"Let's go smash a house!" was the rallying call for Dan DeCarlo and his brothers to join their grandfather on a demolition job while growing up. Finishing dinner on a Saturday afternoon, Al DeCarlo would announce the activity to the young boys who were more than eager to join him.
"We've always been around demolition," Dan DeCarlo said. "That was our entertainment. My real experience in demolition is being here now, but I've watched it my whole life."
Today, DeCarlo is the owner of DeCarlo Demolition, based in Des Moines, Iowa. Along with two brothers who work with him, DeCarlo handles demolition projects all across the state. Although the goal remains the same, new equipment and updated safety standards have changed the way the demolition industry works, giving DeCarlo access to tools his grandfather did not have and making jobs more efficient than ever.
"Back then you had a jack hammer, an air compressor and a strong man," DeCarlo said. "Today we sit in our cabs with the stereo and air conditioning and flip a switch."
Al DeCarlo started in the construction industry in 1942 at the age of 16. Working for J.C. White's concrete, excavation and crane companies, he started repairing tires and worked his way through the company to eventually become vice president, before buying the company in 1986.
After Al DeCarlo had a stroke in 1999, the company's future was in question. The family, connected with the company for many years, did not want to see it sold. Dan DeCarlo, who was running his own lawn care company, came on board. With just his grandfather, himself and one other employee, he helped keep the company afloat. Calls started coming in for jobs and in 2000 Dan DeCarlo bought the company, selling his lawn care company in 2003 to focus solely on demolition.
"I brought in my brothers and a few others and we turned the company around," said DeCarlo. "Demolition is all we do. We do interior demolition, we do exterior demolition. We'll tear down anything from a garden shed to a multi-story building."
Today, the seven-employee company offers a variety of services including 24-hour emergency demolition services, commercial and residential services, implosions, interior demolition, land clearing, catastrophe services, parking lot and concrete removal, and more. Eighty percent of the business is commercial.
DeCarlo and his brothers have carried on some traditions from their grandfather. One of those is using Bobcat skid-steer loaders. But today the loaders, along with Bobcat attachments, are used for a larger variety of tasks, making some jobs easier than they would have been for Al DeCarlo.
If Al DeCarlo's crew had been hired to tear down the water cooling tower for Central Iowa Power Cooperative in Creston, Iowa, it would have been a laborious endeavor. Built in the 1950s, the large wooden tower was designed for water from the power plant to flow down a series of redwood slats and be cooled by air moving through the tower. The tower sat on a concrete basin covered by a grid work of large concrete beams.
"It was just outdated technology," Dan DeCarlo said. "We tore it down to make way for a new, smaller tower."
DeCarlo said that if his grandfather had encountered this job, it would have meant demolishing the tower and then sending workers into the concrete basin to pick up debris by hand and load it into a jury-rigged bucket to haul it out. With the company's Bobcat loaders, the job was much easier and more efficient.
"We just lowered the loaders down into the basement and pushed the wood to an edge where the grapple could reach it," DeCarlo said. "Without a skid-steer loader, we'd never have been able to do the job."
He said the wood grid had openings that were 6 feet by 10 feet, allowing only 2 inches of clearance to fit the loader.
"We had to take the bucket off and lower it separately to get the loader down there," he says. "We've encountered small, tight spaces before, but never like that."
Bobcat skid-steer loaders also differ from Al DeCarlo's day in another big way — today's models can be equipped with heating and air-conditioning systems. The cooling tower had to be removed during the winter, when the water did not need to be cooled as much. DeCarlo's crew had worked on the project for a week when a strong snowstorm caused whiteout conditions.
"We had to get down there and get the job done so the cooperative could get other companies in there and get the new tower built before the season got hot," DeCarlo said.
DeCarlo received one Bobcat loader with the purchase of the company from his grandfather, along with old loaders, dump trucks and a backhoe he described as antiquated.
"My grandfather just didn't upgrade as he went. He made do with what he had and it worked," DeCarlo said. "Today we've got a competitive market and we've got to be as efficient as we can. We need to find quicker, safer ways to do things."
DeCarlo currently owns three Bobcat skid-steer loaders. A Bobcat 642 skid-steer loader was purchased in 1992 to replace their first Bobcat loader and remains in DeCarlo's fleet despite being stolen and missing for two years, only to be returned in better condition. A 773 loader was purchased in 1998, and the newest, an S300 loader purchased at Capital City Equipment in Des Moines, has already logged 720 hours in a year of operation. The company lifts the loaders into multi-story buildings to demolish and push out interiors, and they use attachments such as the industrial grapple to help move materials around.
"The loaders are valuable for what they do. We have to have them on every job," DeCarlo said. "When we go into a building, I can haul the inside out before the big machines show up. It makes our work process so much faster, so much more efficient and most importantly, cost effective."
DeCarlo said the loaders are used in every facet of the company's business. On a job site, the loaders play a big role in the ability to recycle materials by pre-sorting everything before bigger equipment loads it into a truck. Being able to take loaders into buildings and demolish the interiors is an advantage for jobs such as remodeling at schools or strip malls.
"The Bobcat loaders are more versatile," DeCarlo said. "Sometimes when you're in a residential area or inside a building, you can't get the big equipment in there."
When combined with a roll-off Dumpster, a loader turns a single man into an efficient crew. DeCarlo said he will drive a loader into a Dumpster — which acts as a trailer — secure it and haul the loader to a small demolition project, such as a garage. The structure can then be demolished and cleaned up with the single Bobcat loader, and once finished, the loader heads back to the company the same way it got to the site.
DeCarlo said he uses the Bobcat loaders outside of demolition as well. His crew uses Bobcat attachments for cleaning up roads after dump trucks, clearing snow from job sites or grading once a job is finished.
Since taking over the company, DeCarlo said he and his crew have kept busy. They've demolished the old Valley High School football stadium in West Des Moines and the Wallace Building in downtown Des Moines, completed work for West Des Moines schools and Mercy Hospital and demolished houses for the Interstate 235 expansion.
"We've done quite a bit of work for a small company," DeCarlo said. "We just have the right equipment and right people."