Phil Sylvester has two equipment operating jobs: operating heavy equipment for a firm that focuses on road construction and utility rehabilitation projects throughout Iowa and maintaining his 120-acre Richland, Iowa, farm and home.
Although he enjoys both, his favorite job happens on Saturdays and Sundays on his family farm.
Home is where the farm is
Phil has always divided his time on the family farm since he and his wife, Cindy, purchased it in 1998 as second-generation owners. Four years ago, the family enrolled the land in the Conservation Reserve Program, removing it from agricultural production.
His son Tyler, who also works as a heavy equipment operator, helps on the farm to ensure its sustainability and to help feed the cattle.
“He grew up helping me on the farm,” Phil says. “And we’ve just got a wavelength. If I don’t get something done, he does. It’s like a dream come true to work with him.”
Since Phil is only home on the weekends most of the year, chores must happen quickly and efficiently as soon as he returns. His M2-Series T770 compact track loader paired with a team of attachments makes routine tasks – such as mowing prairie grasses, clearing trees, building fences, and feeding and watering nine head of black angus cows – productive.
“I really enjoy coming home and doing projects with Tyler and my T770,” Phil says. “It’s always fun for me because it’s my machine, and I set it up for the work we need to do. I’ve used it for everything from chores to building four ponds and creating food plots.”
Working for the weekend
One of Phil and Tyler’s primary on-going projects is clearing an average of 25 dump truck loads of firewood annually. The family feeds the wood into an outdoor wood-burning stove that heats Phil’s house and a three-stall garage.
“We’re overpopulated with hedge trees and thorny locust trees that are hard on my tractor tires,” Phil says. “So we use the grapple to grab the brush and the trees, and Tyler cuts the trunks into logs.”
Another key responsibility for the pair is keeping the livestock fed and watered. Tyler uses the T770 and a bale fork attachment to move large round bales to feeding pens; switching to a pallet fork provides muscle for transporting a large tote used for refilling the herd’s water tanks.
Daylight is often not long enough to get the work done. With the optional side light kit available for the M2-Series loaders, Phil and Tyler can stretch mowing with the Brushcat attachment well into the evening hours.
Growing up with Bobcat equipment
While working for a family friend’s septic business, Phil operated a Bobcat 975 loader – “the old big horse” – and he’s never strayed from the brand for his compact equipment work.
The T770 is Phil’s fifth Bobcat loader. In 1983, Phil purchased his first machine, an 843 model. He followed it up with two 863 loaders when Tyler was a small boy, and then, most recently, a Bobcat T320 compact track loader. When it was time to upgrade, Phil began talking with his dealership, Bobcat of Iowa City, about trying to match the performance of his T320.
“I wanted something with the same or better horsepower and lift capacity,” Phil says.
He also wanted additional features to increase his efficiency and visibility, as well as the comforts of a more advanced cab.
“I really liked the visibility from my 843,” Phil says. “Since then, Bobcat has been able to improve the visibility to the attachments by moving the cab forward. I’ve got all the cab comforts – like heat, air conditioning and a radio – so it’s very comfortable. I’ve stuck with Bobcat because of lots of little things like that.”
Other T770 features that appealed to Phil include the air ride and heated seat and the ride control feature for driving over rough terrain.
“It’s a smoother ride, and [the ride control] lets the boom float, taking the shock out of going across uneven ground,” Phil says.
Since time is a premium, the T770’s 2-Speed travel option with a maximum speed of 11 miles per hour helps Phil and Tyler travel quickly from one end of the farm to the other – a distance of approximately 1.5 miles – to tackle the next task. Driving 3 miles on pavement and gravel from the farm to the family’s shop in Richland can also be time consuming.
“It used to take me about an hour and a half to get there, and now it’s only 45 minutes,” Phil says. “2-Speed cuts any drive in half.”
After operating loaders with previous generation hand and foot controls, Phil selected the Selectable Joystick Control (SJC) option for his T770, putting forward, reverse, right and left functions right at his fingertips.
“It’s sometimes hard to teach an old dog a new trick because I still miss the two-way control,” Phil says. “But you have to switch at some point, and it’s kind of nice to run a machine with one hand. SJC is really not a choice; it’s where controls are going.”
For Phil, it’s a labor of love to maintain his farm and home after a long workweek. But with his collection Bobcat attachments to help carry the load, he can take a step back and enjoy his farmland and family.
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