The Reliable Contracting Co. headquarters in Gambrills, Md. — aptly named The Founders’ Building — is framed with reminders of the people and decisions that have shaped the sitework contractor into one of the largest in the Baltimore-D.C. metro region, employing more than 400 across its multiple operations.
A restored 1928 grader, first used by Bill and Frank Baldwin to level earth for new homeowners, is mounted above the lobby. A timeline stretches the length of an entire wall charting historic points along Reliable’s 87-year history. Murals and portraits punctuate the engineering and project management work.
“Today, we do everything from storm drain and sewer installation to site clearing, excavating, grading, and paving — really anything except the actual building of the structures themselves,” said John T. Baldwin Jr., operations manager. Projects range from residential paving jobs to more than $10 million sitework packages.
A snapshot of Reliable’s accomplishments shows both their range of capabilities and progressive approach to being a full-service contractor:
• The grading and excavation division can move up to 10,000 cu. yds. (7,645 cu m) of dirt per day.
• Superintendents and field managers are “green card” holders, certified in sediment controls by the Maryland Department of the Environment.
• Reliable was the first commercial site contractor in Maryland to install a new type of environmentally-friendly storm water management system, known as Regenerative Stormwater Conveyance Design (RSCD), that uses water-absorbing plants and rocks to channel water runoff.
• The commercial paving division is fed by three asphalt plants that produce hot mix, standard and high performance cold mixes, warm mix, glassphalt and recycled asphalt and concrete base material.
John T, as he is known around the company, is a third generation member of the Baldwin/Reliable family. Despite its growth, Reliable is still a family operation, with several members in executive management and most residing within a 10-mi. radius of the corporate headquarters. This area, known as Waugh Chapel, is where John T.’s grandfather and great-uncle started mining for sandstone in the 1950’s. Through the decades quarrying would become a heavy part of their business.
John T. and his father, John T. “Jack” Baldwin, manage the burgeoning army of equipment sustaining Reliable’s operations. The 260-plus fleet includes 13 Volvo articulated haulers from 25 to 30 tons (22.6 to 27.2 t) and nine Volvo wheel loaders ranging from an L70E to an L180G. The paving division includes Volvo DD24 asphalt compactors and PF4410 and PF6170 pavers.
“The majority of our off-road articulated haulers and wheel loaders are used at the sandstone quarry to haul stone or to feed the asphalt plant hoppers. The haulers also move large amounts of dirt on our site excavation jobs,” John T. said.
The Waugh Chapel location, just a stone’s throw away from his office, combines asphalt and aggregate production across a 75-acre campus. Sandstone, concrete gravel and asphalt mixes, including reclaimed asphalt and #1 millings, are processed and purchased by local contractors and concrete pipe manufacturers in addition to being an internal supply source for Reliable’s operations. The company annually produces and sells approximately 150,000 tons (136,078 t) of sand and gravel products, 500,000 tons (453,592 t) of hot mix asphalt, 75,000 tons (68,039 t) of recycled concrete and 150,000 tons of recycled asphalt.
Sandstone from the quarry is excavated and trucked a quarter mile by the articulated haulers to the washing and crushing operation. The sandstone is mined hard over the winter months and stockpiled into man-made mountains of more than several hundred thousand cubic yards of aggregate in preparation for spring and summer runs on materials. Rocks 12-in. (30.5 cm) diameter and larger are in high demand for use in retention banks as a cost-effective alternative to rip rap.
Volvo wheel loaders are mainstays at the washing /crushing operation and asphalt plants. A Volvo L250G loader loops continuously between the unprocessed sandstone pile and hopper, effortlessly hoisting a 5.25 cu. yd. (4 cu m) bucket of material up the incline to the hopper without the slightest lag in power.
John T. estimates the rubber tire wheel loaders run a full 50-60 hours each week, averaging more than 2,600 hours per year. But high hours do not equate to high fuel consumption.
“We are seeing the newer model Volvo’s using a lot less fuel than the competitor models. When you are putting the kind of hours we are on a machine, those gallons of fuel savings really add up,” he said.
“We have been buying Volvo Construction Equipment for over 25 years. When you’re buying you always start with price, but as it is becoming harder to find qualified mechanics, we are now looking at equipment that requires less maintenance and doesn’t break down as much. And when it does — because all equipment will break eventually no matter the brand — what you want is a dealer like McClung-Logan who can get your machines fixed in a timely manner. They are committed to making sure we stay up and running. So when it comes to machine costs, we have to factor in price, efficiency and machine uptime and support. That is why we use Volvo — we can’t afford to have our equipment breaking down.”
