Bob Hampton has been a real estate developer for more than 30 years and has developed nearly 25 neighborhoods across Nebraska and Colorado. His latest project is a 200-acre lake development called Flat Water Lake in Valley, Nebraska.
“We’re going to have 130 lots and an 80-acre lake,” says Hampton. “And it’s three former gravel pits that we combined into one lake and one island.”
Working with the Army Corps of Engineers, Hampton secured the approvals necessary for the development, but converting the site into a neighborhood of luxury lake homes presented many challenges. The site had been abandoned for nearly 50 years and was completely overgrown with cottonwood trees.
In his previous developments, Hampton worked with earthmoving contractors, but once the Flat Water Lake project was underway, he made the decision to take his earthmoving work into his own hands, allowing for greater control of his own schedule.
“We decided to work with Titan Machinery and CASE to buy our own excavator, dozer, and then I have a mini excavator and a skid steer loader to basically complete the project,” says Hampton. “Dealing with lakes is so much different than corn fields or soybean fields. And it’s proven to be a really good decision because we make good money doing all the excavating ourselves.”
Diggers LLC — the company Hampton formed — is a subsidiary of Hampton Development Services, and is responsible for all of the grade work on the residential development. Once the land was cleared, the next phase of the project involved dredging the existing pits. “We bought the bulldozer first because we needed to basically move all the discharge materials from the dredge,” Hampton says. “We’ve got a 12-inch suction dredge and it takes one or two bulldozers to move it around. And then we figured out we needed an excavator to supplement that work.”
Hampton and Diggers LLC worked with Titan Machinery to determine the equipment needs for the project. The first thing Hampton needed was a dozer that would perform well in the sandy conditions of the site. They finally set their sights on a CASE 2050M. “We started out with a [competitive] machine, smaller than this. It just doesn’t have enough push,” says Bruce Dirksen, operator for Diggers LLC. “They tried to have wide tracks on it. It doesn’t work in sand like you might think it would.”
Dirksen explains the challenges of working on the unique site. “When we started out here, we were hauling haul trucks and they were dumping lines of sand along the bank. And you had to push them over the edge and you’re pushing over into water. So it’s deceiving because the cliff on the other side of that is 50-foot deep, so you have to be really careful. You have to have enough power to get yourself back in a big hurry. That machine [the 2050M] with a six-way blade on and pushing into a pile, in about two pushes you can take a 40-ton truckload and push it over the edge.”
The largest dozer in the CASE lineup, the 24-ton, 215-horsepower 2050M is powered by an SCR-equipped Tier 4 engine and offers nearly 81,000 lbs. of drawbar pull. The machine also features a robust, box-style C-frame engineered to withstand extreme blade forces in the toughest applications.
The 2050M offers fingertip controls and customizable steering, shuttle and blade sensitivity settings that can be adjusted between Smooth, Moderate and Aggressive to match ground conditions and operator comfort. “You can adjust it to whatever you like. How aggressive it shifts, how hard it shifts, the gear ranges,” Dirksen says. “The blade control—second-to-none.”
The cab offers floor-to-ceiling glass doors and a cab-forward design to provide maximum visibility with direct line-of-sight to the blade edge. “The way the cab is designed, the way you can see both corners of your blade, you can see over the top. It’s set up very nice,” he says. “The arm rests, you can lay your hands on. They’re fully adjustable to get them to wherever you want. It’s a very wide arm rest, very comfortable to run during the day.”
Next, Hampton needed a powerful excavator that could handle digging blind into the water at Flat Water Lake and achieve a grade that helped expedite final site finishing throughout the development. Hampton chose a CASE CX490D; a feature-rich, full-size excavator built around an advanced hydraulic system.
“The [CX490D] had the nicest cab, the roomiest cab, it moved around in the sand the best. It’s digging and speed was better than all of them,” he says. “The more we ran the CASE, it was just hands-down the winner. The best machine for the money.”
