New Ma­chin­ery Re­view: Agri­son ME850 mini-ex­ca­va­tor

Char­lie Danger­field’s new Agri­son ME850 tracked miniex­ca­va­tor mightn’t be the big­gest ma­chine on the mar­ket – in fact, it’s the small­est – but that suits him just fine, he tells Steve Kealy

Earthmovers & Excavators - - Contents -

Of­ten, when we get to see a new ma­chine in ac­tion, it’s the big­gest, the best, the fresh­est and the new­est thing on the mar­ket. Which is all well and good – in our in­dus­try, new tech­nol­ogy, new meth­ods, new sys­tems are of­ten key to pro­duc­tiv­ity and prof­itabil­ity. As a bonus, we of­ten get to meet some of the folk in­volved with new ma­chines – the en­gi­neers who build ‘em, the techs who main­tain ‘em and per­haps most im­por­tantly, the op­er­a­tors who use them – of­ten well out­side the scope of what the en­gi­neers and the techs would like!

So, the chance to chat to Char­lie Danger­field about his new Agri­son tracked mini-ex­ca­va­tor was re­fresh­ing, be­cause Char­lie is the first to ad­mit his ma­chine isn’t the big­gest one there is – in fact, it’s the small­est – and de­spite be­ing just un­der two me­tres tall, that suits him just fine.

Char­lie and his wife Kather­ine own and run Cen­tral Vic­to­ria Fenc­ing in the Rom­sey-Bendigo area. Ear­lier in the year, he bought one of Agri­son’s small­est ex­ca­va­tors to use pri­mar­ily as a post-hole dig­ger. And a cou­ple of months on, it’s fair to say that he’s well-pleased that he did.

Fol­low­ing some re­search, he opted for the Agri­son ME850; he makes no bones about his de­ci­sion – it was based mostly on price, hav­ing used a one-man post-hole auger, or hir­ing equip­ment like Din­goes for spe­cific jobs. He was es­sen­tially look­ing for “a power shovel” but since much of his work in­volves small do­mes­tic sites, he needed some­thing that he could get into tight spots. Here the Agri­son’s width – a smidge un­der 900mm – is a ma­jor bonus; he can lit­er­ally get it through gar­den gates. There, the ma­chine’s light 850kg op­er­at­ing weight and its rub­ber tracks means it does client-pleas­ingly lit­tle dam­age to es­tab­lished ar­eas, paths and drive­ways.

That it’s light enough to be towed by a mod­est one-tonne ute that’s also haul­ing a ce­ment mixer,

fenc­ing wire and of­ten a day’s worth of gumpoles, is an added bonus: Char­lie didn’t need to get a big­ger ve­hi­cle to get his tools to job-sites.

He does use a cou­ple of load­ing ramps to get the lit­tle ma­chine on and off the trailer – with such short tracks (1,230mm), just rid­ing off wasn’t re­ally fea­si­ble.

Pow­ered by a sin­gle-cylin­der air-cooled diesel rated at 8.6kW, the ME850 ac­tu­ally has more hy­draulic oil on board than diesel fuel – 20 litres of hy­draulics and 15 litres of fuel – yet that will see the ma­chine run­ning for most of a week! Char­lie’s care­ful about not push­ing the ma­chine too hard – be­ing two me­tres tall means he can lean for­ward and check the hoses for heat!

Which isn’t to say that the ma­chine gets an easy life – he’s al­ready sheared off the stan­dard oneinch auger drive and he reck­ons it’s a bit light-on and re­ally needs a two-inch up­grade. In fact, he’s opted for an AugerTorque drive, a $1,200 cost ad­di­tion that re­ally makes a dif­fer­ence to how the ma­chine op­er­ates. He may have lost a few rpm, but he’s happy know­ing that there’s more torque at the bit now, and a snagged au­gur won’t dam­age the drive ei­ther.

