April 15, 2016
Road Less Traveled
Along an 11-mile stretch of power lines among farmlands in northeastern Illinois, a John Deere 333E Compact Track Loader (CTL) works in tandem with a Deere wheel loader to install a temporary road. The larger loader unloads flatbed trailers of big wooden mats, while the CTL quickly assembles them into a road. A few hundred feet behind the crew, the power company's boom trucks are already at work, upgrading transmission towers from an aging wooden H-frame design to more modern steel ones. The matting provides eco-friendly access for the trucks. Midwest Access Solutions (MAS) will install 11,000 mats for this stretch alone. The Joliet, Illinois, company installs more than 100 miles of temporary access roads each year.
Carson Sterling, one of MAS's owners, checks in with the crew and inspects the rapidly growing access road that winds along the power line’s right of way through an ocean of cornfields. And when the project is complete, the road will just as suddenly disappear.
Each mat is made of the earth's most renewable resource: wood. Mats are sourced from MAS's parent company, Sterling Lumber." A few years ago, we made the decision to not only manufacture the matting product, but provide a full turnkey solution including installation and removal," explains Sterling. "Whether it's crossing wetlands, creeks, streams, bogs, or even swamps, we offer a full toolbox to deal with any situation in any right of way."
Energy companies are among MAS's biggest customers. The nation's power grid needs regular attention, whether to repair storm damage, perform routine maintenance, or upgrade towers and lines. Ground protection is a must. Crews need access for their heavy equipment and must often travel across sensitive areas, including farmlands and wetlands.
That's where MAS comes in. By spreading out the downward force of equipment traffic over a large area, MAS's wooden matting minimizes site disruption, soil disturbance and compaction, and other unnecessary damage to the environment on farmlands or commercial or residential property.
Once the mats are extracted, the impacted area recovers quickly and restores to its natural beauty, reducing penalties for compaction and land usage. At the conclusion of the project, mats are picked up and transported to a distribution yard, where they are inspected, cleaned, and repurposed for the next job, instead of filling up landfills.
That tendency to hedge against risk is a common trait in this industry — one that can make or break a company. So when it came time to move 1.2-million yards of dirt on the SouthEast Connector Project, the team at Granite did more than leave nothing to chance — they stacked the deck.
Ace in the hole
Estimating a job and submitting a bid is a thorough, detailed process. Accurate numbers are a company's lifeblood, and living up to those numbers determines its success. "We try to find the easiest and most economical way to move material," Smith explains. "The John Deere eight-wheel tractor-scraper system with triple pans has worked well with the conditions we have here. We're hitting our targets every single day with these tractors." And at one-third the initial investment and half the labor compared to self-propelled scrapers or competitive tractors and scrapers, there's even more to love.
A solid hand
Business has been booming for MAS, and Sterling expects continued growth: "The future is looking good. I've found that regardless of the overall market, our goal is to be an asset to our customer. By having great people delivering a high level of service — safely and in quality equipment like our John Deere machines — we’re in demand. Excellent service is always in demand."
Sterling appreciates the great service and support from his John Deere dealers, Tri-State Construction Equipment Co. and Westside Tractor Sales. "The response time for anything we’ve ever needed has been phenomenal. That's one of the main reasons we've stayed with Deere — the high level of dealer service and responsiveness."
Another huge reason is the 333E, Deere's largest CTL. "We were looking for the strongest possible CTL we could find. I did a lot of research, and on paper, the 333E looked like pretty much everything we were searching for. And it hasn’t disappointed. We bought two initially, and since then we've added eight or nine more."
Operators benefit from the electrohydraulic (EH) Joystick Performance Package."Everybody who runs the machines loves the joysticks instead of the foot controls. Plus they can choose between ISO and H-pattern controls. That flexibility is fantastic — they can choose what they're used to. And the operator's stations are quieter and more spacious. Everybody loves running our John Deere machines!" Above all, the Deere machines have been bulletproof. "Not only do we run 10- to 12-hour days, but our busy season starts in fall and goes through winter, so it's critical that we don't have breakdowns. In the Midwest, we can have stretches of 20-plus days of subzero temperatures. The cold-starting ability and dependability of Deere machines have been phenomenal.
"We've had incredible growth in the last three years. John Deere has done a remarkable job for us, and we're going to continue to grow with their help."