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Case Excavator Razes 19th Century Milwaukee Tannery

Fri December 12, 2008 - National Edition
Construction Equipment Guide

Milwaukee’s venerable Pfister and Vogel tannery stood up through the Civil War and two World Wars, creating a century-and-a-half’s worth of shoe leather for the American public. But despite its deep footprints in Milwaukee’s history, the now-abandoned tannery couldn’t stand up to the relentless power of an 80-ton (72.6 t) Case CX800 excavator. The machine demolished and cleared the 30-plus-building, 18-acre (7.3 ha) complex in less than three months.

And no sooner had the giant excavator removed the last traces of Pfister and Vogel, than it began digging new footprints for the Milwaukee-based Mandel Group’s $175 million North End development—a new, upscale residential and retail neighborhood on Pleasant Street along the Milwaukee River.

“This was a big job. It called for a big excavator that could handle a huge volume of work, load large blocks of concrete and other dangerous demolition debris, and stand up to the non-stop demands of the project,” said Hans Geyer, vice president of Zenith Industrial Services, a demolition and site-remediation contractor based in Caledonia, Wis.

Although Zenith used a variety of smaller excavators and a track loader on the project, Geyer credited the Case CX800 excavator with completing the bulk of the work.

“We considered a variety of equipment for this job,” Geyer recalled, “but we liked the size and strength of the CX800. The combination of great hydraulics, a strong boom and a six-yard bucket gave us the demolition power and truck-loading ability that was essential to keeping us on schedule and on budget.”

As a measure of its productivity, Geyer said the CX800 excavator loaded debris and earth into a fleet of 14 trucks (ranging in capacity from 20 to 25 cu. yd. [15 to 19 cu m], with each truck averaging eight or nine loads per day.

Put into service on the project in late summer 2007, the CX800 excavator “ran from day one without any problems,” Geyer reported. Demolition and site prep was completed by December 2007, whereupon the CX800 began excavating foundations for the buildings of the North End development.

Long Experience in Industrial Demolition

Founded in 2004 by Geyer and company President Bertram Snead, Zenith Industrial Services was particularly well suited to the Pfister and Vogel job. The company’s selection was based on its expertise in both demolition and environmental “brownfield” services—including asbestos abatement and soil remediation—all of which came into play on the project. (Ground contaminants at the site included various chromates and hydrocarbons that required on-site separation and disposal at a suitable hazardous waste site.)

Both Geyer and Snead had lengthy experience in industrial demolition prior to founding Zenith, with many previous projects in the petrochemical industries.

“We’ve handled lots of big projects along the way and have used a variety of methods and machinery to get those jobs done,” Geyer noted. “I’ve used some Case excavators in the past, but never one as big as the CX800 that we used at Pfister and Vogel. You can’t beat it for speed, durability, power and quality.”

Geyer said he expects to put the Case CX800 excavator to good use on future projects, and he looks forward to taking advantage of the machine’s flexibility by extending its boom length and using attachments such as grapples, shears and a hydraulic hammer. With a 495-hp (369 kw) engine, advanced hydraulics, high-strength and high-capacity digging capabilities, as well as a safe and comfortable operator compartment, “there’s no end to the work we can expect from that machine,” Geyer concluded.

The first buildings for the Mandel Group’s $175 million North End development are scheduled for completion and occupancy before the end of 2008. In addition to a variety of condos, the new North End neighborhood will include shopping, restaurants, extensive green space and a river walk. It also will preserve the old tannery’s landmark water tower as a reminder of the site’s important contribution to Milwaukee’s history.

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