousands of dollars.

"It needs a lot of work and it can be fixed, but it depends how much (the city) wants to spend on it," McCord said.

McCord said H&R Agri-Power would soon provide the city with a comprehensive estimate to include cost for parts and labor. He said repairing the backhoe would probably be labor intensive. At the time of publication, H&R Agri-Power's complete estimate was unavailable.

With the way the backhoe's controls are set, no one on the city's roads and grounds crew or Clay, can operate it, Clay said. Clay has nine years of experience operating backhoes and other pieces of heavy machinery for the city of Hopkinsville.

"The way the backhoe is set up is exactly opposite of what I was taught," he said. "Newer equipment has two settings where you can swap it, so it didn't matter who the person was, if you know how to run a piece of equipment, you can get up there and run it. The only way I would be able to use the backend of the backhoe is to have the controls swapped."

Control settings aside, Clay refuses to use the backhoe because it is a safety hazard.

"Besides the controls sticking and it not doing what you want it to do, the front end is iffy," he said. "When I pull on the lever for the front bucket, when I let off of it, it's supposed to stop. Whatever it's doing … it should stop immediately, but it doesn't do that. It sticks. If it's going down, it will stay going down, same if it's going up. If I roll the bucket … it's going to do whatever it wants."

The backhoe also could be a danger to his crew members, Clay said.

"Say I am in the backhoe and I am digging, I've got to be so careful as to not tear up another utility such as a phone line or something … I've got to be so comfortable in this machine that the other person in the ditch working with me trusts me," he said.

As of Monday, the city's backhoe had 1,969 hours logged on it.

Aside from pushing a fallen tree out of the road or loading road salt, the backhoe hasn't been used since his employment, Clay said.

"There's no way that I would use it the way it is. That's the reason we don't use it," he said. "I won't dig with it."

Clay said a backhoe is a daily necessity to any city. While working in Hopkinsville, he used a backhoe every day to complete projects.

"One reason the backhoe doesn't get used as much is because it is in such bad shape … such bad operating condition," Clay said. "No one wants to use it. We would just as soon use our mini-excavator, but we do need a working backhoe."

Cities can use a backhoe to dig into the roads and repair water lines. They also can be used to complete roadwork projects and dig ditches for stormwater.

If the city were to purchase a new backhoe, Clay said the first project he would take on is replacing fire hydrants around the city.

"There are a lot of projects I need to do now … especially replacing fire hydrants that I can't because the mini-excavator won't lift them," he said. "When we use the mini-excavator to dig up fire hydrants, it starts to turn over because it is not rated for something of that weight. We need a backhoe to be able to do the things I need to do now. I've got a list of fire hydrants on the board in there now that I can't work on."

Clay said he has used the mini-excavator one time to replace a fire hydrant that was hit in the winter of 2018 on Shadow Ridge Avenue.

"When we got the valve on and got ready to set the hydrant, I told the guys 'ya'll get back.' The mini-excavator could have turned over and I didn't want it to hurt them," he said. "I was buckled in, but it still wasn't safe. That was the only thing I had though."

With the new backhoe, Clay also would be able to complete road work within the city on roads such as Van Buren and Arctic avenues.

"There are a lot of things I would love to do," Clay said.

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