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A John Deere 944K Wheel Loader removes large volumes of limestone rock at the Leach Pit quarry in Haskell, Texas.

As the sun rises at the Leach Pit quarry in Haskell, Texas, a John Deere 944K Wheel Loader removes large volumes of limestone rock.

Summer 2023

Texas Trailblazers


A tight-knit Texas company is embracing technology and laying the groundwork for growth

Clock Icon 9 MIN READ

On a rugged plot of land in northern Texas, the steady hum of machinery and a palpable sense of urgency bring life to an otherwise sleepy, rural landscape. Piles of limestone crop up like miniature mountains amid otherwise level terrain, interrupting a vast stretch of farm fields extending as far as the eye can see.

It’s against this backdrop that Zack Burkett Co. operates a portable asphalt plant, which plays a critical role in a multifaceted highway construction operation that helps shape the infrastructure across a sizable swatch of the Lone Star State.

A pair of John Deere wheel loaders sets the pace, moving large piles of limestone and feeding the material into a waiting asphalt mixer. The enormity of the task is expressed in the crashing sound of fractured rock and the large clouds of displaced dust, which spread through the air and leave a blanket of gritty residue on everything beneath.

Every few minutes, a large truck pulls off the adjacent highway and winds through the jobsite to drop off stone or ferry finished asphalt to a nearby project. Roughly 50 trucks come and go over the course of the day, creating a steady flow of traffic from sunup to sundown.

The scene could be overwhelming to some. But it’s just a typical day for Justin Roark, an area manager for the company. Roark says the hectic pace is a fact of life here, the only way to keep up with rising demand from the company’s largest client, the Texas Department of Transportation.

“Their demands are changing and growing,” Roark says, keeping a watchful eye on the bustling site around him. “With more people moving to this part of Texas, the infrastructure has to keep up, which means building more roads and resurfacing more roads.”

It’s a major opportunity for Zack Burkett, a third-generation, family-owned business that has been in operation for over six decades. Amid an increasing workload, managers like Roark need all hands-on deck. That means all operators and all machines must deliver consistent results.

“We need our machines to be running all day, every day, so the dependability of our machines is huge,” Roark emphasizes. “Without our equipment running, we can’t run, and that means no income and no roads being built.”

Roark pauses briefly, taking a deep breath as he contemplates the gravity of the moment, the point where challenges and opportunity intersect. “The amount of work we are facing is larger than ever,” he says. “We are committed to doing this the right way.”


Pride in safety

Located near Haskell, Texas, the portable plant is one of two such facilities utilized by Zack Burkett. The company moves its asphalt plants every three to four months, ensuring they remain in close proximity to the road projects requiring the end product. The temporary site is a microcosm of what matters most to Zack Burkett and an example of how embracing technology can create a smarter path forward.

As plant manager, Jeff Hart is responsible for orchestrating the chaos. Hart paces across the jobsite with an unyielding sense of purpose, unwilling to let any detail go unnoticed.

“I take pride in calling this plant my own,” he says, motioning to the site behind him. “I’ve treated it like I owned it in the way I take care of it and the way I maintain it. I want to make sure it runs at the best efficiency it can.”

Amid this breakneck pace, however, Hart knows that production isn’t all that matters and safety can never be compromised.

The company’s John Deere 824 P-Tier Wheel Loader is equipped with Advanced Vision System, which utilizes two digital cameras on the sideview mirror frames and provides an integrated, in-cab display. This provides the operator with wider views and enhanced spacial awareness.

“With those trucks coming in and out of the yard all the time, you have to be able to know where everything is,” says Hart, as he motions to the wheel loaders working in the background. “This technology helps our guys know what’s around them. Whether it’s a truck behind you or a person or another piece of equipment, it’s important to be aware.”

For Roark, Advanced Vision System is more than just a fancy gadget. It quells the concerns that rest at the very core of his day-to-day work.

“In my role, I am 100% responsible for everybody who’s out here. And if they don’t make it home or they get hurt on the job, then I feel 100% responsible for it,” Roark says. “We’re doing great work here, but none of this matters if everybody doesn’t make it home to their family at the end of the day.”


