Jim Gilman has come a long way since he started his own landscaping business in the mid-1950s with only a partner, a small Ford tractor and a dump truck.
Today, Gilman Construction Inc. is a $24 million construction business with three asphalt plants and a fleet of earthmoving, rock crushing and paving equipment. Gilman, now 78 years old, still works 80 to 90-hour weeks during the construction season in Butte, Mont. He loves nothing better than to operate construction equipment, including his Volvo PF6170 asphalt paver. Gilman’s son, James Jr. and daughter, LaRae Sough, also work in the business.
In the early years, the landscaping business gave way to excavating with large hydraulic backhoes. Then Gilman bought a fleet of cranes to use in building prefabricated homes, among a variety of other jobs. “We had a crane at the missile site here in Montana and we had cranes at the copper concentrator,” said Gilman. Butte was home to what used to be one of the world’s largest copper mines.
“In 1969 we rented an asphalt plant,” said Gilman. “It was in a million pieces sitting in a hay field in Three Forks. When I looked at it, I thought this is the dumbest thing I ever did. But a friend of mine, Pete Fisher, worked for us and he said he could put it together. He did, and we ran it for one season. At the end of the season we bought a new asphalt plant.
“Today, our asphalt paving, rock crushing and chip sealing work are probably 75 to 80 percent of our business.
We run one and a half paving crews — one crew for highway paving and a small crew for streets in town. We still have the cranes and earthmoving equipment, and we can do most of the infrastructure work for a new industrial or commercial building site,” said Gilman.
Three years ago, Gilman Construction won a $2.35 million contract to pave an overlay and chip seal on State Highway 41 near Twin Bridges, Mont. Gilman began paving with a different brand paver and noted that it didn’t produce the smooth surface that the state demanded in order to win smoothness incentive payments. “We were looking for a better ride,” said Gilman.
“Our Volvo dealer, TriState Truck and Equipment, brought us a Volvo PF6170 paver to demonstrate. We tried it, liked it and bought it. That paver helped us win $90,000 in smoothness incentives on the Highway 41 project,” said Gilman. “And we get good service from TriState.”
More smoothness incentives have followed, each paved by the PF6170. Last year, Gilman used the paver to place an asphalt overlay on a secondary road near Polaris, Mont. for the Federal Highway Administration. “We won every smoothness incentive that was possible on that job,” said Gilman.”
Last year, Gilman won a $9.37 million contract with the state of Montana to place a 2.5-in. (6.4 cm) overlay on 15 mi. (24 km) of Interstate 15 near Lima. “On that job we ran the Volvo paver and won $141,000 in incentives for ride and compaction,” said Gilman. “Winning the work on these highway jobs is very competitive. We have to make money on ride incentives, or we won’t make much profit.”
“A very reliable source told us that Volvo makes some of the best asphalt pavers in the world,” he said. “And Volvo has their screed — the Omni 1000 screed. It’s one of the heaviest screeds in the industry, and it’s a good one. Plus, we have good electronics to control the paver,” said Gilman.
“The rubber-tired paver floats along a little better than the tracked paver. A tracked paver has its place, but with a rubber-tired machine the imperfections in the mat don’t reflect through to the screed quite as much. It’s a user-friendly paver,” said Jim Gilman Jr. “I like the alarms that tell you when there’s no asphalt on the slat conveyor in the tunnel. When you’re running the paver behind a windrow pickup machine, you can’t see into the hopper very well and on the Volvo paver there’s a sensor on each side of the slat conveyor that registers when asphalt is coming down the tunnel. That’s a very helpful feature,” he added.
Doug Hansen, paver operator, is pleased with the Volvo paver as well. “It gives a good ride,” Hansen said. “It’s got a 9,200-pound Blaw-Knox screed and they give a good ride. It’s a rubber-tired paver so you don’t get the bounce in the screed that you might get with a tracked paver. We also use an automatic laser grade control system on the paver, and it works well.”
Hansen also likes the speed limiter feature on the Volvo paver. “You can set it for 20 to 25 feet per minute, and it’s always right there,” said Hansen. “You don’t have to keep playing with it to get the speed you want. When you stop, you just move the forward-neutral-reverse lever into neutral. Then when you start up again, that paver will go right back to the same speed.”
The contractor was most recently working on a $7.7 million paving project at the Bert Mooney Airport in Butte. The project was divided into two parts — a main 9,000-ft. (2,743 m) runway and a smaller 6,000-ft. (1,829 m) runway.
To keep the airport open during one phase of the work, the Federal Aviation Administration limited construction time each day from 1:30 p.m. until 10:00 p.m. One flight came in at 11:00 p.m., and if the runway was not open for that flight, Gilman faced liquidated damages of $40,000 — $20,000 for the incoming flight and the same amount for the outgoing flight the next day.
So promptly at 1:30 p.m. each day, a large fleet of equipment attacked the runway. Two milling machines, the trucks to haul millings, followed by three rotary brooms, a truck for placing tack coat — and the PF6170 paver, followed by four double-drum rollers — all swung into action, in that order. Gilman was required to maintain backup equipment for every piece, including a reserve asphalt plant, in case any equipment went down.
Gilman subcontracted the milling to Industrial Builders from Fargo, N.D. With two large milling machines, one set at 7 ft. (2.1 m) wide and the other milling 8 ft. (2.4 m) wide, the subcontractor milled 1.5 in. (3.8 cm) from the existing runway surface.
The PF6170 paver worked 15 ft. (4.6 m) wide. With 10 passes, the paver could cover the 150-ft. (45.8 m) width of the main runway in one shift. The paver first replaced the 1.5 in. of asphalt that was milled up, and in another phase, Gilman paved a 2-in. (5 cm) overlay on the runways.
George Friez is Gilman’s project engineer for the airport. “The biggest challenge is the tight work window that we have each day,” said Friez. “It takes a lot of coordination to get all that equipment working at once, then get it off the runway, stripe the pavement and open the runway up again. We have a meeting with airport management each morning at 10:00 a.m. to discuss whether it’s a go or no-go for the day. Then at 9:30 each evening, we need to confirm that we’ll be off the runway in time for that flight coming in at 11:00 p.m.”