Review: Caterpillar D3C dozer

By: Ron Horner

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  • Earthmovers & Exacavators

On a recent job clearing trees and undergrowth, Ron Horner made the most of a Caterpillar D3C dozer that just needed a bit of TLC to get back in the game

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Tree pusher mounted on the D3C

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Tucked away in the backblocks, just atop the Northern border of NSW and with its umbilical cord still firmly attached to Qld, is a little community of Willsons Downfall.

Once a thriving community housing thousands of tin mine workers, this iconic and picturesque village is just another gem on the Australian landscape where, on another one of Ronnie’s Road Trips, we found another topical old machine and owner worthy of a story.

In ever so typical and, now unsurprising fashion, I caught up with the bloke who owns a nice little 140 acre block inside the boundary of the village (it’s that easy in Australia). Trevor Burton is not the average bushy, small block owner one would expect to find way out here, but this block has been in his family for generations and he holds it very close to his heart when he describes with passion the years he had whilst growing up on this particular block and some other small land parcels in villages very close by.

Bounded with unbelievable stands of gums of varying types, wattles, bottlebrush natives, bush rocks and fresh water supplied via the usually free flowing creek, this area is an idyllic spot to carve out a house block and ensure that future generations of kids can enjoy and appreciate the natural beauty.

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Cat D3C with Ripco Ripper attached

Not surprisingly for anyone growing up in rural Australia the lack of work opportunities has and will continue to drive away younger generations in an effort to find work or their niche in society. No different for Burton, who was educated away from the area, found his mark in business, created and developed a successful future and decided to come back to his roots and family.

To carve out his dream, and to resurrect some of his dad’s favourite memories of living in the area, required some high level design and planning, clearing of scrub, undergrowth and some trees, and reshaping of the creek (especially since it was relatively dry due to the ongoing severity of drought).

Burton has never been backward in coming forward when it comes to explaining the importance and urgency of commencing these tasks as his dad has failing health and, as a caring and compassionate son, he would love to share his dad’s early memories by restoring this parcel of land to its former glory.

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Cat DC3 dozer

THE GEAR

As is with anything requiring more than just physical labour we needed to sort some gear for him and assist in the planning and design of the long-term outcomes to ensure those valued childhood memories can be relived.

My first choice for stage one was a mid-sized excavator with multiple attachments, including a log grab. This would enable those trees and undergrowth, once felled, to be stockpiled with plenty of height in several places around the block.

The other was a dozer with a tree pusher or scrub rake attached to tidy up and work alongside the excavator in the clearing process.

I had mates in the game, so the excavator was easy to fix but to get a dozer was a little more difficult. When discussing this with Burton he calmly said "Oh, I’ve got one of those"!

A quick trip over to the other paddock and there sitting in all its glory was a very neat and tidy, low hours, 1988 Caterpillar D3C bulldozer with a tree pusher, root rake, multi positional blade and rippers, rollover protection (ROPS) canopy and scrub guards … you beauty.

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Steering brakes, de-accelerator and simplistic dashboard

A quick look around and one could see that this machine has not been worked to any extent for a long while and had the tell-tale signs of being somewhat neglected and left in the bush for when the next available "weekend operator" could attempt to move a fallen branch or clear a bit of a fence line.

Looking at the tracks it appeared that to work it on the job we had planned it would certainly require some replacement of the drive sprockets as a minimum. The track chains also weren’t the best but were adequate for our job as this little tractor could possibly only work another 500 hours on this farm block and overinvesting was not warranted in my opinion.

A full service was the order of the day and that would give us a good idea on the working capabilities, condition and capacity of the dozer to do a good day’s work.

As it usually happens when there are multiple, part time and inexperienced operators running it, there are always going to be problems.

Hydraulic oil required almost 40 litres to top up and the filters hadn’t been changed since 2011 but the engine oil was relatively clean and to the correct levels. It took a good day of servicing, greasing and checking the hydraulic leaks, and a new set of drive sprocket segments were ordered and fitted, to get it up and running.

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Vision is excellent for the operator, albeit a bit dusty

IN THE CAB

Sparse in today’s terms would be an understatement but it’s a typical Cat for its time. Most relevant Cat gauges were hidden behind the lockable dashboard cover along with the master key and no steering clutches protruding out of the dash, instead brake pedals on the floor for left and right turns with a de-accelerator on right side of brakes.

To the right of the operator’s seat, which was torn but repairable, are the ripper control lever and the multi-positional blade control.

To the left side of the seat are the three-speed power shift forward and three reverse gears, the gear shift lock out and hand throttle control.

Vision is basically unimpeded through the mesh scrub screens and the ROPS tree canopy works a treat.

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Powershift F and R, gear lock out and throttle

UNDER THE HOOD

Tucked in behind the leaf litter and scrub protective screens is the tidy little 3204 four-cylinder Cat diesel, non-turbo engine delivering about 62 horsepower (46kW) and overall weight being around the 8,000kg mark with rippers.

As we found, the filters and servicing are easy to get to but the hassle is removing the guards each day. One can see why the part-time operators would be a little reluctant to go to the trouble of doing this.

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New drive sprocket segments fitted

ON THE JOB

This little dozer worked out pretty well for the job we had on hand, however it would have been too small to complete the task on its own if the excavator had not been engaged. Many of the trees were way too large and even with the tree pusher it could not get to the height required to safely push the trees over.

This task and stockpiling the fallen timber into high stockpiles was left to the excavator, a little Cat 311Cu with grab attachment: just perfect.

The Cat D3C was perfect for gathering up the loose leaf and branch litter, pushing up smaller branches, stumps and logs, placing some of the loose rock and keeping the roads and tracks in good working order, which enable the boys to get easy and safe access around the block.

An access road along some fence lines was constructed and the little dozer ripped and pushed up the decomposed granite material with ease and, once hauled to the correct location, the D3C levelled and trimmed the road perfectly.

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THE BOTTOM LINE

Any newcomer to the game should seriously look at gaining some industry expert advice prior to the purchasing of any earthmoving equipment. Many things need to be assessed if purchasing any machinery and consulting with an experienced contractor or operator could save you thousands of dollars.

The amount of clearing required to get this block in shape would have been better suited with a D6-sized dozer; the D3C is just a bit small for this application. However, when the bulk of the trees are removed the D3 will be in its element as a tidy little farm tractor capable of servicing the owner’s needs for many years.

When burn off time comes round the D3 will be the ideal little tractor to push up those stockpiles and keep them burning and to also clean up after the burn off; always tedious and it takes time and patience to obtain the best results.

This little Cat D3C will certainly come into its own on this property and with the new drive sprockets and full service completed has not missed a beat.

The old Cat gear just keeps on going and is the backbone of many a small property or acreage holder, and this one in particular is a beauty.

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