The noted speed and efficiency are the result of the CASE Intelligent Hydraulic System and its four integrated control systems that are designed to make the best use of the machine’s hydraulic power and momentum. Dirksen was impressed by how smooth and well-balanced the CX490D feels during operation.
“It was the comfort of the cab, the ease of the controls. The balance of this machine loading off the top of a pile onto a haul truck was second-to-none,” he says. “After that, we were sold. This machine has the nicest, most visible cab. When you’re sitting in it for 10, 12 hours a day, the control features, the handles, the response, the seat, the comfort is not even comparable with another brand.”
The excavator is primarily used for loading haul trucks and moving sand that was dredged from the lake. Fitted with a 60-inch 4.5-yard bucket, the machine makes quick work of the job at hand. “With that bucket and the machine, the way we have it set up, I can load that bucket, full-swing sideways over my tracks and dump right on a truck, full extension, and not worry about any tipping or anything like that,” he says. “You can load 40-ton haul truck in seconds.”
Hampton is also using a CASE IH Steiger 580 Quadtrac equipped with a scraper to contour the site and place sand along the newly established shorelines. “We’re demoing the 580 and they brought it out for us to demo for 40 hours. And I really don’t think it’s gonna leave,” Dirksen says. “This machine is incredible. With a scraper, to be able to load a pan scraper full of powder sand like this and push it over the back plate. It’s unheard of. It’s just the amount of material you can move with. That thing is unbelievable. Happy with it so far.”
New Technology Becomes Essential
Hampton’s CX490D excavator and 2050M dozer are both equipped with Leica Geosystems machine control systems.
“I can’t imagine operating these machines without the grade control system,” Hampton says. “The old days of the engineers coming out and staking grade stakes and stuff. It’s so difficult to get the surveyors out here in a timely manner. And so I just can’t imagine not operating these machines for large subdivision work, or really any work, without the grade control. It’s so much easier.”
Spencer Curtis is a machine control specialist for Titan Machinery, covering Iowa and Nebraska. Spencer has been an invaluable partner to help them determine their grade control needs for the Flat Water Lake project.
“Diggers here have a dual-mast GPS, 3d iCON system on their dozer, and then a 3D system on the excavator as well, that we’ve loaded the engineering plan for this site, so that they know where they’re at at all times,” Curtis says. “They’re going a little bit under water. So that way they can’t see where their bucket is at. With the 3D system they know where their bucket is at to-grade underwater, when they can’t really see the bucket.”
“The biggest thing is it gets you to a final point. You can get your job done quicker and faster to-grade, and get moved onto the next job so you will make more money.”
Machine control can be a significant up-front investment, but Hampton and Dirksen determined that it would be worth it in the long run.
“At the end of the day, it’s priceless because of the productivity. Knowing where you’re at, not making mistakes and actually being able to take a 2050M dozer, drop the blade and cut a grade like this is pretty impressive,” Dirksen says. “The 3D control when you’re digging over an edge is unbelievable. There’s so many different views in this screen that you can use that make it so user-friendly. You don’t even have to look at anything and you can see where you’re at. It’s a cool feature.”
Continued Growth on the Prairie
Bob Hampton is enjoying his first lake project, and has already seen the first several lot closings in Flat Water Lake. He thinks that the recent job growth in the area will continue to attract residents who would love to unwind in one of the development’s future homes.
“Omaha and Lincoln are booming. Omaha and Lincoln are considered the Prairie tech center—a lot of tech jobs,” Hampton says. “People have figured out that they don’t have to live in New York and San Francisco, so they’re coming to places like Lincoln and Omaha because they can get way more house for their money. West Dodge Road in Omaha, which is 10 minutes from here, they’re building office buildings like crazy—lots and lots and lots of jobs. In 10 minutes, you can be here in your boat, on the beach, which is a quite the draw.”
“We feel the market for lake houses is going to grow tremendously.”