Minnesota Valley Electric Cooperative Retains Yield Through Long Winters

Featured in: Compact Equipment

By: Chapman Hancock, Ditch Witch product manager of CTS and service parts

It’s hard to avoid winter temperatures, especially when living in the depths of the Midwest, coastal New England and the rolling mountains of the West. While hats, gloves, boots and down coats can help keep underground construction operators warm on a job, there is no apparel that will do the same for their equipment. Operators must winterize equipment to keep it in tip-top operating shape through the bone-chilling months. Just because there’s snow on the ground doesn’t mean you have to put your business on ice.

Case in Point

Minnesota winters are not for the weak. The cold temperatures can last as long as five months out of the year and linger at degrees lower than zero with annual snowfalls of as much as 170 inches. Despite the frigid climate, Minnesota Valley Electric Cooperative (MVEC) works year-round installing electric lines underground to commercial and residential customers across nine Minnesota counties using trenchers.

The co-op relies on Ditch Witch RT ride-on trenchers for a majority of their installation projects. When the cold sets in, most of their units have plows removed and special frost trenchers installed. “During the winter months, we deal with frost two to three feet deep,” said Randy Breeggemann, MVEC. “In these conditions, we can’t use plows so we transition to frost trenchers with a different chain formation to effectively dig through frozen ground.”

Standard chains use a cup tooth to scoop soils. This type of tooth is not effective in cold climates. Frost chains primarily use carbide teeth with a definitive point to effectively chip away at frozen soils. The teeth are also spaced differently, with stations pitched at an angle. Even when using a specialized chain, however, MVEC has found winter maintenance is a key to their success. 

“With many winters under our belt, we have found keeping teeth fairly fresh is important. We change our teeth more frequently in the winter, on average every 10 days if we’re trenching a lot. And it works best if you change all teeth at once, versus a few at a time,” said Breeggemann. 

As part of their winter maintenance routine, MVEC ensures all gears and bearings are well greased and chain tension is tight, to help keep debris and sand from eating away at the components. In addition, the fleet of trenchers are kept in a heated building when not out at a job, making sure all components have time to dry out and gears have time to thaw. 

“On really cold days, we start our machines in the morning to warm up hydraulics and oils. We leave them running whenever possible as well. It is harder on the machine to start and stop it in cold weather,” added Breeggemann. 

Another way MVEC stays productive through the winter is with the help of their local Ditch Witch dealership—Ditch Witch of Minnesota and Iowa. “From servicing to spare parts, they are always responsive and working to meet any request we have,” said Breeggemann.

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