Intricate operation

Approximately 70 miles due east from the asphalt plant, a separate Zack Burkett crew is extracting the materials that make the rest of the company’s operation possible.

A fleet of John Deere wheel loaders breaks through stout rock surfaces and removes large volumes of limestone. Next, the machines feed the stone into a series of crushers, where the product is altered to meet customer specifications. In total, five quarries provide the rock for three asphalt plants operated by Zack Burkett.

This particular quarry, known as the Leach Pit, spans approximately 900 acres. Operators are currently mining nearly 300 of these acres.

“We strive to make the best product we can,” says Jared Hampton, who oversees multiple company quarries and serves as vice president of aggregate for Zack Burkett. Hampton emphasizes that the John Deere loaders play a pivotal role in getting the job done right.

“They’re crucial to this company,” Hampton proclaims, nodding emphatically to drive the point home. “These machines can push hard and get through the pile. The operators like them because they’re powerful and they’re comfortable. They’re sitting in them for a long time each day, so it’s got to be a comfortable machine.”


A straight shooter with a quick wit and bellowing laugh, Dylan Youngblood is one of the workers logging those long hours. Youngblood typically arrives at work around 5:30 a.m., opening the quarry gates in time for the first trucks to access the site. Oftentimes, his shift stretches well into the evening.

“I typically work about 13 hours or so, give or take,” Youngblood says nonchalantly. “It’s become a habit now, I do it every day. You get used to it.” For Youngblood, the rigors of work are coupled with the comforting familiarity of being close to home. Youngblood was raised in Graham, Texas, a close-knit community just miles away from the quarry where he now works. He fondly recalls being one of just seven people in his graduating class. “There weren’t very many of us,” he laughs as he shields his eyes from the sun. “But I loved growing up here and still love being here.”

With such a connection to his hometown and state, Youngblood relishes the tangible impact of his work.

“What we do, it helps the community out,” he says. “I live down a county road, too, so having the roads around here fixed and maintained well, I definitely take a lot of pride in that.”


In it together

With deadlines to meet and orders to fill, the daily grind can sometimes obscure the human element at Zack Burkett. But it’s always there, an essential piece of the puzzle.

Hampton has worked for Zack Burkett for the better part of two decades, first landing a job during the summers when he was still in high school. He emphasizes that the company’s owners set the tone.

“The Burkett family, they are great people, kindhearted folks and down to earth,” Hampton says. “It’s not just that it is a family-owned business, though. There really is a family feel for everyone here. I love the people I work with. We’re all in this together.“

Hampton considers this close-knit connection frequently, knowing that the livelihoods of employees are tied to the success of the company. He feels an obligation to push forward and keeps a close eye on anything that can give Zack Burkett an edge.

Hampton was among multiple Zack Burkett employees who attended CONEXPO-CON/AGG 2023, hoping to get a glimpse at the present and future of construction. Many major John Deere innovations were on display, including grade-management technology, hybrid-electric machines, and obstacle detection.

“Everybody is trying to get an edge, and everyone is thinking about technology,” Hampton says. “John Deere offers a lot of great technology and is always helping us push forward.”

Roughly 70 miles from the quarry site, as he oversees a busy asphalt crew, Roark strikes a similar tone. He emphasizes that continuing to grow, and partnering with companies that make that possible, are the only ways forward.

“I believe it’s incredibly important to keep up with new technology and to stay ahead of the curve,” he says. “Ultimately, if you’re not getting ahead, you’ll fall behind.”

Zack Burkett Co. is serviced by Yellowhouse Machinery Co., Wichita Falls, Texas.

Clockwise from the top left. A John Deere 824K-II Wheel Loader moves a full bucket of crushed limestone to the asphalt mixer at a Texas quarry. A closer view of the limestone rock at the Leach Pit quarry in Haskell, Texas, to be used for highway construction operations. A John Deere 824 P-Tier Wheel Loader dumps crushed stones into a feeder hopper, feeding the conveyor belt to move the aggregate to large piles. Zack Burkett Co. utilizes the Advanced Vision System cameras and in-cab display to supplement safety in its fast-paced jobsite. A John Deere 944K Wheel Loader piles extracted limestone at a quarry site near Haskell, Texas.

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