Travis Hesketh is going “all in” with Liebherr, but it’s not a blind bet.
Following a career in motorsport track design and construction, Hesketh started Silkstone Group in 2021 in Belleville, Ontario. The excavation, land clearing and landscaping business started out with a skid steer, 6-ton excavator and tractor, and soon expanded with the addition of a 23-ton excavator.
“So, we got that big machine and started working with it, but we realized it was a little too big for certain things we were doing more regularly. And our 6-ton was a little too small,” Hesketh said.
As Silkstone Group continued to develop its niche in excavation, Hesketh decided to find an excavator that could handle jobs big and small, while simplifying transportation from jobsite to jobsite.
While visiting the National Heavy Equipment Show in 2022, Hesketh was introduced to Liebherr excavators.
“I sat in one of their machines and I was just super impressed,” Hesketh said.
He asked if Silkstone Group would be able to try-out one of the machines, and Liebherr provided an excavator to test on a land clearing job.
“So, we got to use it. And it just kind of felt like the Rolls Royce of excavators,” he said.
After the test run, Hesketh began contacting other owner/operators with Liebherr equipment in their fleet.
“I reached out on social media to everybody, like anyone that had a Liebherr. I do a lot of homework,” he said. “I wanted to hear what they had to say without bias, and it was all positive.”
After completing his research, Hesketh decided on the 914 Compact. The excavator features an operating weight of about 14,750 kg and a maximum bucket capacity of 0.80 cubic metres. With a short tailswing radius of 1.55 metres, the machine is ideal for narrow jobsites, urban applications or near roads.
A well-rounded machine for Silkstone Group
For Silkstone Group, the 914 will be able to tackle a variety of projects as the company grows.
“It can still do septic tanks, dig foundations or build retaining walls, and we’re able to move it ourselves behind our dump truck. So, I thought it was a great start,” Hesketh said. “You can still do what a 936 can do, sometimes, but it’s just going to take lot longer.”
Low fuel consumption and fast parts delivery were common traits Hesketh heard when talking to other Liebherr customers.
“The Liebherr Canada headquarters is in Burlington, so we won’t be down long if we need parts,” he said. “And you’re not going through a salesperson and a dealership. It’s like you’re dealing with the manufacturer, and I thought that was pretty awesome.”
The machine was also available from the factory in black, which Hesketh sees as an opportunity to make his company standout from others in the business.
“We went all in and put it on black,” he said.
Growing in popularity
The 914 Compact excavator has become one of Liebherr’s most popular machines in Canada.
“The size is such that it can just do a lot of work, more than people expect. And that’s why we’ve seen such growth in that segment,” said Dave Reid, Sales Manager Earthmoving at Liebherr Canada. “It’s a very versatile machine.”
The Tier 4 Final, 121 hp Deutz engine is turbo charged with a precleaner. The excavator also includes a built-in auto-lube system and a reversing fan.
“These are features you usually don’t find on a machine in this class that we bring as standard,” Reid said.
For maintenance, all service points are available from ground level, including the engine oil level and filling nozzle. A clamshell opening on the side of the machine provides complete access to the engine.
“As far as maintenance goes, really nothing else in the class can touch us,” Reid said.
Silkstone Group’s 914 Compact is also equipped with a Rototilt R4 tiltrotator. The 380 kg tiltrotator can handle breakout forces of up to 120,225 foot pounds and features a 40-degree tilt angle and a rotation speed of 7 seconds at 60 litres per minute.
“It has a quick change on the top and on the bottom, so you can easily remove the Rototilt itself from the machine without getting out,” said Paul Contant, Rototilt’s Regional Manager for Eastern Canada.
The R4 tiltrotator includes built-in sensors and an in-cab screen to keep the operator informed of the tool position. A return to dig feature automatically shifts the work tool to a pre-set position.
“It’s the top offering, at the moment, in our product line,” Contant said.
From its trucks to trailers to excavators, all of Silkstone Group’s equipment is branded to not only promote the business, but the names of manufacturers included in company’s fleet.
“I had an idea of how I wanted it to look. From like a professional motorsports background, I looked at the way a race team is run, and I want it to look like we’re like a factory construction team,” Hesketh said.
He is often asked why he decided to focus time and money on graphics that promote manufacturers.
“Our whole plan from the beginning was to align with brands that fit the same sort of ideology that we have,” Hesketh said. “I’m just going to showcase the stuff that I like; the stuff that I believe in that I chose for a reason.”