Phil Meyer, operations manager of the Whitman County Public Works Department, searches tirelessly for the most cost-effective roadside management tools. His 42-person team maintains 1,900 miles of roads and 360 bridges in southeast Washington, a daunting workload often complicatedeby heavy rain and snowfall plus temperature extremes that affect expansion and contraction.

In 2004, Meyer's efforts included finding attachments that could increase the productivity of excavators and backhoes. "Our tilting buckets didn't offer the rotation we needed and weren't durable enough," says Meyer.

At the time, the department's tilting buckets only had 90-degree rotation. Plus, the buckets' exposed cylinders and rods often got damaged and hoses were frequently torn off.

To remedy the problem, he traded in his older attachments for seven Power-Tilt swing attachments, which can be used with backhoe loaders and excavators up to 75,000 pounds to connect attachments, and one multipurpose Power Grip jaw bucket from Helac Corp., a local manufacturer.

Since then, crews are finishing jobs in less time than they used to take, says Meyer. And since the hinged-jaw bucket can both tilt and grip, the purchase also helped reduce the number of attachments and crew members needed on jobsites.

Acting as the wrist to the arm of a machine, the PowerTilt lets operators tilt attachments such as buckets and brushcutters, instead of moving the entire machine, thus reducing the need for repositioning or for renting specialty equipment. This flexibility makes it easier to clear debris after flood events.

Meyer's crews have found the attachment to be highly useful for shoulder maintenance tasks such as ditching, sloping, and brush and tree removal. Because it can move up to 180 degrees from side to side, operators work primarily from the road, reducing the impact on sensitive roadside vegetation and habitats.

When working on culverts, Meyer found that it virtually eliminates the need to dig by hand. Operators angle the bucket to dig around both sides of the pipe. Once the soil around the pipe is loosened, the operator hooks the end of the pipe and lifts it out.

"We accomplish most tasks with one equipment operator and one truck driver, resulting in much better utilization of our team," says Dave Stein, equipment operator with the public works department. "It's great not having to switch attachments when changing tasks."

Following Whitman County's lead, the North Latah County Highway District in Moscow, Idaho, replaced the cylinder-style swing and thumb setup on its excavators with the swing attachment so operators can achieve the exact angles they need for sloping and ditching. Operators also use the PowerGrip bucket, which saves time since it transitions between grading with a smooth lip, clamming material to move it out of the way, trenching, and functioning like a thumb or grapple. This is an improvement over general-purpose buckets on the market, most of which have no clamshell (grip) capability so material handling tasks take longer and are messier because material is lost or left in front of the buckets.

"We can complete maintenance and repair projects faster and with better finished appearances than before," says Road Supervisor Paul Stubbs.

As for Whitman County, the public works department plans to pur chase more of these attachments in the future, because, says Meyer, "we love them."

--Nate Fulton is a marketing specialist with Helac Corp., Enumclaw, Wash.