Governmental projects are a significant part of Reliable’s portfolio, and it is increasingly common for contractors to have all of their equipment on the job site under a service maintenance program. The clients require documentation of each machine by serial number with last serviced and next service dates. “If you do not have this documentation you cannot operate that piece of equipment on their project,” John T. said.
Reliable has an in-house maintenance department but also relies on McClung-Logan Equipment Company for 100 percent servicing of equipment that is still within the warranty period. “McClung-Logan knows Volvo equipment. My dad and grandfather relied on their dealership. It’s about more than buying and selling equipment. They are committed to keeping us up and running whether that be with getting parts or repairs on time or even providing a loaner machine. That responsiveness plays heavily into why we choose McClung-Logan,” John T. said.
Headquartered in Baltimore, Md., McClung-Logan Equipment Company has been a leader in the mid-Atlantic region for heavy equipment sales, service and rentals since 1939. Currently the dealership operates eight full service branches across Maryland, Virginia and Delaware.
Reliable Contracting uses the Volvo CareTrack telematics system on its haulers and wheel loaders to keep pace with its fleet.
“It pays us to have the system so we can get service alerts and monitor how many hours the machines are working, if they overheated or had hot shutdowns, and show us exactly where each piece of equipment is,” John T. said.
Russell Hatfield has dual roles as equipment maintenance manager and CareTrack administrator.
“We use the telematics system primarily to track machine hours and maintenance alerts. Every four to five weeks I also run operation reports to monitor idle time and fuel consumption. Compared to some other manufacturers’ systems, CareTrack is much easier to use,” he said.
Efficient machines and technology help ease the labor pinch, which Reliable is not alone in feeling. A recent poll by the Associated General Contractors of America found that 83 percent of contractors are facing a workforce shortage.
“Overall we have been lucky. A full 75 percent of our employees have been with us 10 years or longer, and some up to 40 years. That retention is what has made our company successful. But we are still moving ahead and growing. We need mechanics and operators who see the construction field as not just a summer job but as a lifelong career. We go into the local high schools and vocational schools [through a partnership with Associated Builders and Contractors] to find students who might not know exactly what they want to do after they graduate, but they are ambitious and have a strong work ethic. It can be easier to take someone who is unskilled as an operator and teach them how we want our operators to use our machines versus taking an experienced operator who is set in their ways and retraining. Their way might not be the ’Reliable way’ that we want our equipment run to be most efficient,” John T. said.
Reliable runs a mentor program, now in its third year, for new college graduate hires to cycle through all aspects of the company, from operating equipment to project management and estimating, before taking up their permanent position.
Over at the asphalt plant, Michael Nelson is one of those long-tenured Reliable employees. Nelson has operated wheel loaders at Reliable for 15 years, logging 10 to 12 hour days in the seat.
“I have run other brands of wheel loaders but this Volvo L180G is a more operator-friendly piece of equipment. When you are an operator you want your controls right in front of you and to be comfortable,” he said.
“This machine moves well and is stable. When you are loading a truck you don’t lose any material and you can travel faster. It’s nice to travel across a yard like this and not worry about spillage,” Nelson said.
That is due to the Volvo torque parallel linkage that keeps the load level throughout the entire lifting range and the boom suspension system option which absorbs shock and limits bouncing.
“I am considered the ’floater wheel loader.’ In a day’s time I go everywhere across this plant — from moving concrete sand to loading CR6 to pushing up asphalt — and I don’t miss a beat. This machine does not stutter. It rolls along with whatever you are doing.”
Nelson also takes advantage of Volvo’s OptiShift technology for short cycling. When the operator wants to change direction, with OptiShift activated it senses the wheel loader’s speed, direction and acceleration and slows the machine by automatically applying the service brakes.
“This feature is nice when, for example, you are feeding the asphalt plant and you can keep your foot on the pedal and start right into reverse and it disengages perfectly. There is no hitting the brake,” he said.
For John T. there also is no hitting the brakes anytime soon. The company is taking more of a general contractor role specializing in project management and value engineering. Reliable also is active in local commercial and residential development, including the upmarket Waugh Chapel Town Centre, which coincidentally sits on one of their first quarry sites.
Reliable Contracting and the Baldwin family also are strong proponents of their community, supporting Anne Arundel County schools, contributing to four major home renovation projects through Rebuilding Together Anne Arundel County, and as a sponsor of the Chesapeake Conservancy.
For more information, visit www.reliablecontracting.com.
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