The massive footprint of New York City is constantly changing and ever-evolving, with old buildings coming down and new buildings being erected in their place.
All this change is enough to keep local construction and wrecking companies very busy. While there may not be a shortage of work, there is a shortage of truly qualified companies that are equipped to tackle these sometimes enormous endeavors in an urban environment where tall skyscrapers are built right next to each other.
One such company is Big Apple Wrecking & Construction Corp. and its sister company Safeway Environmental Corp. Since 1980, the companies have completed more than $1 billion in contract work. Over the years, they’ve done demolition and abatement projects large and small — from single homes to high-rise buildings in the middle of Manhattan.
Located in the heart of the Bronx, NY, Big Apple Wrecking is the city’s largest demolition contractor. Depending on the season and the amount of work scheduled, Big Apple employs from 200 to 300 people. The company works primarily in the Northeast, and has gained quite a reputation for handling dangerous and unusual work — while maintaining its promise to get the job done on time.
One of the company’s specialties is what is referred to as “surgical demolition,” which can have Big Apple taking out entire floors on a building while it’s still occupied.
“We’ve demolished and removed some of the largest structures from the New York City skyline,” said Stephen Chasin, secretary/treasurer of Big Apple Wrecking & Construction Corp. “And all are completed on time, or ahead of schedule.”
With numerous large jobs looming on the immediate horizon, Big Apple decided the time was right to upgrade its aging fleet — which consists of 60 pieces of equipment from various manufacturers — with new machines, mostly larger hydraulic excavators.
All the major manufacturers were reviewed and compared with each other. In the end, Big Apple chose the package being offered by Chris Thompson, sales representative of Edward Ehrbar Inc., a Komatsu distributor in the Northeast. The resulting deal was the largest transaction completed in the area, consisting of a fleet of Komatsu hydraulic excavators — one PC1250LC-7, one PC750LC-7, one PC600LC-7, two PC300LC-7s, two PC200LC-7s, two PC138USLC-2s, and one PC35MR-2 hydraulic excavator. It also included two WA95-5 wheel loaders, a WA250 wheel loader and a PW170ES-6 wheeled excavator.
“Ehrbar has been excellent to do business with — some of the best people we’ve ever worked with,” said Chasin. “In addition … Komatsu makes all its own parts and engines so we don’t have to deal with mixing and matching service parts.
“We got a better package from Chris, plus Ehrbar’s locale is central to our operations,” said Chasin. “And, Chris was aggressive and fair in his sales approach — which really impressed us.”
While price and service were motivators, the personal relationships established with Thompson, and also the principles of Ehrbar, owned and operated by the Ahern family, were also a big factor. “The Aherns are gentlemen and a pleasure to deal with,” said Chasin. “Before this deal with the Komatsu equipment, we had worked with Ehrbar to purchase some equipment attachments, as well as some rental deals.”
Old Makes Way For the New
Big Apple’s latest project is located in the middle of the Bronx, demolishing a former Farberware plant where the company once produced tableware, pots and pans and other household items. The site is being cleared for a new electric power plant. As with most projects, bidding was fierce, and Big Apple had to bid against six other companies for the right to take the building down. The project is expected to take approximately three-and-a-half months.
The first one-and-a-half months involved securing all the necessary permits, followed by a tremendous amount of small mechanical demolition. The prevalent material on the site is concrete, with huge amounts of rebar mixed in — making it extremely difficult to break up.
Using the new fleet of Komatsu excavators to tear down the building and load a steady stream of dump trucks and 40-yd. (36.6 m) trailers, Big Apple is hauling 4,000 to 5,000 cu. yds. (3,058 to 3,823 cu m) a day off the site.
“This two-story building was essentially a huge integrated structure of concrete slab full of rebar,” said Tim Cassese, job supervisor and superintendent of Big Apple Wrecking. “But the PC750 and PC1250 ate it up — and everything is scheduled to be done ahead of schedule.”
The 651-hp PC1250LC-7 weighs in at more than 250,000 lbs. (113,398 kg). With the largest digging forces in its class and excellent stability, this large Komatsu excavator performs a majority of the heavy wrecking duty on site.
The PC1250LC-7 also incorporates an advanced hydraulic system that provides faster cycle times, yielding increased productivity. “The PC1250 is an animal — nothing can stop it,” said Chasin.
