Todd Sharp dumps dirt out of the bucket of his Bobcat T650 compact track loader.

We all know it can happen. An injury on – or off – the job can change your life in an instant, making it impossible for you to function the way you once did. So what do you do when a serious injury forces you to make a career change?

  1. Start your own business; and/or
  2. Get equipment with comfort features

At least, that’s what these successful contractors did. Here are their inspiring stories.

Fighting Chronic Pain with Comfort Features

Todd Sharp, Owner of Sharp Excavating, Riverton, Utah

Todd Sharp talks on the phone in the cab of his Bobcat T650 compact track loader.Chronic neck pain finally caught up with Todd Sharp. Following an MRI, medical experts warned the damage was so severe that, without surgery, even a minor car accident would leave him paralyzed.

It was non-negotiable. He had to protect his neck on a daily basis to keep himself and his excavating company alive. So he set out to find the smoothest and most comfortable ride available in the compact equipment market.

Sharp found a Bobcat T650 loader and instantly fell in love with it. The compact track  loader offered a soft ride and plenty of horsepower and torque.

“I treat my loader like gold, but when it goes to work, I run it as hard and fast as it can go,” he says. “I can haul butt as I’m traveling across a jobsite, and when I start hitting bumps, it cushions the boom so the machine is not hopping and beating up on me.

There’s less fatigue on the operator.”

Sharp credits the soft ride to the machine’s optional air ride seat and says the seat-mounted Selectable Joystick Controls (SJC) also provide additional comfort because it moves with his body, reducing his arm movements.

“I can get such a fine adjustment with the air suspension seat. It seems to float,” he says, “and using SJC is what I’m used to, so it’s absolute comfort.”

Mild Setback, Major Comeback

Graeme Robertson, Owner of GJR Contracting, Dugald, Manitoba

Graeme Robertson stands next to his R-Series E35 excavator.In his early twenties, Graeme Robertson walked away from seasonal equipment contracting in search of a steadier paycheck year-round. He found one as a carpenter – until he broke his ankle in a bad snowmobile accident and was no longer able to climb ladders.

While not being able to climb a ladder anymore is a minor setback, in the whole scheme of things, it made it impossible for Robertson to continue work as a carpenter. As a result, he was forced to figure out how to pivot his career – again.

“My doctor said, ‘Yeah, you’re probably better off just opening your own business,’” Robertson says, “so that was it.”

He did just that and decided to get back into equipment contracting.

Robertson started GJR Contracting in 2011, shortly after the accident. It turned out to be one of his most profitable decisions yet.

To break into the competitive Winnipeg market, Robertson bought an M-Series E35 compact excavator from Bobcat of Central Manitoba and went to work performing residential demolition and landscaping projects, along with commercial site prep and snow removal in winter.

Graeme Robertson tears down a garage using his R-Series E35 excavator.“That was my first piece of equipment, and now everybody knows me for that piece of equipment,” Robertson says. “I love my job. I can’t say ‘never,’ but I usually don’t have to do the same thing two days in a row.”

Upgrading to an R-Series E35 excavator gave Robertson even more comfort features, including a larger cab with 15 percent more glass surface for enhanced visibility.

“I’m six-foot-five,” Robertson says. “My R-Series E35 has more legroom and better visibility than my previous E35. Those are the two major things I like the most about it.”

Turning an Injury Into an Excuse to Pursue a Dream

Sean O’Donnell, Owner of Pioneer Trucking and Excavating, White Horse, Yukon

Sean O’Donnell stands next to his Bobcat T650 compact track loader at a wooded jobsite.When he was younger, Sean O’Donnell worked on diamond drills. It was a very physically intense job. After he got injured, he had to rethink how he could make money.

“It forced me to step back from the physical end of the worksite,” he says. “I wanted to find a job where I would make equivalent pay and work long hours, so I could enjoy my time in the winter – without beating up my body.”

Sean O’Donnell dumps dirt from the bucket of his Bobcat T650 compact track loader.O’Donnell always knew, even as a boy, he wanted to own a business someday. It was a dream that sat idle for a long time, even though he never lost focus of it. So after the injury, he decided to start his own company – and never looked back.

Today Pioneer Trucking and Excavating does septic installations, lot clearing, foundation prep work and property development. The company has an M-Series T650 that enables O’Donnell to sit comfortably for long days on the jobsite.

“The air ride (suspension) seat that Bobcat equipment provides ensures that I can sit for a 12- or 14-hour day inside the machines and make the dollars that need to be made,” he says.

 

Comfort Features Can Lengthen or Jumpstart Your Career

As these business owners prove, you don’t have to stop working as a contractor just because you get injured. And being a contractor doesn’t have to be synonymous with lifelong physical aches and pains either, thanks to technological advancements that have led to new comfort features in many modern machines.

But these comfort features can do more than make your life easier: They can extend  your career – or even give you a new one.

When shopping for compact equipment, look for three comfort features: cab space, control options and adjustability. You may discover that these extra features are more “need-to-haves” than “nice-to-haves” – especially when you factor in your long-term health and career longevity.

 

Watch Sean O’Donnell at work in the Yukon.

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