In his re­gion, he faces ev­ery­thing from sandy soil to clay or shale-rock; he usu­ally goes down less than a me­tre, but can ex­tend the shaft and he of­ten runs into tree roots. Some­times the lit­tle Agri­son will lift a lit­tle, but care­ful use of the ma­chine’s blade as a back-stop and lift­ing off the drilling load keeps things sta­ble. He’ll of­ten sink a pi­lot hole, but he never uses an auger over 300mm di­am­e­ter.

Char­lie does use the mini blade for lev­el­ling a site or per­haps shap­ing a small spoon-drain oc­ca­sion­ally, but thinks he’ll soon ex­tend it up “a bit” – as it is, it’s a bit too small for his use and fills up, chokes and spills quickly.

Be­sides up­ping the auger drive and mak­ing

the blade big­ger, Char­lie’s look­ing at swap­ping some of the arm’s con­trol levers too, so he can con­trol it with just one of his gen­er­ously large hands. De­spite his size, he doesn’t find the ma­chine cramped – there’s enough space for his steel-toe Blun­nies and so far the seat has proven com­fort­able enough.

The ME850 is sup­plied with a rip­per, some buck­ets of 200mm, 360mm and 460mm width which he al­most never uses, and a log grab­ber. The rip­per he uses fairly of­ten for short runs or a bit of a trench, but if he were need­ing to lay a cable-run to an elec­tric fence over any dis­tance, a pipeline or some­thing deeper, he’d prob­a­bly get hold of a proper trencher: “Horses for cour­ses,” he says. “Use the right tool for the job.”

The cab will pivot right round and while the ROPS looks light, Char­lie points out that if an op­er­a­tor did get re­ally clumsy and tip the ma­chine over, the ROPS only has to stop it rolling right over; the roof is de­cently thick steel, not crack-prone plas­tic or fi­bre­glass and is typ­i­cal of an im­pres­sive build qual­ity vis­i­ble ev­ery­where.

It’s not so much a ma­chine built to a price, as a small ma­chine built to big ma­chine stan­dards.

Char­lie says he’s yet to meet the older fence post that his new ma­chine can’t sim­ply lift out the ground – concrete foot­ing or not. Some need a bit of push and pull be­fore be­ing lifted up, but it seems that old posts in his area know that re­sis­tance is fu­tile.

His pre­vi­ous one-man post-hole dig­ger was caus­ing some vi­bra­tion-re­lated is­sues for his hands – swelling and tin­gling mostly; switch­ing to the ME850 has put all that in the past.

“The old ma­chine is just ly­ing in the shed now,” he said. “I might need it one day, but it’s not my first choice.”

Main­te­nance-wise – well, with only 60 hours on the dial, the new ma­chine’s barely run in.

So far, it’s only re­ally seen hot, dry and dusty jobs, so Char­lie ex­pects he’ll need to be keep­ing dust off the op­er­at­ing parts and out of the en­gine bay, but in re­al­ity, the de­sign­ers seem to have done it for him.

He greases the nip­ples at ev­ery pivot and link­age ev­ery week and each time he’s checked the air-fil­ter, it’s been spotless; the oil and fuel fil­ters will get reg­u­lar changes and the tracks haven’t needed any ten­sion­ing yet.

So far, Char­lie’s been more than im­pressed by his lit­tle ma­chine – it does ex­actly what he wants it to do and at the price, he reck­ons he got pre­cisely the right tool for the job.

It’s nice to meet a man for whom less is ex­actly enough!

Far left: In his re­gion, Char­lie faces ev­ery­thing from sandy soil to clay or shale-rock; he usu­ally goes down less than a me­tre, but can ex­tend the shaft and he of­ten runs into tree roots Left: Char­lie has opted for an AugerTorque drive, a $1,200 cost...

Above: The ma­chine’s light 850kg op­er­at­ing weight and its rub­ber tracks means it does lit­tle dam­age to es­tab­lished ar­eas, paths and drive­ways

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