The PC750LC-7 is powered by a 454-hp Komatsu SAA6D140E-3 engine for plenty of power with very low fuel consumption. Both units feature large, low noise cabs with viscous damper mounting to reduce vibration. Automatic climate-control heater/air conditioning systems and low-effort, short-throw controls helps minimize operator fatigue over the long working days. The PC1250LC-7 is modified with a powerful grapple to handle the majority of the wrecking duties, and the PC750LC-7 is outfitted with a standard bucket to clean up and pile the concrete debris left in the path of the PC1250LC-7.
In addition to the PC1250LC-7 and the PC750LC-7, the other larger excavators on site are the PC300LC-7 with an operating weight of more than 73,000 lbs. (33,112 kg) and the PC600LC-7 with an operating weight of 133,160 lbs. (60,400 kg). The PC600LC-7 is equipped with a shear to process the rebar for removal from the site, and the PC300LC-7 uses its standard bucket to assist the PC750LC-7 and load the concrete debris onto haul trucks.
’Worth Their Weight in Gold’
In addition to the larger excavators, Big Apple also purchased two Komatsu WA95-5 wheel loaders and two PC138USLC-2 hydraulic excavators, which are in use on the Farberware site. These compact units are used to keep the sites clean, assist the bigger machinery, and also perform some light grading work around the site.
“These machines are worth their weight in gold,” said Cassese. “They are really easy to operate and are real workhorses. And, they require very little maintenance, which is important.”
The 74-hp WA95-5s are equipped with Komatsu’s Hydrostatic Drive Transmission, providing the operator reliable power, smooth two-speed shift-on-the-fly capability and an inching pedal for even more precise control.
The PC138USLC-2 hydraulic excavator with an operating weight more than 31,000 lbs. (14,061 kg) is a tight tail swing model — designed for work in tight areas where conventional excavators cannot operate efficiently.
As always, safety and pollution control are big concerns on these types of sites, with inspectors monitoring every aspect. As an extra step, Big Apple takes measures to be environment-friendly.
“Dust is a big problem on this site,” said Cassese. “And because we’re at the epicenter of where the food trucks enter the city for all the city’s restaurants, we need to be extra careful.”
Workers constantly water down the debris piles to keep air-born dust to a minimum. Also, much of the material removed from the Farberware site is transported to recycling facilities, where it’s segregated and recycled.
A big part of improved productivity has been the absence of equipment downtime — essential when working 10-hour shifts, five or six days a week.
“We certainly don’t baby this equipment, but I can’t really think of anything that’s gone wrong,” said Cassese. A sentiment echoed by his colleague Cecil Jagarnath, who is in charge of maintenance and repairs of Big Apple.
“Everything from Komatsu has been very good — no major problems,” Jagernath said. “We receive great service from Ehrbar and its parts departments — they really take care of me. Aside from that, Komatsu’s equipment has great serviceability features that make them easy to maintain and service. The equipment all has easy access points for service, and Komatsu and Ehrbar show me how to maintain and fix everything.
“Not to mention, the fuel efficiency has been much better than with our older fleet — there has been a big difference in efficiency,” said Jagarnath.
In fact, there has been an unexpected financial benefit of the Komatsu equipment versus the older Big Apple machines.
“We’ve been able to cut out overtime for workers — because the machines are so productive and durable,” said Chasin.
The larger excavators also are equipped with advanced Komatsu EMMS or VHMS systems for monitoring and diagnostics. The Komatsu-exclusive systems identify current operating condition, warns the operator of malfunction; tracks maintenance schedules and provides complete diagnostic assistance. With EMMS/VHMS, operators can address minor problems before they become large failures, and repair times are reduced with full diagnostic and error code data available to service personnel. The end result is higher machine availability and reduced operating cost per hour — all-important features for Big Apple.
More Changes in Store For the Big Apple
Always on the move, Big Apple’s next big job is the demolition of the Mayflower Hotel in downtown Manhattan. Chasin said they look forward to getting the new Komatsu equipment to work on that site as well.
Since 1980, Big Apple Wrecking and Construction Corp. and Safeway Environmental Corp. have made an indelible mark on the footprint of New York City. With Komatsu and Ehrbar by its side, the company can look to build upon another 25 years of success.