“We’ve built the roads, installed the utilities, and built the pads for many of the new developments in the Portland area over the last 24 years,” said Conrad Sproul, president of C&M Construction Inc. “And it’s a great pleasure to drive through the city and remember with pride how we tackled a problem over there, made a difficult obstacle vanish over there, or how we worked with a developer to make a subdivision’s road more dramatic and inviting.”
But private development work in the Portland area is slow right now, just as it is in much of the United States. So C&M is now concentrating on public works jobs.
“Right now, we’re doing a project for Washington County,” said Gerald Sproul, one of two sons in the business. “It’s a road-widening project as well as storm drainage. It has a little bit of everything we do. The project is about 4,500 linear feet of either road widening or full utility work. Typically, in a slow construction period like this, there are so many bidders that the profit’s slim, but it keeps us in the game.”
A Paid for Fleet
“We started as a one-man band in 1975 with a little TD-7 dozer, a dump truck, and a rubber-tired backhoe,” said Conrad. “We grew until about 1980 and then, well, we proudly survived the downturn of the early ’80s. During those years, guys were crawling on their knees to get on a bid list. It was unreal.
“When you go into this business, for the first 10 years you work for the bankers, the insurance people, and the equipment people, and hope like hell that you make enough money to see you through the winter. Fortunately, we’re past that stage. But that anxiety never leaves you.”
With that in mind, C&M purchases equipment to meet the needs of a specific job. Then, it tends to go after similar jobs so that the equipment can be used over and over again, paying for itself in a fairly short amount of time. As a result, they now have more than 100 pieces of iron, 26 of which are trackhoes.
To maximize its investment, C&M brings each machine into its shop to fix everything it can identify, putting it in top shape to minimize any future downtime. Having well-maintained, paid-for equipment helps C&M not only get the low bid in slow times, but make profits as well.
Reliable Orange Machines
“We like the Hitachi trackhoes because they are reliable,” explains Gerald. “There are absolutely no repair problems. We buy all of our excavators new and then take care of them. As a result, we’ve got Hitachi excavators with 12 to 15,000 hours on them, and they’re still functioning. Our strategy is to buy the best excavators on the market and then keep them in top shape. We have very little downtime or unexpected repairs with our Hitachis. Another reason, perhaps not quite as important, is that their orange paint matches our company colors,” he says, smiling.
“We’ve put automatic greasers on all of the trackhoes we’ve bought in the last four years,” added Conrad. “They have not only prolonged pin life, they use less grease, we get better service out of the machine, and we eliminate the labor of a field-service guy taking care of the machine. So, even though they cost five or six thousand to buy, for our long-range plan, they’re worth it.”
Here for the Long Haul
“As a result of buying-the-best-and-planning-on-keeping-each-piece approach, we’re ready to go to work whenever an opportunity comes along,” concluded Conrad. “We also have a good fleet of dirt scrapers, compactors, and loaders serviced and ready to work when private work starts up again. And we’re confident it will.”
C&M Construction Inc. is serviced by Papé Machinery, Portland, Ore.
This story was reprinted from Hitachi Breakout magazine, second issue, 2009. CEG
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