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Test: Toro Dingo TX420 Walk-Behind Tractor

We test a Dingo and like what we find.
Published in the September 2002 issue of Popular Mechanics.

In mechanical terms, operating Toro's Dingo TX427 is a remarkable experience. The machine is a track-driven utility loader that's powered by a 20-hp engine. You steer and control the machine as you walk behind it. Dig, lift, carry, dump, grade and perform any number of other earthmoving operations with simple movements of a few controls. The machine is entirely hydraulic, and operating it is so easy that you're comfortable with it after only a few minutes. After a few hours, you're completely at home with it.

We made arrangements with a nearby Toro distributor, Storr Tractor Co. in Sommerville, N.J., to deliver a Dingo to test. The machine arrived on a trailer towed by a Chevy truck with Storr sales consultant Tom Porterfield at the wheel. After backing the Dingo off the trailer, he gave us a quick tutorial on its operation. Porterfield estimates that two days' use will make a person an expert. During our test, we used the Dingo to move 10 cubic yards of soil in about 4 hours. To be more specific, we moved it uphill and over a front lawn, through a gate, around the back of a house and into the backyard. Picture trying to use a wheelbarrow, shovel and rake to relocate a pile of dirt, 3-ft. wide, 3-ft. high and 30-ft. long in the same amount of time. That's what makes the Dingo remarkable.

A Gentle Touch
The machine has a key start, throttle and choke control like a lawn tractor. But that's about where the similarity ends. To steer it, you place your hands on a central reference bar and squeeze the steering levers positioned in front of or behind the bar (Photo 1). Squeeze the lever forward of the bar and you move ahead. Squeeze the lever behind the bar and you move back. The control bar assembly pivots slightly to the left and right. Squeeze the bar and simultaneously pivot the assembly to make the machine move in an arc or pivot on its axis.

A single joystick to the right of the control bar assembly raises or lowers the machine's loader arms. The same joystick also curls the bucket up or dumps the bucket down (Photo 2).

Here's a description of a simple operation. Lower the control bucket and drive the machine into a pile of dirt. Lift the bucket and curl it to scoop up the dirt (Photo 3). Back the Dingo away from the pile. Turn the machine and drive wherever you need to go (Photo 4). Keep the bucket low so the machine remains stable. A low bucket position also provides better visibility as you maneuver around corners and through tight spots (Photo 5). When you arrive where you want to drop the dirt, raise the arms to create enough room for the bucket to swing down, then dump the load (Photo 6). Depending on distance, the entire cycle takes just minutes. In most cases, you'll cycle through a complete load-and-unload sequence before you could fill a wheelbarrow with dirt using a shovel.

The machine rewards the operator who has a light, almost gentle, touch. You let the machine do the work. You never have to push it, pull it or shove it to help it on its way. All you need to do is pay attention. The machine will squeeze into remarkably tight spots in a slow and gentle manner, allowing you to proceed at a comfortable pace.

Porterfield advised that if you ever get uncomfortable with the spot you've gotten the machine into, just let go of the controls. It stops in its tracks. From there you can walk around the machine and assess the situation.

Productivity At Your Fingertips
Watch somebody like Porterfield operate the Dingo, and you understand just how productive one of these machines can be. I dug into some semi-composted debris and learned that digging with the bucket is somewhat tricky in that you have to have a sense of the machine's geometry. Still, after a few passes I felt pleased that I could dig with the Dingo.

Then I watched Porterfield go at it. He took more in one pass then I did with two and in a fraction of the time. Here's a trick that we learned from him. When you dig, lower the machine's arms and tip the bucket forward to produce an angle at which the machine will dig.

Next, drive the Dingo forward, and curl the bucket to operate the machine in a scooping action. If you do it just right, the bucket will cut out sufficient material to stop the Dingo in its tracks. "Now raise the bucket a bit, until the tracks start to bite," Porterfield called out over his shoulder, as he demonstrated the technique. This relieved the pressure on the machine's front end and shifted the weight back onto the tracks. With its traction restored, the Dingo took a big healthy bite out of the material and kept going.

Porterfield recalled the time he took the Dingo on a demonstration run and watched an experienced earthmoving contractor dig with it. The contractor managed to get the machine in and out of a hole that was so steep, that he had to hold his arms up to reach the machine's control levers as the machine exited the hole. That is, the operator had to bend over then straighten up as the machine came out of the hole. At the top of the hole, he had to hold his arms overhead in order to reach the Dingo's controls as the machine cleared the mounds of dirt on either side that had been scooped out. Porterfield said he doesn't recommend the technique.

