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Century-Old Contractor Taps Hunyady for Liquidation Sale

Thu May 19, 2011 - Northeast Edition
Construction Equipment Guide

The Frank M. Sheesley Co. is a rare American construction company, one that has seen the industry evolve from its steam-powered days to its diesel-driven, hydraulically operated, GPS-guided present.

In fact, the Johnstown, Pa.-based company founded in 1898, can claim to have employed the now seemingly ancient method of transporting steam shovels by rail — a strategy not too dissimilar to how archeologists believe Egyptians moved stones for the pyramids by taking logs from the behind the massive stones and placing them in front, rolling it along.

Today, after more than 100 years in business, the company has decided to close its doors, leaving an extensive legacy of important and historical projects in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware and beyond.

Originally called M.M. Sheesley and Sons, the company was founded by Milton Sheesley (Frank Sheesley’s father). Then, the company was in the logging and sand and gravel business. It also owned a coal mine in Johnstown. As time passed, Frank Sheesley took over the company and it began to evolve into a construction business that performed excavation and reinforced concrete construction.

That’s when the business completed its first signature project — the Quemahoning Dam in western Pennsylvania in 1910. Using a Marion Steam Shovel (among the first company to do so), Frank M. Sheesley Co. provided excavation and fill for the dam.

Fifty-four years later in 1964, the company would return to Quemahoning, while working for the Bethlehem Steel Corp., to reconstruct the dam, raise the breast of the reservoir and build a new gatehouse and concrete spillway.

In 1977, the company again worked for Bethlehem Steel by providing H and sheet piling for its mills, and reinforced concrete for its water pollution and acid rinse water system in Pennsylvania. The company also would service Bethlehem Steel with equipment and cranes.

Paul Sheesley, a fourth-generation family member who is currently vice president of Frank M. Sheesley, started with the company in 1983. As the steel industry began declining, he saw the company’s clients change from steel manufacturers to power generation companies.

“We began building retention ponds and reinforced concrete foundations for the various treatment facilities for the Conemaugh Power Station [New Florence, Pa., in 1986] and the Indian River Power Station [Millesboro, Del., in 1990],” he said, adding that the company also built reinforced concrete foundations as far away as Fort Wayne, Ind., for what was then known as Indiana and Michigan Electric.

“We also did a project for the Coors Brewing Company in Virginia in 2006 where we built reinforced concrete foundations for their brewing vessels,” he said.

Sheesley also recalled doing a lot of work for Crown American, a Johnstown-based mall developer.

“We did a lot of site prep for their malls throughout Pennsylvania, Maryland and elsewhere. And we did work for Merck, doing reinforced concrete foundations and excavation.” he said.

Another project Sheesley fondly recalled is Pepco Holdings Substation in Washington, D.C.

“That was a pretty neat project in 2007,” he said. “It was right down in the heart of the district. They were repowering the district and they created a building that did not look like a substation. The façade had large arch windows and a lot brick work to disguise the substation.”

But it was a project in the early 1980s that would leave a lasting impression with him.

“In 1983, my first project, we built the Johnstown incline plane,” he recalled. “It’s the steepest incline plane in the country, which works by hauling haul vehicles up and down the hillside using a counter-balanced system. We did the demolition of the existing system, which was 100 years old. We totally rebuilt it and removed the old stone columns supporting the steel and timber; it’s basically a railroad on the side of the hill. We rebuilt the whole system for them. It took about a year and is still in operation today. That was a fun project because I grew up just a few blocks away from it and understood the workings of it. It was a big historical project for Johnstown and to be part of it was an honor.”

Today, as the company winds up its operations after 103 years in business, Frank M. Sheesley Co. has tapped the Hunyady Auction Company to help it sell much of its equipment and construction tools. The complete liquidation sale is slated for June 16 at the company’s facility, located at 1464 Frankstown Road in Johnstown, Pa.

Though bittersweet about the sale, Sheesley is pleased to be working with Hunyady.

“I’ve been to dozens their of sales and they’re very professional,” he said. “The buyers respect them [Hunyady]. They’re very good at what they do.”

At the June 16 auction bidders can expect to find a good selection of equipment, including John Deere hydraulic excavators and backhoes, a 2007 John Deere CT332 skid and other models, Wacker and Bomag compactors and rollers, Topcon surveying equipment and a host of construction tools.

As Sheesley looks to the future, he is optimistic about staying in touch with many of the company’s customers.

“We had a lot of fun in the business over the years and we made a lot of good friends,” he said. “I’ll miss dealing with some of our customers, but I know we’ll stay in touch because they’ve become our friends over the years.”

He also thanked the company’s employees, some of whom have been with Frank M. Sheesley for their entire careers

“We’ve had a lot of great employees, long-time employees and we’ve been fortunate to have such dedicated people. You just don’t see that anymore unfortunately. People move around between companies more, but we had people stay with us and I’m thankful for that,” he said.

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