Compacts combat the cold

Steve Mitchellin Machinery & Mechanics

After successfully dealing with last winter's heavy snow across the Tayside area of Scotland, Tayside Contracts has added seven new John Deere 2026R compact tractors to its existing fleet, supplied by local dealer Double A based at Cupar in Fife.

One of Tayside Contracts' new John Deere 2026R compact tractors in its corporate livery of yellow and blue.

The 'footpath gritter' tractors, as they are known, are chiefly used for winter maintenance of public footpaths. For this task they are equipped with industrial tyres, a 54in front blade and Kuhn 360-litre rear-mounted spreaders. These feature one of three hopper types suitable for spreading salt or brine or spraying fine salt, to combat frost and ice. They are also specified with fully heated John Deere cabs, which incorporate a demister - vital for efficient and weatherproof operation on cold winter mornings.

Tayside Contracts is a commercially based local authority contracting organisation providing catering, cleaning, roads and winter maintenance plus vehicle maintenance to the councils of Angus, Dundee City and Perth & Kinross. It reports to a joint committee representing the three councils and has an annual turnover of around £70m.

Tayside Contracts Construction Division, within which the transport unit sits, is the largest civil engineering construction organisation in this area of Scotland, employing over 400 people and with a turnover of almost £40m.

Purchasing decisions are based on an established tender process using the Scotland Excel collaborative procurement framework, which is designed specifically for the local government sector. This service is funded by Scotland's 32 local authorities and is designed to ensure the sustainable delivery of the services that the community needs, while also helping councils meet the twin challenges of reducing budgets at a time of growing demand.

Transport services manager Bob Ritchie is responsible for overseeing the purchase and operation of the compact tractor fleet. This currently numbers 65 in total, including 40 John Deere models that also include the 2026R's predecessors, the 2025R and 2320. Unusually for John Deere machines, they sport Tayside Contracts' corporate colours of golden yellow and aircraft blue, and the latest models have been supplied with a three-year warranty.

"We have been buying compact tractors from Sandy Armit at Double A since 2012," says Bob Ritchie. "The evaluation process is based on a 70/30 cost/quality equation, which means the lowest cost equipment doesn't necessarily make the best choice - our experience of John Deere machines and the Double A dealer service that supports them has proved over time that we get tractors that do the job they are required to do reliably and efficiently, and work well in the conditions that they are faced with each winter."

Tayside Contracts carries out all its own maintenance in three workshops based in each council area's larger towns, so around 20 or so tractors are normally kept at these ready to go out over the winter when required. The councils dictate when this should be, usually based on when gritters are being used on the roads and the weather forecast is for ice to form on pavements.

"Typically we run the tractors up to around 200 hours a year depending on the winter conditions, but we've known years when this figure can be as low as 50 hours per machine in a mild winter," says Bob Ritchie. "This can also depend on the routes the tractors take and the windows available for the work to be done. As with the road gritter crews, we try to focus on schools, main routes and public areas where you can have the biggest impact.

"GPS is used on every tractor to give us essential information, basically where they've been, what they've done and what speeds they've been working at. Being able to react quickly to public concerns is also very important - we're now developing a live website that will show exactly where the tractors have been working, which will hopefully help to address these issues."

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