WHAT'S ON MY TRAILER: Equipment That's Got Your Back

Illinois contractors look for equipment that takes the pain out of lawn maintenance.

Derek (left) and David Cox of Cox Brothers Lawn in Herrin, IL.
Derek (left) and David Cox of Cox Brothers Lawn in Herrin, IL.

When brothers David and Derek Cox of Cox Brothers Lawn in Herrin, IL, park their truck to start the workday, they get the necessary equipment off the trailer and part ways—sometimes without a word. One heads north, and the other south. It’s not the secret power of identical twins that has them so in synch. Having been owner-operators since 1983, they have their landscape maintenance business down to a science.

In one neighborhood, they have 24 properties that they tackle with little discussion over their plan of attack. With 140 accounts total—most of which they visit weekly—they have no time to waste. Working those accounts on their own all these years, they have learned to focus not only on the quality of the equipment’s performance, but the level of comfort it provides the operator.

A mower with a smooth ride

As maintenance contractors who say they have tried pretty much every brand out there, the Cox brothers have settled on an arsenal of equipment that keeps them comfortable and productive. After nine years exclusive to a popular commercial mower brand they said was reliable but rough to ride, the brothers made the switch to Ferris. Their dealer (Coleman Lawn Equipment) set them up with a demo and they were quickly sold on the smoothness of the ride.

“My brother (David) had a real bad back injury,” explains Derek. “His back was beat up from being on mowers all these years and his disc slipped and needed surgery. We had to look at equipment that was going to ride better.”

They now run three Ferris IS 3100Z mowers (two 61-inch models and one 72-inch model). Though the mowers came with premium high-back seats, the brothers dropped another $1,000 to outfit them with suspension seats for an even smoother ride. 

“We tried it with and without the suspension seats and the cost was definitely worth it,” says Derek.

Another thing they enjoy about the mowers is the smooth engagement of the blades. “I don’t like big kick or jerk with blade engagement,” explains Derek. “You turn the blades on and off a hundred times a day. The blades engage smoothly and run smoothly with little vibration.”

The Cox brothers have went even further in creating a smooth ride on their mowers by avoiding flat-free front tires. They say the flat-free can be like “round bricks” when handling bumps along the way. To extend life of the tires since they are not flat-free, the Cox brothers use Slime tire sealant.

“It doesn’t eliminate the punctures completely,” says Derek. “But it helps extend the life of the tires greatly.”

The mowers are powered by 32- and 36-hp air-cooled Briggs & Stratton Vanguard Big Blocks. Derek says the air-cooled engines save them some hassle when compared to the liquid-cooled engines they had ran for years prior.

“I like the simplicity of not having to mess with the radiator and the antifreeze,” says Derek. “If you have employees and they aren’t watching the screens with the liquid-cooled mowers, it only takes a little time in dusty conditions to plug it up. With air-cooled you don’t have to worry about that.”

Trimming and blowing in comfort

Always looking for ways to keep the job from taking a toll on their bodies, the brothers also evaluated what trimmers would be the most comfortable to handle. For them that meant choosing some non-traditional contractor options.

“We do a lot of trimming. When you are trimming all day long holding that trimmer out, it can be horrible on the back,” explains Derek. “We settled in with the RedMax 2350S. It is not advertised as a full-blown commercial straight-shaft trimmer, but in my opinion it is commercial-grade.”

The trimmers weigh in at 9 pounds (dry tank). They have two on their trailer that are in their fourth season of operation with no troubles. With David’s back trouble, they wanted to find something else that could be run for long hours with little impact on the back.

“When my brother's back did go out, we started looking at other options. Maruyama has the MC3021BK-SB Backpack Multi-Cutter available in North America,” says Derek. “It is like holding a six- or five-pound trimmer with a lot of the weight on your back—every little bit helps.”

Derek also likes the unit with the back-mounted engine because it allows for a larger, more-powerful engine than a standard straight-shaft trimmer. A larger gas tank means fewer fill-ups as well. The unit also accepts multiple cutting heads and tools.

“It is a multi-tool machine that also has a pole saw, hedgetrimmer, power broom attachment and more. It’s a very versatile tool,” says Derek. “We still use the straight-shaft trimmers, but now use the backpack 80% of the time.”

The straight-shaft trimmers get a lot of use on those days when the brothers split up at the trailer to tackle multiple accounts in opposite direction. They simply take the lightweight and compact trimmer along for the ride as they mow. They use a smaller handheld blower for these same jobs.

“The Stihl BG 55 has been the best low-weight handheld blower we found,” says Derek. “It was hard to find one we liked. The others were either too heavy, or too cheap and leaked fluid.”

For fall cleanup, or other heavier debris jobs, they use the RedMax EBZ 8500 backpack blower. They also use a RedMax GZ3500T chainsaw on occasion for smaller limbs. Through it all, they look for performance and comfort as they continue to handle the manual labor on their own before transitioning out of it one day as they age.

“When you get home at the end of the day with a few hours before you are off to sleep, you have to be working with equipment that is comfortable to use and won’t break down,” says Derek.