John Deere ’Scalpels’ Carve Out New Look For McAlpine Dam

Wed August 04, 2004 - Midwest Edition

When you first come upon the massive $221-million McAlpine Lock and Dam Replacement Project in Louisville, KY, you’d swear the tide had gone out in a big way. Realizing that there is no tide on the Ohio River, you look closer and see a bustling job site more than 100 ft. (30 m) below that almost defies description.

The project, which was conceived by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, will replace an obsolete 360- by 56-ft. (110 by 17 m) two-stage lock, and an outdated 600- by 110-ft. (183 by 34 m) auxiliary lock with a new 1,200- by 110-ft. (366 by 34 m) structure. It will lie next to another already completed 1,200- by 110-ft. lock to become one of just three twin-river navigation systems in the world.

The plans also call for the demolition of a swing-and-bascule bridge that will be replaced by a new two-lane, fixed-span concrete bridge. This new structure will provide continuous access to Shippingport Island, a National Wildlife Conservation Area, as well as the Louisville Gas and Electric hydroelectric facility.

According to Randy Carter, equipment superintendent of Traylor Bros. Inc. in Evansville, IN, two John Deere 824J loaders, a 644H loader, two 330C LC excavators, a 710G backhoe and a 700H dozer are working on the bridge demolition and construction part of the project.

Carter said his company has teamed with Granite Construction in Watsonville, CA, and Massman Construction in Kansas City, MO, to complete the complex job. The resulting company, TGM Constructors, is in the first year of its four-and-one-half-year contract.

A Hard Test for Man and Machine

“There’s some of the hardest limestone in the country at this site,” commented Carter. “It’s also very heavy and abrasive. It’s a real tough test for all of our equipment.”

Carter is getting good service out of the two 330C LCs.

“We like these track hoes because we can run buckets on them and then switch to hydraulic hammers to break up shot rock,” he said. “We are really surprised and pleased that we haven’t had any hydraulic system problems. That’s something, considering what we put them through. Actually, we haven’t had any problems with any of the other John Deere equipment, either.”

“They tried trenching the riverbed at first,” explained Ben Holt, owner and president of Holt Equipment Co. in Louisville, the local John Deere dealer. “It was just impossible to do. Now, they’re lowering the lock depth to 40 feet by drilling and blasting. To reduce the blasting, the 330C LCs break up the shot rock with their 7,500-foot-pound hammers. The hardness variance of the limestone makes it very tricky because they’re working right next to the other lock and don’t want to accidentally damage it.

“The 824Js mainly load the rock into two crushers,” continued Holt. “The 6.1-cubic-yard bucket widths just fit their crusher openings. Most of the crushed rock will be used on site as roller-compacted concrete [an estimated 120,000 cubic yards] to construct the new lock.”

“Both crushers are producing about 2,000 cubic yards a shift,” added Carter, whose crew works double-shift workdays. “We also use the 824Js to load the crushed rock into our haul trucks. We use our 644H as an end-loader, too. It has a quick-coupler on it so we can use forks as well. The 710G is used just about everywhere.”

Besides the roller-compacted concrete, an additional 330,000 cu. yds. (252,303 cu m) of conventional mass concrete; 13 million lbs. (5.9 million kg) of reinforcing steel; 3.2-million lbs. (1.4 million kg) of additional miscellaneous metals; and six miter gate leaves, each weighing 328 tons (295 t), will be used by TGM to complete the job.

700H Impresses Operator

Lester Saltsman –– a 30-year member of Local 181 Operating Engineers –– is the main operator on the 700H dozer.

“I’ve put over 1,000 hours on it myself,” he said. “It still runs like a brand-new machine. I’m usually spreading gravel in parking lots or lay-down areas and backfilling.

“I have been mostly a Cat operator in the past,” Saltsman admitted. “I’ve worked the 700H pretty hard out here. It’s got good balance and lots of power — plenty of power — for its size. It’s every bit as good as the competition’s. It’s changed my opinion of John Deere in this class of dozer. And I really like the cab heater and air conditioner.”

Traylor Bros. Inc.’s Master Mechanic Rick Mills looks at his equipment from another perspective. He has an insider’s, firsthand knowledge about the wear and tear on the machinery and how the metal is holding up.

“I’ve been here since March [2003],” he said. “I was really interested in what the John Deere machines could do on this type of operation.

“I came out of the strip mines in Indiana before I started with the company,” continued Mills. “And, as a general rule, the coal industry is all Cat. Here, we have a couple of Cats and a couple of other brands working side-by-side with the Deere machines. So far, we are pretty pleased with the Deere machinery. For sure, they haven’t been any more expensive to operate. And, we haven’t seen a lot of problems. Most of them have been small — a ripped hose or something small like that.”

“So far, we like what we see in the John Deere equipment,” concluded Carter. “We’ve used John Deere engines in the past to repower some of our company’s other equipment — and they’ve worked out well. We’re pleased with the power of the machines that are on site. They are doing a real good job.”

(This story appears courtesy of “The Construction Review.)