Like using a full-size piece of earthmoving machinery, you can tip the bucket forward to dump and move the machine backward and drag the bottom lip of the bucket as you go. Still, there are attachments that enable the Dingo to level and grade. We'll talk more about attachments in a moment.

The Design & Engineering Award
The Dingo received a POPULAR MECHANICS Design & Engineering Award in December 2000. We presented the machine an award after using it in Louisville, Ky., when we were present at the International Lawn, Garden & Power Equipment Exposition. We looked over the machine, drove it and also perused the complete line of wheeled Dingos and the selection of attachments. Toro offers 35 attachments for the machines. These tools will grade soil and gravel, auger holes, cut trenches, till turf, slit turf and lay cable, and carry a tree in a root ball. The company even makes a backhoe assembly that attaches to the front of the machine. Although we didn't have time to test the backhoe, we suspect it probably works just fine. It's designed to dig to a depth of 6-1/2 ft., and its arm swings 151°. It folds back to 36 in. deep for compact storage or movement in tight areas. The company also offers a concrete-mixing drum powered by the machine's auger drive, a clamshell bucket and an impressive-looking pavement breaker. Putting the machine to a more extensive test confirmed our thinking that the Dingo really deserved the award. It's exceptionally well designed and engineered. It's easy, safe and efficient to operate. To a contractor, all those features are vitally important because every job is an opportunity to make money or lose it. To a homeowner, it means making the most out of a weekend. And that brings us to the discussion of cost.

Dingo Dollars
The Dingo is available nationwide through rental centers and The Home Depot, though whether it's at your local rental center or store is a matter of hit or miss. Some places rent the Dingo on a trailer, in other cases you provide the trailer.

Porterfield told us that the Dingo with a bucket and trailer rents for about $180 per day plus the cost of any other attachments you add. Prices may vary depending on where you live. Lacking a trailer, you could transport the Dingo in a pickup because its 31-in. width enables it to fit between the vehicle's wheel wells, and its 92-in. length allows it to squeeze into an 8-ft.-long bed. On the other hand, it's no lightweight. With the 3.5-cu.-ft. bucket (the smallest of three available), it weighs 2157 pounds. Not only does that kind of weight call for a full-size pickup, you can't expect to drive the Dingo up a ramp made out of some scrap 2 x 4 lumber. A trailer is the most practical way to move it, especially if you are renting it with more than one attachment. If you don't have a pickup truck equipped to pull a trailer, that means the rental center will have to deliver and retrieve the machine.

As for buying a Dingo, it costs roughly $22,400 with a bucket. Other attachments range in price from about $400 to about $3224 (for the company's high-torque auger head). Incidentally, the term "high-torque" isn't an overstatement here. The attachment produces 1514 ft.-lb. of torque and will spin the 30-in.-dia. auger seen here near the 9-in.-dia. auger we tested (Photo 7). I was impressed by the ease with which the accessories attach to the machine. It may take a bit of maneuvering to get the Dingo in position relative to the accessory, but once that happens, you lift the accessory, slide in the lock pins and attach two pop-fit hydraulic lines. With that done, you're ready to go.

What It Does, What It Won't
To summarize things here, there's really no way we can give you a complete report on the Dingo's abilities and limitations. That would take a summer's worth of hard work. We did find that it's just about impossible to go wrong with the machine. Some aggressive operation to test its limits found that you can high center the machine on loose debris if you try. You don't have to baby it, though. It's not an expensive toy--the Dingo is rugged enough to handle anything you can throw at it.

Ideal homeowner projects for the Dingo would be moving, spreading and grading loose materials like soil, sand, stone or gravel. Likewise, moving unit materials like sod, brick and concrete block are a piece of cake with it.

In our test, moving a pile of dirt like the one we had to contend with, uphill all the way, would be no small undertaking if you did it by hand. But we also had to do some digging, grading, and filling. Also, part of the lawn needed to be prepared for seed using the machine's cultivator attachment. This device combines a tiller and a screen roller. It converts turf into a smooth and level seedbed. In our test, time was of the essence. Not only did we have to deal with a big pile of dirt, but it was dumped partially on a public road. At the least, it would have damaged the lawn had it sat around for any length of time. And then there's the weather to contend with. The more rapidly you can get bulk materials moved and into place, the better off you are. Wet dirt is heavier to move than dry dirt, and a wet lawn is inherently more difficult to work on.

Simply put, the tougher the job, the better off you are with a Dingo.



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