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5 Ways to Ensure Success with a Pedestrian Trencher

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From backyard irrigation projects to commercial utility installations, pedestrian – or walk-behind – trenchers are useful for numerous applications. For rental centers, there are several potential customers interested in renting this specialized machine, making it a great addition to the fleet.

While most are fairly easy to operate, not all pedestrian trenchers are designed the same. When renting, it’s important to find out what each customer is looking to accomplish in order to recommend the right model, size, and features – and possibly more. To best set up a customer for trencher success, here are five key areas to review prior to renting.

1. Size It Up
Depending on the manufacturer, pedestrian trenchers are typically available in a variety of sizes. They’re also offered with different boom lengths and chains. To begin, ask a few basic questions.

Many customers may gravitate towards larger machines, assuming bigger equals better, but keep in mind location matters. Ask where the trencher will be operating, as a smaller unit may be needed to navigate through narrow fence openings, and operate in tighter spaces or those with several landscaping details.  

Next, find out the project details to determine how deep a trench is needed. This detail will help further zero in on the ideal trencher size as well as designate the required boom length. Horsepower options range, depending on manufacturer, but there are a few general guidelines to help choose the right model.

Vermeer, for example, offers trenchers from 13 to 25 horsepower. A customer needing up to a 2-foot trench or shallower can stick to the smallest 13-horsepower models; up to a 30-inch trench depth likely warrants the mid-size unit, 20 horsepower, and those looking for a trench up to 36-inches deep will want a larger pedestrian model, the 25-hosepower model.

This guide is good to ensure an adequate boom length without causing too much stress on the unit. Machine model, depth, and width of trench will vary greatly from region to region based on local ground conditions and regulations. What might work in black dirt will not work in rocky ground conditions and vice versa.

Speaking of ground conditions, one of the most important questions to ask the customer is in what type of ground will the trencher be working. In addition to helping determine machine, different chains are offered to accommodate soil from simple sandy to the heaviest clays and rocky terrains. And, depending on location, an additional consideration comes seasonally. Rotary chains cut through cold, even frozen ground as well as rocky, tough soils. Full cup chains are typically fine for soft, loamy soils, and partial cup chains are available for soft ground that has some debris in the soil.

2. Safe and Sound
When the proper unit has been selected for a customer, safety features are the first priority to discuss.

As an operational tip, remind customers to plan out and prep the area to be trenched prior to starting work. First, the local “No-Dig” hotline must be called prior to any work being done with a trencher so ensure the customer has the all-clear to go into the ground before sending him or her out the door with a machine. Additional steps like removing any obstructions in the work area go a long way to keeping the customer safe and operation smooth.

Vermeer, along with other reputable manufacturers, offers safety features on its units. One of the most popular is a sensory system that only allows the machine to run if the operator’s hands are properly positioned on the machine. Be sure to review the safety features specific to the unit and go through with every customer.

3. Comfortable, Productive
Features designed for smooth operation do double duty in helping ensure operation is comfortable and productive, and the customer stays happy. Similar to safety, the top brands are designed with various ergonomic features.

For example, a feature to point out on Vermeer pedestrian trenchers is VZ Steering. It’s designed to make the machine easy to turn simply by using the handlebars. The bars are designed for operator comfort, too, providing added leverage when operating in tough ground conditions.

Speaking of ground conditions, depending on the time of year, consider offering a tracked machine vs. one with tires. Tracks offer better traction control, especially on wet or slippery terrain, leading to less effort from the customer and better results.

Finally, remind customers that trencher speed doesn’t equal faster trenching – in fact, it can cause chain and engine issues, and lead to less-than-optimal results. Engine speed is variable, trenchers offer adjustable ground drive, and the sweet spot is often dependent on accommodating current ground conditions. There may be some trial and error, but the machine will operate at its best once the right combo of ground speed and engine chain load is found.

4. AM to PM
Tight deadlines. Busy days. Unfamiliarity with the machine. There are numerous reasons daily preventative maintenance is commonly neglected by equipment operators. And when it’s a rental machine vs. one that’s a permanent investment, PM as a priority may slip even further down the list. It’s not uncommon for rental center operators to experience this with all customers, from homeowners to large companies.

Pedestrian trenchers are easy to maintain even for novice operators. Most are designed for quick access to crucial parts, like the engine, encouraging daily fluid and air cleaner checks. Grease points are also easy to access and hydraulic hoses visible for quick identification of problems. Additionally, the compact size of the machine is ideal for conducting a daily visual walk-around inspection that doesn’t take too long. Take every renter through a basic, daily inspection checklist, both to show what to do and how quick and easy it is.


Not only is ease of maintenance great for renters, it’s a bonus for the rental center. Being able to service and get the machine back out into the field quickly equals more rental and revenue potential.

5. The Right Machine?
At this point, the customer should be ready to go to work with the unit he or she needs and the knowledge to successfully complete the project. However, after going through all the models, sizes, features, and options, it might be determined that a pedestrian trencher isn’t the best choice for the customer.

While a trencher does just that – trench – and does it well, it’s also fairly limited to that one application. There are two other common rental machines that can be used for similar applications and offer bonus capabilities that might be in the customer’s best interest. Here are a few examples of when it might be wise to consider recommending a mini skid steer or pedestrian plow.

A trencher attachment can be added to a mini skid steer so customers also needing to perform tasks such as moving landscaping material with a bucket or forks, or fence post digging or tree planting with an auger attachment could greatly benefit from renting a mini with the right attachments vs. two separate machines.

Similar to a trencher, a pedestrian plow cuts into the ground for applications like irrigation lines and fiber optic cable installs, but does so in a way that’s less disturbing to the ground. These machines also have the option of adding a trencher on the back to give operators both capabilities. Depending on the property size and various obstructions, the option to switch back and forth between the two options might be necessary. Typically, larger commercial customers are more likely to need this added functionality but it’s worth investigating the opportunity for all.

No matter which machine or model is the final choice, asking the right questions and going through key features are important steps to take to set up a customer for success – and satisfaction – on his or her next trenching project.

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About The Author
Mark Rieckhoff is Regional Sales Manager with RDO Vermeer and based in Burnsville, MN.

Learn more about Vermeer trenchers for your rental center, or contact your local RDO Equipment Co. store
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