Small Contractor, Big Dividends

Small site contractor Tom Gardocki, also known online as the ‘Dirt Ninja’, uses machine guided construction technologies for simplified layout, getting to grade faster, reducing errors and greater profitability.

Published: October 2017

Author: Trimble Civil Engineering and Construction Division

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Machine guided automated excavator



• Technology paid for itself in 150 to 200 hours of use
• Site layout is more than 50% faster
• Significant productivity gains during excavation because only one person is needed for site layout and to dig to correct depths and reach grade
• Reduced need for professional surveyors or dedicated grade checking
• Eliminated over-excavation and material errors across projects for consistent savings and greater profitability


At the time when most kids are learning to ride a bicycle, Tom Gardocki was learning how to operate an excavator, working part-time in his parents’ landscaping business in southern New Hampshire. And since then, he hasn’t looked back. In fact, Gardocki worked part-time in the family’s business, Interstate Landscape, for a full 10 years before graduating from college, when he began working for the company full time. Interstate Landscape is a highly regarded landscape business known for building beautiful paver walkways, paver patios, paver driveways, retaining walls, custom outdoor living spaces, outdoor kitchens, pools, patios and much more. Today, in addition to working for Interstate Landscape, Gardocki also runs his own business, Next Era Excavation, which does excavation work for foundations, additions, driveways, custom landscapes and septic systems for residential and small commercial customers.

Machine guided positioning technologies


Gardocki is a long-time user of the Trimble GCSFlex Grade Control System on Interstate Landscape’s mini excavator. He recently also adopted Trimble’s site positioning technology and Trimble’s new next-generation Trimble Earthworks Grade Control Platform for Excavators. Today, he is using the Trimble SPS585 GNSS Smart Antenna, Trimble Site Tablet and SCS900 Site Controller Software to perform site positioning tasks and do layout work. He also uses the positioning system to measure original ground levels, monitor cut/fill progress, check finished grade and collect as-built measurements. In many cases, these capabilities eliminate the need to hire a professional surveyor.

“The old way of doing site layout for a house, for example, is to hire a surveyor, which is almost always slow, or to take measurements from two known points and pull ties with a tape measure to find the corners,” said Gardocki. “With site positioning technology, I can layout a 420-foot long driveway and all house corners in about 25 minutes, instead of the two hours it would take to do it the old way. That’s incredibly useful for a small business like ours. One guy can be so much more productive, laying out an entire house lot or a septic system without having to take the other guy off his job. It’s a huge time savings.”

Gardocki explains that because he can layout projects and perform many site positioning tasks with the technology, he can now get started faster on jobs, which customers love. Not only that, it makes him more attractive to builders because they don’t have to spend extra money to hire professional surveyors to perform layout tasks.

He is also using the Trimble Site Contractor extension with SketchUp to take PDF plans from builders and turn them into 3D models quickly and easily. Gardocki explains that he imports the design dimensions and then draws the precise model in SketchUp. If it’s a simple addition to a house and there are no plans, he can set basepoints using the dimensions and import that data into the positioning software. He can also request the DXF and CSV files from the designer, and import those files directly into his Site Tablet. This essentially allows Gardocki to use 3D data, or to create 3D data sets for use in the field, without having to hire a third-party to create the 3D model, which is time consuming and expensive. He can also import a Google Maps image of a customer’s property and precisely design the addition, driveway or backyard in SketchUp to know exactly where the features belong on that property.

“When I get data files directly from the builder or designer, it’s a very clean and simple process, which they like because there’s no need to interpret their plans,” said Gardocki. “I can lay out whatever I’m working on exactly as it should be. There might be site contour lines, or the driveway that I could never layout with paper plans and tape measures. I can now walk around and pick those points or design features, and because it’s direct from the designer, it is really precise, which saves a ton of time.”

Gardocki also recently had Trimble Earthworks installed on his 5 ton mini excavator. Over the past several months, he has used the system for nearly all hardscaping jobs, such as building patios, driveways and setting the height for retaining wall construction.

“The new Earthworks platform is incredibly intuitive, which is ideal for operators who are newer to excavation work and are using machine control for the first time,” said Gardocki. “Even as an expert operator, I know the Automatics feature will still speed up my operating time. I believe this technology will really change how productive we can be in our industry.”

Machine guided site prep

Machine guidance for landscape construction


In terms of ROI for the machine guidance systems, Gardocki estimates the technology paid for itself after about 150 to 200 hours of use. From there, it has helped his team be more productive and accurate, getting to grade faster and finishing projects more quickly. For the site positioning systems, he says ROI is generally a bit longer timeframe because the equipment isn’t used as often. But, he believes layout can be done twice as fast with the site positioning technology, and there are indirect cost benefits as well.

When laying out a driveway, for example, Gardocki explains that he used to eyeball the design. Now, he’s able to take the designer’s plan directly into field software to layout the edges, and then use the machine guidance system for excavation. On the 420-foot driveway build, he explains that even over-digging an extra foot can be an expensive error because of the lost time spent digging. According to Gardocki, the cost of trucking in an extra 20 yards of material alone would add up to around $350. He believes eliminating these types of errors across the project will add up fast and make jobs more profitable overall.

“The beauty of this technology is that you don't need an extra person to run your grade rod to watch cut/fill and check finished grade,” said Gardocki. “You're cutting to grade every time and to the right depth. Once you look at the cost, benefits and potential for eliminating errors, making the investment in machine control is a no-brainer.”

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Article courtesy of Trimble Civil Engineering and Construction. Read more at

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