Many children in Iowa grow up around corn. Chris Wagner grew up around excavators and loaders.
His grandfather owned Wagner Brothers Trucking and Excavating in Waterloo, Iowa, in the 1960s and ’70s and, as a mechanically inclined young boy, Wagner was always taken with the business. The gift to operate and fix up machines was in his blood, although he had to settle for working on Tonka trucks until he was older.
Equipment Fix-ups Lead To Equipment Upgrades
Now 38 years old, Wagner began refurbishing machines at age 20. A lucky find several years ago launched Wagner’s first Bobcat skid-steer loader project. His dad spotted a Bobcat 310 sitting idly at a dairy farm south of Waterloo and picked up the pre-owned loader from the farmers for $1,500. It had 638 hours on it.
“It was well worth the money,” Wagner says.
He rebuilt all four of the machine’s cylinders and the drive clutches and sold it after nearly two years of “trouble-free hours” for double the price – $3,000.
Then came more Bobcat loaders. While he had the 310, Wagner found a Bobcat M371 for $900.
“It ran a little rough when I got it, but it drove off the trailer,” he says.
Wagner took the M371 home, cleaned the carburetor and sold it the next day for $1,200.
After he sold the 310 skid-steer loader, he bought a 1982 Bobcat 731 skid-steer loader with a Deutz air-cooled diesel engine for $2,500. It had a few issues with the right hydrostatic drive when he purchased it, but he did some online research and discovered the brass filter needed to be cleaned.
“I had to replace a few hydraulic lines and a couple seals on the motor, along with a new battery,” Wagner says. “I believe I put an additional $500 into that one and sold it for $4,500 about a month after I bought it.”
Wagner put the $2,000 profit from this machine toward a 1987 743 skid-steer loader he purchased for $5,500.
“I had to have the starter rebuilt right away because it was dragging pretty hard,” he says. “After about a year with that one, I had to rebuild the bucket tilt cylinder. I also had to rebuild all three cylinders and put new tires on it. I found a set of over-the-tire metal tracks for it for $200 and bought a 62-inch Bobcat bucket for $400 that was in like-new condition but needed a set of bolt teeth.”
Wagner had that Bobcat 743 for about a year and a half before he sold it for $7,800 and used the $2,300 profits to help purchase a 1997 Bobcat 753, a 16-foot tilt deck trailer rated at 14 pounds, and an 8-foot snow pusher – all for $7,500.
“When I got to the guy’s house to purchase it, it was well past dark,” Wagner says. “So, I had to look it over with a flashlight and missed a lot without daylight. Needless to say, it was pretty rough.”
Wagner only had that machine for about three weeks before he sold it for $9,500, after replacing the hydraulic line on the left drive motor.
Finally, after literally working his way into it, he bought his current machine, a 2007 Bobcat T190 compact track loader with 3,116 hours on it, for $14,500. Today it has 3,650 hours on it, and Wagner estimates it would sell for more than $18,000.
“I’m going one and a half years on this machine, and I love it,” he says. “I’ve put about 500 hours on it since I got it. That’s a lot of hours when you’re working part-time.”
Juggling Work With (More) Work and Family
Although Wagner could easily make refurbishing Bobcat machines his full-time job, it’s actually his hobby’s hobby. His first hobby is landscaping, grading and concrete work.
By day, Wagner works for Pepsi. By night (and on weekends), he works “part-time” on foundation work such as driveways, patios and sidewalks as well as landscaping and grading jobs. The Bobcat equipment he’s fixed up over the years helps him complete the work.
“I like Bobcat skid-steer loaders because they are very dependable units and can do really impressive things — especially for the size of the machine,” he says. “I believe out of all skid-steer loaders out there, Bobcat loaders are the easiest to work on.”
Whenever he’s not refurbishing machines, doing landscaping and concrete work, or searching for underpriced equipment on Craigslist, Wagner can be found spending time with his wife and their three children, ages 13 “going on 20,” 12 and 15 months.
Needless to say, given his 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., 7-days-a-week schedule, Wagner must call on outside help to work on his machines from time to time. When he does, his first and last call is to Black Hawk Rental in Waterloo, Iowa.
“They’re a good group of guys, and they’ve done a few repairs I just didn’t have time to do,” Wagner says. “They know me by name, they don’t try to get me to pay for things I don’t need, their prices are reasonable, and they do good work.”
Black Hawk Rental is also where Wagner buys all of his parts, which are always only Bobcat brand.
“I don’t really believe in mixing and matching,” he says, “and the price of Bobcat parts is not that much different than different OEM and aftermarket prices.”
The Next Chapter
What’s next for Wagner and his juggling act of work and hobbies?
“I’m just trying to take it one day at a time, but I’m interested in getting more clientele on the dirt work side of things,” he says. “I know a few Amish people and have done some work for them. They’re always impressed with all of the work I can do in the amount of time I do it.”
As for the family, he’s just waiting for the day when his 15-month-old son Ayden is old enough for a Bobcat loader toddler bed with LED lights.