Komatsu Clears Way for ’Tornado Alley’ Builder

Tue November 16, 2004 - West Edition

Nestled in the heart of Tornado Alley is the state of Oklahoma. Its rolling hills and windy prairies make it the perfect breeding ground for some of the country’s largest, most powerful storms.

Oklahoma is also home to Cherokee Builders, a company who in its own right is a powerful force known in the region for site clearing, planning and development. The difference, however, is that Cherokee Builders is using new dozer technology rather than funnel clouds to make its mark on the area’s landscape.

Cherokee Builders was officially launched in 1995 by Dick McNair, president. It started as a small company focused mostly on commercial site preparation.

Although site work is still the bread and butter of the company, Cherokee Builders has expanded its capabilities to offer residential subdivision preparation, and street, highway and structural concrete work. The company is located in Tulsa, OK, and extends its services 250 miles to its Tornado Alley neighbors –– Kansas, Texas and Arkansas.

When the company first opened its doors, it had one employee in addition to McNair. Since that time, the company has grown substantially and now employs 180 people. The company usually has 25-30 projects going at any given time. Whether it’s a 50-million gallon water reservoir job for a power plant, highway work or helping with a major addition for a hospital, Cherokee Builders brings the same positive attitude and work ethic to each project.

“The thing about Cherokee Builders is that we do the job the first time and we do it right,” said McNair. “We’ve never tried to be the biggest, but we always strive to be the best.”

A strategy behind Cherokee Builder’s success is to think outside the box. One way this is accomplished is through its equipment. Harboring more than 100 major pieces of equipment, McNair said he only buys machines that he knows his employees will like, and that will perform beyond his expectations. He also expands the machine’s responsibilities beyond its conventional uses.

With the purchase of the Komatsu D85EX-15 dozer, Cherokee Builders put its strategic thinking to the test.

Doing What Conventional Dozers Can’t

Dozers make-up a high percentage of Cherokee Builder’s fleet, which isn’t unusual considering the type of work the company does. In fact, Cherokee Builders owns about 15 dozers from several equipment manufacturers.

Unlike most of its dozer fleet, the D85 is used for much more than pushing dirt. In December 2003, McNair purchased the D85 after considering the size of the machine and determining it was a good fit for the company.

“I was planning for the future and I knew I wanted a dozer that had the right size to be able to perform a number of different jobs,” explained McNaire. “It’s big enough that you can do a lot of work with it, and it maneuvers like a small machine and is extremely accurate.”

The size and power of the D85EX-15 has enabled Cherokee Builders to perform tasks that no one at the company thought were possible. Currently, the D85EX-15 is working in Rogers, AR, on the Liberty Bell Estate residential development.

The job involves clearing 90-acres of land for a 280-home subdivision. Cherokee Builders is responsible for all the site preparation, which includes moving 100,000 yds. of dirt, creating 10-acres of ponds and clearing trees. The project began in May 2004 and is scheduled for completion in January 2005.

For this particular job, the company is using tractors and scrapers to move dirt and grade. Traditionally, the D85EX-15 would be helping move the dirt, but is instead clearing two acres of trees per day.

Then, it will help remove rock when the company is ready to begin digging the ponds. What helps the D85EX-15 in this application is the HydroStatic Steering System (HSS), which provides a faster response to controls and quicker, more precise turning for increased maneuverability.

The D85EX-15 also offers a reduced turning radius, whereas competitive machines with conventional steering systems still rely on the back-and-forth method of turning.

The D85EX-15 weighs in at 61,735 lbs. and pushes with 240 hp at 1,900 rpm. According to Stanley Mozingo, superintendent of Cherokee Builders, the size, power and HSS has made the D85EX-15 an important part of the project.

“We have to clear out a lot of trees. It can get difficult because we have to take this one down, but can’t touch the one 3ft. away from it,” said Mozingo. “But the turning system on the D85EX-15 is great. You can put it in some really tight places, take down one Maple and not scuff the one next to you.

“And it’s also pretty handy, because it’s big enough to take the trees down with one hit - and we’re talking about some pretty big trees. In my opinion, this is the one feature that Komatsu has that is above everyone else,” he added.

In addition to the HSS, the hydraulics on the D85EX-15 are designed to stimulate a fast response, which helps the machine react quickly to different conditions. Given the amount of wet weather in those parts, having a machine that can push through varying conditions is critical.

“What I especially like about the D85EX-15 is that it has an abundance of power and is very responsive and quick,” said Mozingo. “The center of gravity is also up on the machine, which has really helped when dealing with the muddier areas. My other dozer just couldn’t get through it.”

After the D85EX-15 is finished knocking down trees, it will move on to ripping rock out of the ground for the pond installation. While the dozer hasn’t encountered any tough rock yet on this particular job, it’s no stranger to pulling stubborn materials out of the ground.

Before it moved to Arkansas for the Liberty Bell Estate project, it was on a jobsite where its main duty was ripping up limestone cap rock for a manufacturing facility.

McNair said he was surprised when he discovered the power of its ripping capability.

“The thing about this job is that it’s in solid limestone, and we were able to rip the cap rock with this machine, which I didn’t expect to be able to do,” said McNair. “The cap rock on the limestone is pretty tough, and it has clay seams, so being able to rip it is pretty unusual.”

Comfortable, Reliable Machine

Cherokee Builders only has one way of measuring dozer productivity –– uptime. So far, the machine has been perfect. While the machine hasn’t had any problems, the D85EX-15 is equipped with a centralized service station and self-diagnostic monitor panel to detect problems before they occur and assure convenient maintenance.

Because the dozer is being moved from job-to-job, performing a number of different duties, having the ability to recognize and fix any major problems early on keeps the machine working and therefore increases productivity.

“Productivity is a concept that’s really hard to quantify, so it comes down to reliability,” said Mozingo. “You can’t go by how much dirt is pushed or how much rock is ripped. I can tell you though, that the D85EX-15 runs 60 hours a week, trouble-free, and not all of my dozers can do that.”

Besides being reliable, the machine is easy-to-use and comfortable. Ripping rock and knocking down trees is hard work, and can be extremely tough on the operator.

To help reduce fatigue, the D85EX-15 is built with a damper mount that minimizes shock, and suppresses noise and vibration when moving. Further, the D85EX-15’s Palm Command Control System (PCCS) was designed to provide efficient operation and enhance operator comfort. The palm command travel joystick allows the operator to maintain a relaxed posture and still have full control of the machine.

McNair said it’s easy to use and anyone can operate it. “It’s been a dream to run,” he explained. “My operator was talking about how he had gone home the day before after ripping up rock, and he wasn’t beat up like in a normal dozer. He felt good after he got off of it after 10 hours.”

Dozing the Days Away

According to McNair, whether it’s pushing through dirt, ripping rock from beneath the ground or clearing trees for housing developments, the D85EX-15 has earned its place in McNair’s fleet. Considering McNair has seen his share of equipment come and go, that’s a pretty big compliment.

“Dick McNair takes great pride in his equipment. He makes sure we have the neatest, most organized yards,” said Mozingo. “Every machine has a place and is put back in that place at the end of the day. We even have ice coolers for our water jugs. In the 30 years of being in the construction business, Cherokee Builders is absolutely the most professional company there is.”

(This article was provided by Brady Marketing, a firm working for Komatsu.)