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Digger Man

Digger Man Blog

by Nick Drew  |  Fri 02 Feb 2024

A Backhoe Man for all Seasons

Taking a look back at another of my articles previously published in Earthmovers Magazine in 2022, bringing it to life on the internet, un-edited and with alternative photos and video footage.

While nowhere near as popular as they once were here in the UK, the venerable backhoe loader is still one of the most versatile pieces of construction machinery on any job site, especially with that crucial element, the right man in the seat.

A Backhoe Man for all Seasons

One man who has made backhoe loaders his speciality is Stefan Summersby now (59) who trades as Summersby Plant Hire and operates from his base in the glorious seaside town of Brixham in Devon, however, as Stefan explained it didn’t start out that way.

Talking about his early years Stefan said, “My earliest memories of plant & machinery was back in the mid-1970’s while I was working with a friend of the family in my early teens, he was running an International “Drott” track shovel doing general groundwork on small housing sites in and around the Brixham area in the mid 70's.

In a familiar scenario I would go into work with him on Saturdays and he would always let me have a go and show me different operating techniques to try like stripping topsoil, and pushing off stone to trimming up. At the end of the morning, I would generally get the job of fuelling up and running the grease gun around the machine.

It was around that time that he brought a brand new JCB 3C two-wheel-drive model with the red painted wheels of that era, and so it was gaining my first drive on that machine that inspired my life long affection for the iconic British built machines”.

Stefan continued, “My first regular operating job was when I was 19 years old. I got a start with Baker & Horrill, who were a Torquay based groundworks company, owned by Ken Baker and Colin Horrill, who were working for Bovis Homes.

We were only a small company with a solitary Poclain 60 hydraulic excavator and a JCB 3CX, a few Winget site dumpers and a small loading shovel.

They were really great guys to work for, who always took time to show you and explain why you do things a certain way from kerb laying and power floating floors to digging and concreting foundations and setting out roads. Back then you worked hard but it was great fun and they paid well and really looked after you, and thanks to their approach, I learnt a lot about the industry in general.

Sometime later I bought a used 13-tonne Hitachi excavator which had over 9,000 hours on the meter, but I struggled as it was showing its age and was costing me a lot to keep going so, I took the decision to sell it and opted to hire-in a machine on self-drive as and when I needed to, and combined that with working for other plant hire and groundwork companies as a self-employed operator, until 1994 when I decided to buy my first wheeled digger which was a JCB 3CX”. 

Stefan on his previous JCB 3CX (Digger Man Blog archives)

Stefan had built up a good customer portfolio over the years, and a number of his past employers, had often asked why he hadn’t got his own machine, often offering him long term hire if he bought one, which got Stefan thinking, that as a young father of 3 with a mortgage to pay, it was time to take the leap of faith, which he duly did, and has never looked back.

That first 3CX in 1994, was the catalyst for a long-standing association with the brand via his dealership, Holt JCB in Exeter, with the arrival of his latest 2022 model JCB 3CX Pro, that bring Stefan’s historical tally of 3CX’s to 7 machines over the years, so its probably fair to say he’s a fan!

Talking about the machine Stefan said, “I took delivery of this machine in May, although for the first time since I started in business, I did take a look at another British built brand, which although I was impressed with the build quality, I just didn’t like the feel or lack of feel with the levers, so when this 3CX Pro became available at my dealers, I went to take a look, and was so impressed with it, I did the deal. When I look back, the difference between the first 1994 model and this latest reincarnation is incredible”.

Stefan continued, “Since the machine has arrived with me, I have had quite a lot of people calling me to ask questions about my likes and dislikes. I feel its greatest asset is in its pushing power and torque when using the front bucket and its speed on the road.

Its also a lot quieter in the CommandPlus cab which makes for a pleasant working environment. I like the new dash layout, but I would have thought with Caterpillar going with a 7” touch screen monitor in their new models, JCB have missed a trick there in potentially wooing new customers who go for that sort of detail, maybe that will come in the next upgrade.

I have to say though, that JCB have an incredibly frustrating habit of changing on new models that have been proven to work well and be good on previous models, I refer in particular to the old “heel lever” that used to unlock the seat to allow you to spin around to face the backhoe, that concept has now been replaced by a red handled 360-degree excavator style lever, that drops down the servo control. I have had the machine a month now and that feature is the only thing I dislike, but that might just be me and no doubt I will get used to it.

My overall evaluation of the new JCB 3CX Pro is that it is still the best backhoe loader to have for overall specification, especially now with the 6-speed 50km/h transmission and the ultra-smooth servo hydraulic system and controls which is a joy to use”.

Stefan also had high praise for his local dealers, “I think another reason I keep buying JCB is my excellent working relationship with all the guys at Holt JCB in Exeter, they just always go that extra mile to help me and that goes a long way in my book, in addition I have known most of them since the early 1990’s and its that connection that keeps me returning. Having a good and reliable dealer is so important in this industry”.

For at least the past decade Stefan has been working on hire to a well-known Devon based Civil Engineering company who are big JCB end users themselves, and we caught up with him on a massive housing development site on the outskirts of Exeter where the mobility and versatility of a backhoe loader is well utilised.

On this site alone we witnessed man and machine excavating a tricky foundation for a bridge wall in one area, heaping up stone in another and delivering materials to another location on site with the front bucket.

Officially launched last year the 3CX Pro is powered by JCB’s latest Stage 5 DieselMax 448 engine which produces a power output of 108hp (81kW) a significant increase in power compared to the old model which was rated at just 91hp.

Stefan mentioned the incredible pushing power on the new machine which is obviously helped by the increase in the engine torque which is rated at 516Nm. This power pack is mated to the all-new six-speed auto-shift transmission, with auto-drive feature which offers phenomenal performance and comfort of operation when roading, having driven an example around JCB’s test track facility and can totally agree with Stefan’s comments about the machine’s capabilities.

However, it’s not all backhoe loaders at Summersby Plant, Stefan also runs a couple of 8-tonne midi excavators. Having originally added a Hitachi Zaxis 8-tonner in 2008, in 2014 he moved to Caterpillar 308E models which he has stuck with to this day, having upgraded both machines in 2020, concluding Stefan said, I have stuck with the Cat’s because of their build quality, reliability and operator comfort levels.

I have previously worked alongside Stefan on sites in the West Country, and he has definitely gained an enviable reputation with the backhoe loader over the years, and it’s one that obviously set to continue for years to come, especially with such a shortage of operators for such machines.


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