Weathering the Texas Economic Storm

By Liz Moucka, Photos by Jim Buzard, Astec Mobile Screens | September 28, 2010

Over the past several months, state highway contracts in Texas have almost come to a screeching halt. As private sector construction languished during the past few years, public infrastructure construction and maintenance remained strong, particularly in Texas. Not this year.

By comparison, in this past spring and summer TxDOT highway contracts were down 20 percent to 35 percent below their corresponding months in 2007.

The pain, quickly felt by highway specialty contractors in falling domino pattern, affected materials suppliers and equipment dealerships serving that market. Construction suppliers are finding some work in other markets.

In the Texas Panhandle, where aggregate suppliers have relied heavily on the highway industry to keep their businesses healthy, a new wind has begun to blow. The new developments in wind farm construction have certainly helped to buoy aggregate producers like LS Sand and Gravel in Vega, TX. Narrow service roads connect all those twirling behemoths.

Other markets also have helped keep LS Sand and Gravel afloat. “Right now we are making 1-inch crushed product for improvements at the Hereford Municipal Airport,” said Robert Fauske, plant manager. And the concrete sand need in the dairy market was a surprise.

“It's not a good time that we are going through right now,” Sales Manager Jack Waldrop said. “The wind farms and dairies have been a godsend. The windfarm business could be a boom for us.”

Situated on the historic LS Ranch about a 40-minute drive west of Amarillo, Mike Smith, the current owner, began to expand the river rock quarry operation when he purchased the ranch in 2002. Smith decided to continue the sand and gravel operation and began to learn as much as he could about the business. He hired Jack Waldrop as sales manager, then later hired Robert Fauske as the quarry manager.

“Their first contract was one of their biggest the company has had,” said Julie Bowden, also involved in sales with LS Sand and Gravel. “It was a large project on I-40 that allowed the operation to grow and begin investing in additional top-quality equipment.

Fauske was familiar with Texas Bearing Co. in Amarillo. TBC, Inc., operating as Texas Bearing Co., is a dealer for Astec Mobile Screens, Kolberg-Pioneer, JCI Johnson crushers, Eagle Crushers, Superior Industries, Unified Screening and Crushing, and other lines of quarrying machinery along with an extensive parts department and service capabilities. The dealership maintains four sales locations in Amarillo, Hereford, Lubbock, and Odessa. The Amarillo, Lubbock and Odessa branches are stocking locations for equipment serving West Texas as far east as Abilene and south to the Rio Grande River.

At the heart of the LS Sand and Gravel operation is a Johnson crusher supported by five mobile screens that bring efficiency, a number of stationary screens, a fleet of 11 Komatsu and 3 Volvo loaders, and haul trucks. “It's been our experience that it is cheaper to use a 20-ton haul truck coming out of the pit than it is to use the big trucks,” said Fauske.

Sales Representative Berry F. Smith with TBC and Astec Mobile Screen Regional Sales Manager John McGimpsey worked with Waldrop and Fauske to put together a system that would best suit their needs.

LS Sand and Gravel initially purchased two Astec Fold 'n Go® 2512KT mobile screens. As the business grew, so did their need for more screening plants. “When we had a lot of roadwork going on, we were trying to produce a million tons a year,” said Fauske. “We have that capability now.”

Fauske and Waldrop liked the full 5-foot by 12-foot double deck screens on the 2512KT and liked the after-sale reliance that TBC provided. “The big part of the decision was who we were buying them through and their backup,” Waldrop said.

“The screens are on tracks, so we can move them to keep them working close to the banks so we can keep production up,” Fauske explained. “It cuts our circulation time way down.”

“The benefits to the tracks make the screens portable enough so they can move it daily or twice a day if they need to in order to stay close to the bank so they don't have quite so much travel between the bank and the machine for the loaders,” said Berry F. Smith with TBC.

It was no wonder that when LS wanted to expand their operation, they looked again to Astec Mobile Screens.

“They wanted more production,” McGimpsey explained. “The 2516KT screens have true 5-foot by 16-foot deck screens on the top and bottom decks. If we could guarantee 500 tons per hour (tph) throughput on a trial basis, they would buy it.” They bought three.

“We liked the size of it [the Astec Fold 'n Go 2516KT]; it's powered good; we liked the heaviness of it – it's built very well,” said Waldrop. “They are good producers and fit us well. We're getting more out of them than we anticipated.”

Now five Astec mobile screens situated in the pits segregate the sand from the rock before hauling the rock to the crusher, where it is processed as aggregate and base material. Their two Astec Fold 'n Go 2512KT mobile screens process up to 350 tph of material. Their newer outlay of three Astec Fold 'n Go 2516KT mobile screens easily processes 500 tph and has gone higher than that.

The downturn in road construction and high fuel, steel and rubber prices has had a negative impact on LS Sand and Gravel as well as others over the past few months. To adjust for less demand, Fauske is running only three screening plants 10 hours per day, five days per week to cut back on overtime; however, they are ready for any economic upturn. They are not alone in looking optimistically for TxDOT to offer more projects for the Texas Panhandle in 2009.