Whoever coined the phrase, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” obviously never encountered the Dean Word Company. Since its inception in the early 1890s, the company, based in New Braunfels, TX, has been an innovator in the road and highway construction business.
Founded by Walter Lewis Word, the original direction of the company was dirt contracting for both county road and railroad construction. Though successful, Walter Lewis’ son, Dean, took over the business 20 years later and soon looked to expand. He started a general partnership with other contractors to increase the company’s structural capabilities, adding such services as bridge and culvert construction.
In the 1930s, the Dean Word Co. entered the quarrying business, producing road base materials for its own projects. As the company became more adept at the latest road building and material production techniques, it was one of the first contractors in Texas to get involved with interstate construction in the 1950s. Soon after, Dean’s son, Tim, returned from Korea to begin his role with the company.
Experiencing great success, the Dean Word Co. continued its innovative spirit, learning and developing more “tricks” of the trade. Though the company had always subcontracted its asphalt work, in 1964 Tim Word decided to get involved in the hot-mix asphalt business. This provided greater control over each project, while transforming the Dean Word Co. into a veritable full-service highway contractor. With this new direction, the company paved the way to cutting edge highway construction, becoming one of the first contractors in central Texas to implement the use of windrow elevators.
More than 100 years after the company was founded, Tim Word and his three sons, Dean III, Forrest and Bryan, all currently act as managers for the Dean Word Co. “We’re a full service roadbuilder — we do it all,” Dean Word III said. “We produce the aggregate, test and make high-quality, hot-mix materials, haul it and place it ourselves. There is no subcontracting in any of our asphalt operations.”
At any given time, the Dean Word Co. is working on 10 to 20 different projects besides maintenance work, resulting in an annual volume of $30-35 million. With its pioneering attitude, the company continues to break ground with new industry applications. Recently, during a job in Victoria, TX, it became one of the first contractors in Texas to use the Rosco Maximizer 3 variable-width asphalt distributor.
More than two years ago, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) contracted a loop construction job around the city of Victoria, located on the Guadalupe River in southern Texas. This city of 60,000 was experiencing a traffic problem. With a growing population and only a few bridge crossings over the river, traffic jams were becoming commonplace. Thus, a by-pass loop around the city was planned.
The Dean Word Co. won the contract for Loop 463 and soon began work on the preliminary tasks. “This was a significant portion of the job,” Dean Word III said. “First, we had to prepare the right of way, clearing the land of trees and obstructions. This is a protected wetland, so we had to exercise extra environmental sensitivity. We then had to build seven bridges, one over the Guadalupe River and the other six for relief bridges over the wetlands.”
Unfortunately, after all of the bridges were completed, a disaster struck that not only affected the Loop 463 job, but the entire state of Texas as well. In mid-October 1998, more than 20 inches of rain fell causing massive flooding across central and southern Texas. Victoria was not spared. The Guadalupe River, normally 150 feet across, swelled to six miles wide in some areas near the city. This was the worst flooding Victoria had seen in more than 60 years, damaging more than 600 homes. It also damaged one of the relief bridges.
“When the flood hit, the water was high enough to wash over relief bridge number six,” said Jim Saidler, an asphalt superintendent for the Dean Word Co. “It was strong enough to pick up the slab and move it, while also washing out the abutment on one end.” Thus, the Dean Word Co. faced some extra work once normalcy returned to Victoria.
Following the bridge repair, work on the more than six miles of two-lane highway was able to proceed. As the grade-one, lime-stabilized gravel base was being prepared, a distributor was used to apply a cut-back oil, priming the gravel base and reducing dust. Once the prime coat was given a few days to soak in, the grade was ready for sealcoat and the Rosco Maximizer 3.
