McCahill dozing Caterpillar D10T

California is well known for its excellent growing conditions. Citrus fruits, tree nuts and grapes are amongst the most common of crops grown. Farms can extend from just a handful of acres up to many hundreds of acres requiring a huge input from the farms to maintain them and keep them producing healthy and bountiful crops on a regular basis.

What many don’t realise is that the trees and vines that bear this produce have a limited lifespan and require replacing on a regular cycle. While a small farm may be able to undertake the felling, digging out and replanting of just a couple of trees, some of the larger enterprises require a little more expertise.

This is where Josh McCahill and his crew step in. One of the most experienced teams in the region, McCahill Dozing can easily take on up to 500 acres of land requiring regeneration and bringing it back into prime condition for the landowners to recommence crop growing.

McCahill Dozing have built themselves a reputation for delivering the goods when it comes to land redevelopment in California. The company was founded in 2005 whilst Josh was working as a Deputy Sherriff with the local police department. “I worked three days a week as a deputy which gave me some free time to do other things.” Josh comments. “My grandpa had a small orchard which he wanted clearing, so my father and myself bought a D7 17A series dozer and set about ripping out the trees.  The D7 worked well and rather than sell it after this project, I decided to start doing this work on my days off.” As Josh’s reputation built up, more and more work came his way. With the ability for low-cost loans following the September 11 attacks on the US, Josh and his wife decided to sell the D7 and purchase another Caterpillar dozer, this time a larger and more powerful D8K. “I had colleagues in the Sherriff’s department buying cars and Harley Davidsons while I went out and bought a CAT dozer!” Josh laughs. The risk paid off and with the arrival of the D8K came the ability to undertake bigger jobs. 

With Josh still doing his duty as a Deputy the company was in the capable hands of his first employees. “I was still working as a Deputy until 2017 when I decided it was time to leave the Sherriff’s Department and push on full time with the land clearance works.” He comments. And push on he certainly has. The McCahill fleet now numbers over 25 machines from dozer and excavators to a pair of 1100hp shredders. “We like the CAT products, and we know what we are getting with them.” Josh comments. “The CAT machines are a reliable piece of equipment and getting spare parts for them, whatever age they are, isn’t too difficult. One of the best things I have done for the business is hire a mechanic. We can undertake almost any repair job on the machines from transmission rebuilds to engine refurbishments and final drive replacements. The older machines are easier to work on requiring a more mechanical knowledge as to the newer equipment where a laptop is required.”

AWESOME EARTHMOVERS visited two of Josh’s projects near Reedley in the St Joaquin Valley region. The first project was part way through with the recently removed trees being fed into the Peterson 5710 horizontal grinder. The material was being fed in by a new CAT 330 Next Gen excavator with a CAT 966M wheel loader removing the mulch and stocking it for spreading and ploughing back into the ground to enrich the soils. “Years ago, we could burn the trees but as the air quality in the state has declined the government has banned the burning and is now offering grants to look at alternative methods of getting rid of the old trees. Our Diamond Z and Peterson shredders are ideal for this and can produce a good quality mulch that once the land is cleared, we spread it out and plough it back into the ground. Over the next few years as the wood decomposes, it enriches the soil for the next crops of trees.”

The D8K is still an ever-present member of the fleet, as job sizes have increased, Josh has added a bit more muscle in the shape of a pair of D10T tractors. Purchased used from Quinn Caterpillar, his local dealer, the D10T tractors are employed primarily for undertaking deep ripping duties. The second project saw one of the 75t tractors employed on deep ripping operations. The standard single-shank rippers have been modified with a longer shank. This has an added steel section on a pivot which pulls the ground apart more than the standard shank itself removing deep seated roots and providing additional aeration to the soils. 

The fleet of dozers contains both standard machines and a handful of modified units designed to dig out trees and bushes whilst leaving the surrounding ground intact. Outside mounted push frames with narrow blades have been fitted to some machines whilst others carry traditional root rakes. The two larger D10T models however are equipped with push blades more commonly found on tractors pushing motor scrapers.

Josh’s love of the Caterpillar brand is deep rooted thanks to its build quality, reliability, and parts availability. The only non-Caterpillar branded machine on the fleet is a Fendt tractor which he says is a great machine and only came into the fleet as it was sold by Quinn Caterpillar. Whilst the CAT brand prevails, Josh does have concerns over the constantly escalating fuel and equipment costs which have seen prices rise in excess of 30-40% over the past couple of years. “It has been very hard to compete for some projects as I have had to increase my costs, the market is hard, and you do find there are other companies out there that will happily undercut the rates and use unreliable machinery to undertake a poor-quality job. I would rather sit my equipment in the yard rather than go out an lose money on a job.” Josh comments.

One area Josh has declined to step into is that of the final GPS grading as he believes there are far too many companies offering this service in the region. “With the expense of setting up with the equipment and the machinery, it’s far easier to hire someone in to undertake the final grade work for us.”

Having the right equipment, right crew and more-so the right experience has put the McCahill crew at the top of their game when it comes to the regeneration of orchards. Repeat business has been key to the company’s success with Josh recently undertaking the regeneration of an orchard that was one of his first projects almost 20 years ago.