Gravely’s small tractor makes big impact in Gulf oil cleanup

When Mike Halloran, president of Halloran Power Equipment of Palatine, Ill., saw the tar balls and debris washed ashore from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion, he had an idea.

At his Chicago-area Gravely dealership, Halloran knew the Gravely Rapid E two-wheel tractor with its optional sand-cleaning accessory head would be the perfect tool for cleaning Gulf shore beaches. The smaller equipment was designed for this task and would leave a smaller footprint than the 10-ton, tow-behind equipment Halloran saw being used.

“The Rapid E and sand cleaner are the only machines I am aware of designed for this purpose,” he said. “They are used every day for general beach cleaning, but excel at removing oil from sand.”

The Rapid series is the Swiss Army knife of outdoor power equipment. This two-wheeled, walk-behind tractor features a power takeoff that accepts any one of 95 different attachments. From snow blowers to mowing decks to sand cleaners, the accessories can be switched out in minutes without tools. This flexibility, coupled with the machine’s light weight and small footprint have made it an invaluable tool in the Gulf cleanup effort.

In addition to British Petroleum, which has been using the Rapid E as part of its efforts, Halloran has put on demonstrations for a number of local government agencies. Many have been impressed with the advantages of the Gravely tractor over the larger equipment, he said.

“Tow-behind cleaners can actually make matters worse. Tar balls get ground deeper into the sand by the tractor tires before the cleaning equipment even get to them,” he said. “The cleaning head on the Rapid E is out front, so the sand is cleared before the wheels pass through.”

In addition, Halloran points out that there’s less sand hauled away, reducing the need to restore the beach afterward. “Most of these machines scoop up tons of sand and haul it off. The Rapid E’s sand cleaner leaves most of the sand behind,” he said. “The leading edge skims off a layer of sand, which is then sifted and returned to the beach. The remaining trash and tar balls go into a waste hopper for disposal.”

Compared to the larger equipment, the smaller Gravely units cost about one-tenth as much to operate and can work in areas the tow-behind gear just can’t go. “I just learned that one of our units is going to be ferried out the barrier islands, because it’s the only equipment small enough and environmentally friendly enough for the job,” Halloran said.

Gravely Rapid E units have also been put to work in Gulfport and Grand Isle, La; Jackson, Miss; and Prichard, Ala. Seventy of these units were used in Spain to clean beaches following the Prestige oil spill in 2002.

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