Austin Stokes was taking general education classes in college, and, like many students his age, he was unsure which field he wanted to pursue as a career. He knew he enjoyed working with his hands and being outdoors, so he wisely looked for a degree that could lead to a job that met those requirements.
“I enrolled in the Landscape Design and Management program at Columbus State Community College,” Stokes recalls. “Part of the degree requirement included getting an internship at a local landscaping company. After I’d spent some time with that company, I realized that this type of work was far more fulfilling than the job I had at the time. I quit that job and took a full-time position with the landscaping company, and the rest is history.”
In 2016, Stokes left that company and started out on his own, launching Blue Fern Landscaping in Ohio. In 2019, he moved the company to Nashville, Tennessee. Today, Blue Fern focuses on landscape construction, building retaining walls, patios and other landscape features.
“I use many different types of machinery and equipment on my jobs to lift heavy retaining wall blocks and rocks and move them around confined spaces,” Stokes says. “My compact track loader is one of the machines that gets the most use, however.”
In 2017, Stokes purchased a used Takeuchi compact track loader that dated back to the early 2000s, but it had low hours and, according to Stokes, ran very well. He sold that machine and purchased a new TL8 compact track loader with high-flow hydraulics in 2020.
“I’ve operated pretty much every other machine brand in this equipment category,” Stokes says. “I chose my Takeuchi because of the brand’s reputation for reliability, and because my machine’s power is unmatched for its size. It also has pilot controls, which are the only way to operate equipment, in my opinion, because they’re faster and more accurate, which really matters on my jobsites. I also have a great dealer, Parman Tractor here in Nashville. They treat me very well and they’re always super helpful by providing parts and their overall expertise with this machine.”
Stokes uses his TL8 daily to dig out patios and bring in the base materials for those patios. He also uses it to move pallets of materials and soil, to trench for utilities and to remove trees and stumps.
“Power, performance, visibility and reliability are the most important qualities of machinery used in the landscape construction field,” Stokes says. “The TL8’s reliability keeps me on the jobsite working, day in and day out. Its power and minimal maintenance requirements mean that I stay efficient and on schedule. That equates to more jobs and more profit in the long run.”
Safety is always important when using any type of heavy equipment. Because Stokes is an owner-operator and the sole employee of Blue Fern Landscaping, staying safe and healthy is of utmost importance because if he can’t work, the company comes to a standstill.
“My TL8 has great visibility, which means I can see my surroundings better than in competitive machines,” Stokes says. “That gives me more confidence that I’ll be safe when operating the machine. And that confidence helps me do my work better and faster, so I can move onto the next job.”
Because Stokes works in the city, most of his clients have fenced yards that can be difficult to access with heavy equipment. Fortunately, his TL8 is small enough to get through fences and gates but still heavy enough to move the materials he uses on his jobs.
“If I couldn’t get through the gates, I’d have to rent a different machine or do everything by hand,” Stokes explains. “That would be incredibly difficult and take far too long in this competitive market.”
When asked if he will continue to use Takeuchi machines as Blue Fern Landscaping continues to grow, Stokes said that he absolutely will. He also offers some advice to other landscape construction contractors who are trying to decide whether to purchase a Takeuchi.
“I’d tell them to try out all the other machine brands out there and push them all to their limits. I guarantee that good operators will always choose Takeuchi because they’ll quickly see and feel the difference.”