Anyone who owns a vehicle knows replacing a transmission is expensive. And the bigger the vehicle, the bigger the bill. The City of Trinidad recently faced this problem and came up with an innovative solution with the help of Trinidad State Junior College.
The early 1980s Caterpillar D7, commonly called a bulldozer, had a bad transmission and differential. The City of Trinidad had it trucked to a Denver repair shop. The estimate for the repairs came to $54,000 according to Trinidad State Diesel Maintenance Instructor Robert Miller. For cash-strapped Trinidad, it was a lot of money. “They got ahold of us and said ‘can you tackle this?’ And I said, ‘Sure.’” Miller says this is the first time his department has worked on anything for the City of Trinidad.
When the Caterpillar arrived at the Trinidad State Energy Production and Industrial Construction (EPIC) facility, it was in pieces. The transmission and differential had been disassembled in order to diagnose the problem. Miller said it took a half day just to move the non-operational dozer, weighing in at more than 15 tons, inside the building.
The city is paying for the parts, but the student labor is free. The city was able to find a rebuilt transmission in Texas for $5,000.
“Right at this moment they got about $7,000 in it,” said Miller. “When it’s all said and done they’ll be within that $10,000 range and save themselves $44,000.” Miller hopes that will happen around Christmas. Then it will go back to work at the local landfill.
Trinidad City Manager Tom Acre said without the cooperation of Trinidad State the city would have had three choices. “We would have had to buy a used one, get that one fixed for more than $50,000 or done without.” Of the future, Acre said, “We already have another piece of equipment ready to come your way.”
Miller believes this is a great learning experience for his students, plus it helps the local taxpayers. His students plan to begin work soon on a tractor with hydraulic problems owned by the tiny town of Starkville, just south of Trinidad.
The students said the hardest part has been figuring out where all the pieces go. But they’re happy to get the experience. Normally they spend most of their time working on diesel trucks. “It’s pretty much the same process only bigger. Bigger bolts, bigger everything. Just heavier parts than working on a truck,” said Carlos Saenz, of Raton, New Mexico. “I think it’s better for us learning on it and building our experience than the city giving someone else their money.”
When finished with the nine-month program Saenz will have a Certificate in Diesel Maintenance from Trinidad State. Graduation day will happen next May. But right now he’s looking forward to the day when the big bulldozer fires up and rumbles out of the building.