Frank Closner, vice-president of Closner Equipment Co. Inc., in San Antonio, TX, first introduced the Rosco Maximizer 3 to the Dean Word Co. Mounted on a Freightliner FL70 chassis, the Maximizer 3 asphalt distributor is a unit offering a hydraulically-controlled, variable-width spray bar. Spray bar sections on conventional distributors must be folded down to provide additional spray area and folded up to accommodate obstacles. They also only offer one-foot incremental control. With the Maximizer 3, the spray bar can be drawn in or out during operation to address any project variances. The system allows the operator to maintain a straight and steady course while the spray bar is adjusted from within the cab. This would be ideal for the bridges and guard rails the Dean Word Co. would face on the Loop 463 job. Closner provided the Dean Word Co. with a Maximizer 3 unit, carrying a 7,192-liter (1,900 gal.) emulsion tank and twin burner system, for use on the project.
Once the distributor was delivered to the job-site, emulsion was shipped from the Gulf States Oil refinery near Houston using 22,712-liter (6,000 ga.) transport trucks. “With sealcoating, we do about a one-and-a-half mile section at a time,” Saidler said. “As they build it, we seal it. Otherwise, by just leaving it sit there, you risk losing density on your base and the overall construction process tears up the grade. So as soon as the piece is ready, we prime it and seal it within a couple days.”
Because the Maximizer 3 controls are similar to those on previous Rosco asphalt distributor models, the learning curve on this unit is relatively small. Thus, Valentino Munoz, asphalt equipment operator for the Dean Word Co., was able to operate the new machine with ease. “The more [Munoz] used the machine, the more his confidence grew,” Saidler said. “Soon he was effectively using it for all transitions.”
The asphalt crew shot 1.4 liters (0.36 gal.) per square yard of Cationic Rapid Setting emulsion with two-percent Polymer (CRS-2P) heated to 160-degree Fahrenheit, to hold the pre-coated grade-three rock. Soon after using the Maximizer 3, they realized the benefits of this new technology.
“I really like how the spray bars are adjusted,” Saidler said. “We put this machine to the test on this job — shooting guard rail widenings, turn radiuses and all kinds of transitions. With other units, we’d need an additional operator that would use a hand hose to take care of spots missed during transitions.”
Using the Maximizer 3 turned sealcoating into a one-person job because all of the operations could be controlled from within the cab. There was no need for manual control because the spray bar could be adjusted to cover all transitions on the job, while the system turned the individual spray nozzles on and off as the bar was moved. This made a hand hose unnecessary.
“With this machine, you just had to hold a straight line and extend the bar in or out as needed, and cover it all in one pass,” Saidler explained. “Normally, in areas where we would be using the hand hose, we didn’t have to. In fact, the hand hose that came with the Rosco unit is still in its original package behind the driver’s seat.” The effective benefit of this new technology is savings to the contractor. “It not only turns this into a one-man job, but saved us at least an hour per day,” he said.
“There were numerous driveways that we encountered where we utilized Rosco variable-width feature,” Dean Word III added. “It allowed us to do with one person what we usually do with two. It’s very innovative and definitely offers a lot of promise.”
Following the standard 48-hour cure time for the CRS-2P emulsion, Saidler and his crew were ready to place the hot-mix asphalt overlay. Using a Type C surface hot-mix hauled in from a Dean Word Company plant, they began paving utilizing bottom-dump trucks, a windrow elevator and a Barber-Greene BG260B asphalt paver with variable-width screed. The windrow elevator utilizes a drag-slat conveyor to lift hot mix windrow from the roadway and remixes it prior to depositing the material in the paver’s hopper. Though it may seem curious that a company committed to highway construction innovation would still be using windrow elevator technology, Dean Word III explained the company’s equipment philosophy.
“We believe in using equipment that works best for our business,” Word said. “Though self-propelled shuttle buggies are now available to take the place of windrow elevators, they are a much more expensive piece of equipment and require a dedicated operator. In fact, we have found that the windrow elevator method keeps the forces acting on the paver and screed more uniform and provides us with a superior ride on the finished project. If we can do the same quality job for less money, we think it’s unnecessary to switch.
“Also, by sticking to tried and tested methods, we can avoid a lot of the teething period needed with new technology,” Word said.
After paving the entire six-mile stretch with an inch-and-a-half of Type C surface hot-mix, Loop 463 was opened to traffic in mid-May, and is now effectively relieving the previously traffic-stressed community of Victoria.