Easing Outdoor Chores

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Deere and Co.'s new XUV 850 Diesel offers sufficient payload capacity to qualify as a heavy hauler and enough ground clearance to deliver the load right where you need it.
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DR's electric-over-hydraulic log splitters don't require monumental efforts to move, but they easily create mountains of winter-warming fuel.
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Small in size but huge in heart, the Mantis is a real workhorse that doubles as a cultivating tool and primary tiller.
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Rank grass makes an easy bite for DR's signature Field and Brush Mower, which was designed to shred saplings up to 2.5 inches diameter (depending on model).
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Although removing leaves from the forest floor isn't what DR's self-propelled leaf and lawn vacuum was designed for, it was part of the product's extensive pre-marketing test program.
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DR's six-horsepower push-type leaf and lawn vacuum makes short work of yard cleanup when the terrain is relatively flat.

One of the best parts about writing this column is that I have the opportunity to look at interesting new power products for the first time, or venerable old performers in a new light. Sometimes that means I travel to the manufacturer to run machines through their paces, and other times it means that I get to do it at the farm.

Occasionally, I succumb to catchy marketing pieces myself and just buy the stuff to use, which is what I did more than 15 years ago in response to a Mantis advertisement. I had grown tired of getting horsed around by our large (and very capable) self-propelled rotary tiller and, although it seemed a little expensive for its size back then, the Mantis tiller has been a great performer – first for me, and now for a good friend to whom I loaned it about eight years ago.

I don’t think the folks at Mantis meant for their tiny tiller to pulverize three pickup truck loads of hard-pack sheep manure and mix it into the soil of a 1,000-square-foot garden, but that’s exactly what it did within hours of arriving in the mail one brisk October day.

I do know that Mantis expects its machines to provide good service over a lifetime of use, and my old tiller is well on its way to delivering just that. Not surprising, the Mantis tiller (in an updated form) is still available today (about $350 list) and better yet, it is accompanied with several other machines, like the 5-ton electric-over-hydraulic SwiftSplit®log splitter (about $530 list) and the innovative E-System landscaping tools.

Best of all, you can try any Mantis product for a year and return it for a no-hassle refund if you aren’t satisfied. Check them out on the Web (www.Mantis.com) or give Mantis a call at (800) 366-6268 for more information.

Splitting logs and more

I am a big fan of the internal combustion engine for the simple reason that it’s a celebration of human ingenuity and saves untold labor to boot. Generally, when I think about outdoor power equipment, images of reciprocating pistons and powerful little explosions dance around in my head, so I was more than a little curious when I learned that DR®Power Equipment had installed 120-volt AC electric motors on a couple of their log splitters.

DR®is widely known for the robust, gasoline-powered Field and Brush Mower, which easily munches through brush and saplings up to a couple of inches in diameter, so I wasn’t worried that the splitters were handicapped in any significant way. My first thought was that the cord tether would be a drag, but when the good folks at DR®invited me to their test facility near Vergennes, Vermont, last September to check them out first-hand, I didn’t think twice about it.

A mountain of firewood greeted me at DR’s splitter test facility, but there was no similarly huge machine to claim responsibility for the fuel. Instead, at one end of the heap sat a pair of easily manageable plug-in wood splitters – one with 5 tons of hydraulic capacity and the other with 6 tons.

What I noticed first about the two prototype splitters was that they were neatly self-contained (except for the cord), quiet, non-intimidating – and yes, I could actually imagine using them to split wood indoors or at least in the garage.

Any doubt about their capability was quickly put to rest when I took a turn with their smartly designed controls – even the 24-inch diameter elm billets that I felt certain would stall the 6-ton model – yielded to the 5-ton machine’s pressure. Both wood splitters were easy to operate, offered rapid cycle times and, best of all, we could carry on a conversation while they were running.

According to DR®product-testing manager Mike Moriarty, the log splitter duo had successfully cleaved a collective 800 cords (working 10-hour days) in their first three months of testing, and they still had a couple of months to go. Testing at DR®is really important because the company’s products come with a six-month risk-free trial that includes a full no-questions-asked refund (upon return; less shipping and handling). The new wood splitters retail for about $550 to $750, depending on model and accessories.

While at DR®I also took one of their new walk-behind leaf and lawn vacuums for a spin. These machines are powered with an easy-to-start Quantum gasoline engine and have a big hunger for leaves, twigs, grass clippings, and even sand and gravel. To my surprise, Moriarty urged me to run a couple of iced-tea glasses through the test model (yes, it has the suction to pick up the empties), and the vacuum’s powerful impeller reduced those objects to grains of sand without so much as a groan.

Although not a recommended practice, that it can eat glass is all the proof I need that the DR®Walk Behind Leaf Vacuum (about $1,400 – $1,800 list, depending on model and accessories) is up to the task. For more information on these amazing products and the rest of the DR®lineup, visit their Web site at www.DRPower.com or give them a call at (800) 687-6575.

John Deere vehicles

Back in December, I was able to take a firsthand look at a couple of new Gator™brand utility vehicles from John Deere.

Many folks don’t realize that the venerable old agricultural machinery giant created the first production utility vehicle back in the late 1980s and has been a key player ever since, offering both two- and four-wheel-drive models in a variety of configurations.

Deere’s Traditional Series 6X4 machines, with four drive wheels in back and a pair of sure-footed fully suspended flotation tires up front, received a radical update in late 2006 with the release of the TH 6X4 Gator™Diesel. This top-of-the-line work Gator™features a cleaner and more powerful 854-cc displacement Yanmar engine, an improved transmission, 1,600-pound towing capacity and thoughtful operator amenities including 12-volt power outlet and beverage holders.

I can attest to the machine’s ability in rough terrain, and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t make the electronically controlled diesel engine smoke, which is a big plus for the environment.

If your utility vehicle requirements go beyond traditional off-road heavy hauling, then the Gator™XUV lineup has you covered. They’re what you need to traverse tougher trails to access that big oak that blew down deep in the woods and cut it up for firewood, or when your cows are calving a couple of miles from home across creek and meadow.

These brand new machines are based on an innovative four-wheel-drive chassis (with four-wheel independent suspension) that offers more ground clearance and greater suspension travel than ever before in a Gator™.

Choose from super-efficient (and clean) fuel-injected gasoline or diesel engines with top speeds up to 30 mph to get the work done with enough time left over to have a little fun. The XUV models have 1,400-pound maximum payload capacity and an innovative low-maintenance four-wheel-drive system that allows you to deliver power to one, two, three or all four wheels depending on conditions. I found these machines to be agile and very quick relative to other utility vehicles – even when loaded with two people and 400 pounds in the cargo box.

Deere and Co. also offers a full lineup of attachments to make the Gator™more useful around the homestead, including snow-removal tools, winches and implement mounting frame, to name a few. For more information on the TH 6X4 Diesel ($10,999 list) and XUV ($9,500 – $10,600) Gators™ and other neat John Deere products, visit them on the Web at www.Deere.com or head down to your local dealer. /G

Oscar “Hank” Will III is a freelance writer and photographer with a background in sustainable agriculture and academia. Contact him at CountryTech@Grit.com