American shops said they couldn’t do it. Meet the Canada Super Digger.

by Eric Berard

MISSISSAUGA, Ont. — Being in the pole position allows you to be ahead of the pack. Yet earning such an enviable spot takes a lot of work, brainstorming, and the open-mindedness to surround yourself only with skilled support.

Nick Knapp understood those demands. As director of field operations for KTI, a sub-contracting company for utility authorities such as power or telephone companies around Georgetown, Conn., Knapp knew he could optimize the tasks of digging post holes, water vacuuming, rock hammering, pole planting and stabilizing, and aerial wire rigging. He just needed a super all-in-one utility truck to replace the multiple units he was using for this variety of tasks.

After a couple of preliminary sketches on proverbial cocktail napkins, Knapp – who runs the family business with his dad, Ed — reached out to body builders in the northeastern U.S., looking as far afield as the Midwest to find someone who could make his vision a reality. The Americans he spoke to basically said it was impossible.

“They felt this truck was so out of the box, nobody wanted to touch it. They wanted to sell us a product that was already built and packaged because no one was interested in taking on that big of a product and not knowing if the end result would even be something that would work,” says Knapp.

Drive Products of Mississauga, Ont., made the vision a reality.

Browsing the web, he found Drive Products in a Mississauga, Ont. “They had no problem with taking on the project. So we sent them up the rig,” he says.

At that stage, the “rig” was a T800 Kenworth cab chassis truck with a Cummins ISX15 500V (500 hp and 1,850 lb-ft of torque @ 1,200 rpm) coupled to an 18-speed Eaton-Fuller manual transmission, explains John Diodati, Drive Products’ operations director.

But a lot of work still had to be done, because Knapp’s wish list was quite extensive. He needed hydraulics for the auger, crane and other tools. And compressed air to run the hammer if a rock formation prevented regular auger drilling, to vacuum unwanted water from pole holes into an onboard 500-US-gallon tank, and to power the tamps used to firmly hold the poles in place.

“To get a compressor that big [1,000 cubic feet per minute], with that much power, it would be gigantic. What Drive Products did was, instead of buying a complete unit, [they] bought the air module with no motor. Normally they come attached with a gigantic diesel motor. They took the power directly from the motor of the truck through the split-shaft PTO and the transfer case to power the air compressor. It saves me more than 50% of deck space,” Knapp said.

Eliminating the additional engine to power the Atlas Copco compressor also saved a lot of weight on this mighty machine that weighs in at 76,000 lb. Installing a third rear axle bumped the truck’s GVW from 60,000 to 80,000 lb.

A Canadian crew of a dozen hands-on workers and three engineers took care of installing two OMSI transfer cases, the aerial bucket, a custom driveline, hydraulics, and a water tank among other features, says Diodati. Ensuring proper driveline angles was one of the biggest technical challenges to overcome.

The unique truck’s versatility – it’s also equipped with four outriggers and a 60,000-lb. winch at the rear – realizes substantial savings. “I can go out with one driver-operator and a ground man. Two men and this truck can do the same job as it would normally take a minimum of four men, all of which would need to have a CDL. Also, by eliminating all those other trucks, now I’m only paying for insurance, registration and taxes on one vehicle versus four or five trucks,” Knapp says. In addition to the optimized productivity, he points out that maintenance is simpler and cheaper with only one power unit to take care of, even if the initial purchase price can be “a shocker”.

Additional units are planned, says self-taught designer Knapp, who dubbed his heavyweight baby “Canada Super Digger”.
“There will definitely be more to come, now that we got all the quirks worked out of the engineering side,” he says, adding that discussions are underway about patents since more utility professionals could well be interested in buying Canada Super Diggers.

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