FARGO, N.D. – Flying back to Ohio after participating in a Bobcat Boot Camp held here in early June I sat beside an attractive young lady (perhaps 18 or 19) from a small North Dakota farming community. She, and five other companies (male and female) were all seated in the same general area of the airplane. From what I could tell, they were all strangers until that very morning.

We were all making connections at Chicago O’Hare. While I was headed home, their final stop that day would be Fort Sam Houston in Texas for six weeks of U.S. Army training compliments of Uncle Sam.

Their animated conversation led me to surmise that they’d enlisted in the U.S. Army for two reasons- youthful exuberance for new life experiences and also to acquire technical knowledge that would serve them in their civilian careers. Someday. 

After we parted company and I sat in O’Hare waiting for my flight home, I reflected on my experiences at the Bobcat Boot Camp, and also with the young people. To be honest, I did not understand much of what they talked about. Their conversation was loaded with military acronyms and technological references that young enlistees of my Baby Boom generation would have found as incomprehensible as Sanskrit.

The Goal: fewer boots on the ground 

The point is that the U.S. military (as it should be and it always has been) is fully engaged in developing and applying whatever new technology is required while employing the fewest number of "boots on the ground" to achieve its objectives.

By contrast, many of us in the landscape industry have never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity to embrace new technology to reduce our dependence upon labor. Either for financial or competitive reasons, many of us haven’t felt that we had to. That’s changing fast. With the number of young native-born workers at a premium and the train wreck that’s U.S. immigration policy, the demise of the shovel-and-wheelbarrow era is at hand. Or should be anyway, which gets me back to the Bobcat Boot Camp in Fargo.

For two days (two FULL days) Bobcat allowed me to operate some of its cutting-edge work-saving attachments on live job sites. I write "some" because if Bobcat had made the full range of its attachments available for my testing, the company would have had to put up with me for a week. Bobcat makes more than 80 different work-saving attachments (more than 200, including all configurations) that can be used with its UTVs, skid steers, compact track loaders, excavators and other units.

What did I learn?

I learned that a dedicated hydraulic breaker or a drop hammer, either of them attached to a Bobcat unit, can bust up a lot of concrete in a relatively short time, certainly a lost faster and more efficiently than a guy with a jackhammer. 

I learned that an experienced operator using the appropriate root grapple, rock bucket of combo bucket on a Bobcat excavator easily does the work of a crew of laborers using less efficient tools and methods.

I learned that, even after just 5 minutes of instruction (most of it safety related), I could operate a Bobcat skid steer fitted with a dedicated 72-inch soil conditioner, and minutes later fine grade that very same site with a Bobcat with blade attachment guided by automatic laser grade control. I don’t pretend to be proficient at running a Bobcat or laser grading. But hey, if I can do it, given the ease of controls in these units, just about anybody can can do it.

I learned that industry suppliers like Bobcat continue to develop new products and to improve and add new technology to established products so that you can reduce your dependence upon labor. They innovate by listening to you, the end users. 

So, I guess it’s appropriate that the Bobcat folks referred to the event that they shared with me and about a dozen Bobcat managers from across the United States and Canada as a "boot camp." We all had to put on our work boots after which we all got a chance to "play" with the aforementioned and lots of other neat Bobcat attachments.