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Thompson Contractors Purchases Workhorse Wheel Loader

Down at Thompson Contractors Inc.’s two rock quarries drilling, blasting and moving hard, abrasive rock requires extra-tough machines to get the job done properly.

Mon February 02, 2015 - Southeast Edition
Eric Olson

Down at Thompson Contractors Inc.’s two rock quarries in southwest North Carolina, drilling, blasting and moving hard, abrasive rock requires extra-tough machines to get the job done properly.

This dirty, dusty work is not for equipment with reliability issues.

That’s why Danny Seay employs equipment like the new Kawasaki 115Z7 wheel loader at one of his company’s two quarries near Rutherfordton, in the Blue Ridge foothills due west of Charlotte.

The company bought the Kawasaki from May Equipment in Columbia, S.C., mostly because of how durable and reliable an older generation loader, the 115Z-IV, has proven to be for Thompson Contractors. The firm’s old machine, in constant use for 15 years, has racked up an incredible 39,000 hours scooping up rock and dumping it onto 65-ton (58.9 t) trucks for transport.

Seay’s crews have operated it about 55 hours a week in all those years.

It has never needed a major repair in 15 years, nor has the engine or transmission ever needed to be rebuilt.

And it is still in use.

“We’re replacing our 115Z-IV with this new one and we will keep the older machine as a spare,” Seay said. “We’ll do a little bit of maintenance to it as far as rebuilding the cylinders, which have not been done to it before. Then it goes right back to work.”

Toughness, Versatility Required

Thompson Contractors uses its Kawasaki 115 wheel loaders at its quarries as yard loaders but also as backup in case one of its hydraulic shovels breaks down, according to Seay. He likes the fact that if the primary shovel goes down, this new Kawasaki can jump right in and load the Miller Creek quarry’s tough shot rock without missing a beat.

With its powerful hydraulics, the new 115Z7, with its 8.3 cu. yd. (6.3 cu m) bucket, can also load a whopping 18 tons (16.3 t) per pass.

“Because it can load most of the trucks in one pass, our production speeds up drastically,” Seay said. “The trucks we have it load will be from tandems up to five-axles — even tractor trailers.”

It almost seems as if Kawasaki designed this brutish machine with Thompson Contractors in mind.

Where Rock Becomes Stone

At its two quarries, the Miller Creek facility just west of Rutherfordton and the Mill Springs quarry next door in Polk County, Thompson Contractors extracts, processes and sells aggregates for use in a variety of building projects. Most of that rock goes to the North Carolina DOT for building asphalt roads, Seay said.

He added that in slow times, production at the two quarries is around a half-million tons a year and often much more than that.

“After we drill, blast and load out in the pit, we then truck the rock to our primary crusher, where we crush it down into a surge pile,” Seay said.

From there, he said, the rock goes through the crushing plants at the quarries where it is reduced to as many as 10 different sizes, depending on how it is to be used.

The aggregate size that the company most commonly produces is known as 78m, which is generally a gravel 3/8-in. (.95 cm) and ½-in. (1.3 cm) in size that has been washed and ready for use in asphalt. According to Seay, the designation “78” is what the state uses to designate different sizes of stone and is simply a combination of size 7 and size 8 stone.

Thompson Contractors also makes 57s, which is a ¾-in. (1.9 cm) to 1-in. (2.5 cm) washed stone. It is largely produced for use in driveways or drain fields, although it also is used in some asphalt pavements.

“Of course, 78m can go into concrete, as well, but our major customers use it for asphalt plants,” Seay said. “We also make 467m, a two-inch stone for asphalt, which is called ’black base’ that is used for soft spots and for drainage also. We are capable of producing every size of stone, which is all washed, but we make a base material, too.”

Tough Work Demands a Tough Machine

In business since 1946, Thompson Contractors is a family-owned company with approximately 30 employees. The firm’s larger Miller Creek quarry is known for its rough blue granite and due to the presence of that rock, the new Kawasaki 115Z-7 is being used at that location.

A byproduct of using the new Kawasaki wheel loader for Thompson Contractors has been more efficient production, due to the new wheel loader’s 8.3-cu.-yd. spade-nose bucket, Seay said.

“Our other loaders run a 7.8-cubic-yard bucket so we have a half-yard more in this new machine,” Seay said. “And we have a spare bucket for our older machine that will actually hook up to this new loader even though it is a half-yard smaller.”

He is now on his third generation of Kawasaki wheel loaders, all of which are in operation at the two company pits. The first, a 95Z-IV, is working at the Mill Springs quarry; the Miller Creek site uses a 95Z-V and the workhorse 115Z-IV.

“We have been more than satisfied with Kawasaki and with May Equipment,” Seay said. “I quoted another machine when I was looking to buy this last machine, but, really, it would have taken something out of the ordinary to get me to buy something else.”

He began his relationship with May Equipment when it became Kawasaki’s dealer in the Carolinas. This new 115Z-7 is the first piece of equipment that Thompson Contractors has purchased from May and Seay said that he expects to continue their business partnership for many years.

“Plus, our experience with Kawasaki loaders has been so good with the uptime meeting our standards that it is just a natural to continue with that company, too. We expect the same out of this new wheel loader.

“Our other loaders have run so long that we haven’t had to buy that often,” said Seay.

May Equipment has full-service locations throughout the two Carolinas and also serves customers in several other southeast states. Besides Kawasaki, May also carries heavy equipment made by Caterpillar, Hyundai, Volvo, Komatsu, Bomag, Terex and Sakai, among others.

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