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Mound House manufacturer specializes in mini bulldozers

Rob Sabo
Northern Nevada Business Weekly

A Mound House manufacturer of small bulldozers used to cut trails and hiking paths hopes to increase revenues through machinery sales to wildlands firefighting departments and eventually by hosting trail-building instructional seminars.

Sutter Equipment, which recently relocated to Mound House from Rocklin, Calif., bills its trail dozer as “The Ultimate Trail Machine.” The machine is significantly smaller than a typical bulldozer – just 4 feet wide – but it weighs in at more than 9,000 pounds.

The weight gives the track-driven machine an advantage over similar small machinery, such as a Bobcat, Sutter Equipment General Manager Tony Dipino said.

“You can actually put some power to the ground and move some dirt,” Dipino said.

President John Mueller founded Sutter Equipment in Sutter, Calif., in 1990 after a friend in the U.S. Forest Service asked him if he could build a small bulldozer because workers were tired of clearing brush and cutting trails by hand.

The U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management are the company’s best customers. State and county government agencies also have snapped up many of the small-sized bulldozers – the State of California has purchased 10 trail dozers over the years and has another being built in Sutter Equipment’s Mound House facility.

Sutter also has had sales in international markets including Guatemala, Jamaica and British Columbia. International clients typically hear about Sutter Equipment through its website and trail trade shows, Mueller said. Sutter also has some sales to private companies that contract with state or federal agencies to cut trails.

Northstar-at-Tahoe, for instance, purchased a trail dozer from Sutter Equipment to help build and maintain its mountain bike park in the summer.

Northstar Trail Crew Supervisor Mike Schipani said the machine primarily is used for removal of rocks and stumps and to create structured riding surfaces for downhill mountain bikers.

“Because of its compact size, strength and durability, it has been an effective tool for our trail building efforts,” Schipani says.

Sutter Equipment employs five and is hiring three additional welders and assemblers. The company hired current staff locally when it moved from Rocklin.

The company relocated to Mound House because it needed to expand, and warehouse space in the Sacramento region was too expensive, Mueller said.

Since 1990, the company has manufactured 146 trail dozers. Sutter Equipment fabricates the machinery to order at its shop. The custom-built dozers arrive as sets of steel plates, parts and pieces on a pallet, and assembly workers turn the piles into fully functional machinery.

“We couldn’t build them fast enough in the small building we had.”

Environmental regulations in California also were extremely challenging, Mueller said.

Dipino said moving the business was a logistical challenge. The move required five tractor-trailer loads over Donner Pass, with each truck packed with thousands of parts.

The recession has had no impact on the company, Dipino said, because more people are riding their mountain bikes, motorcycles, or all-terrain vehicles instead of taking spendy vacations.

“You have to have trails because everyone has their toys and they want to go ride.”

Sutter Equipment looks to boost revenues by making trail-grooming rakes that can be pulled behind all-terrain vehicles, as well as multi-purpose towing trailers.

The company plans to hire a retiring U.S. Forest Service executive who will conduct training classes on trail design, trail construction and maintenance, and safety.

Mueller also said another revenue stream could come from sales to firefighting organizations that could benefit from the machine’s performance in the field.

Firefighters can only cut a limited amount of fire lines in a day, he said, and the trail dozer could significantly increase their ability to cut fire lines.