KR Trucking crews work year-round and, in an average year, operate each ADT for 2,000 hours.
In the clay mining business, you must have dependable trucks. That's why Keith Radford, owner of KR Trucking in Gleason, Tenn., leases his 20 off-highway articulated dump trucks (ADTs) and purchases extended warranties.
Since Radford and his dad Kenneth founded KR Trucking in 2002, the company has grown from five to 66 employees. Radford attributes his company's success to his faith, his commitment to honesty and values and sound planning.
"In our business, you have to prepare for and minimize the unexpected expenses," Radford said.
Success Depends on Reliable Equipment
U.S. mining companies produced 26 million tons of clay valued at $1.8 billion in 2019, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. To produce each ton of finished clay, miners remove and transport several additional tons of raw product and overburden.
Keith Radford, owner of KR Trucking
KR Trucking is in Weakley County in northwest Tennessee. This region contains the largest ball clay deposits in the United States as well as significant deposits of kaolin, also known as China clay. Ball clay is a common ingredient for manufacturing floor and wall tile, shingles and plumbing fixtures, and kaolin is used in paper production, porcelain and in some medical products.
To reach a clay deposit for a client, KR Trucking crews use large crawler excavators to dig out 40 to 150 ft. of overburden, which is the dirt, sand and mud covering the clay. The ADTs, which are not legal for use on public roads, are used for transporting this overburden to a dump site. Once the overburden has been removed, a separate fleet of 32 on-road trucks move the clay to a plant.
KR Trucking crews work year-round and, in an average year, operate each ADT for 2,000 hours. That means the machines are in almost constant use all-day, every day.
"Think of me as a farmer and it's November and I have a thousand acres of beans that I haven't harvested yet," Radford said.
This urgency is why Radford leases his excavators and ADTs. Leasing ensures Radford's machines are always relatively new, and therefore less likely to need repairs. It's one way Radford minimizes his downtime and is able to more reliably forecast his equipment-related expenses.
To keep on top of regular machine maintenance, the service technicians in Radford's in-house shop track the hours of the company's equipment on inspection sheets and on boards in the shop. The techs place stickers in the windshield of each machine so operators can see when an oil change is coming due.
To prepare for larger service needs, Radford purchases a 10,000-hour extended warranty on all his ADTs. This helps protect his budget if a machine needs a significant repair.
"The dealer charges you for the extended warranty, but it's worth it," Radford said. "We hope we'll never use any of that coverage, but we have in the past."
To further protect his company, Radford pays close attention to the service his equipment dealer provides. His dealer, Bobcat of Nashville, promises Keith that if one of his Doosan DA30-5 ADTs or DX490LC-5 excavators is being serviced for three consecutive days, then they will provide him with a loaner ADT or excavator until his machine is fixed.
"That means a lot to us," Radford said. "Because if there is a hiccup, we've got a backup plan."
The way Bobcat of Nashville handled his first purchase helped Radford determine that they were a reliable partner. When Radford asked to demo an ADT, they delivered him machines to demo for three weeks. Also, the demo machines weren't new; they already had thousands of hours on them. This helped Radford see that the product was reliable.
"The demo trucks kept performing and performing," Radford said. "That's the kind of dealership that I look for and the kind of products that I'm looking for."
Measuring Machine Performance
Radford measures the productivity of his ADTs by tracking the number of yards of material they haul each month. This is another reason he prioritizes keeping his fleet new. When he invests in new ADTs, he sees a boost in productivity. For example, with his newest ADTs in service, he's expecting a 15 percent increase in production over his older trucks.
Another metric KR trucking tracks is turnaround time. This is the amount of time it takes for each truck to be loaded, transported, dumped and loaded again. When creating this measurement they consider the distance from the excavator to the dump site, and the grade of the route. Turnaround time is another important stat that Radford expects to improve when he invests in new equipment.
Tracking these stats is vital for the success of KR Trucking. Once a month, his clients survey the amount of material KR Trucking has removed to ensure they are meeting set targets. If for some reason — often weather — a project is falling behind, then Radford has to schedule crews on Saturdays and on longer shifts to catch up.
"Nobody we work for stays way ahead on the work schedule," Radford said. "We manage the weather as best as we can, and so for the equipment we have to do everything we can to stay up and running efficiently."
At each step of the process of building roads to the deposit, removing overburden, mining clay, and then eventually filling the mine back in with additional overburden, KR Trucking is working on a deadline.
"We don't ever stop moving," Radford said.
Then, when it's all done, and replanted with pine trees, and the land is released back to its owner, somebody gets to enjoy the natural beauty of the place. Often times the former clay pits become places where people relax, unaware of the constant loading and unloading, digging and hauling that occurred in the same place.
"You'll see people out there fishing," Radford said.
A Lifelong Commitment to Construction
Growing up and watching his father work in the clay mining industry his entire life inspired Keith Radford to follow in his father's footsteps. When Radford was 18, he purchased his first dump truck, a skid steer loader and a trailer. He eventually moved into the ready mix business and operated three plants until 2002. That's when Radford took a leap of faith and started KR Trucking. Radford attributes his continued success to serving his customers with exceptional work.
"As our customer base grew, we grew with them," Radford said. "I've always said, ‘if you treat everybody like you want to be treated, it just kind of falls in your lap, and that is what happened with us. I have always taken care of our customers, and if we tell them something, we do everything in our power to make sure we get it done.'"