Walsh Knows the Stakes on I-69 Project in IN

Wed May 11, 2005 - Midwest Edition
Lyn Ibson

“The few minutes I’ve been talking here is the longest I’ve been out of the cab in days,” said Randy Stalhood after stepping down from his Volvo G780B motorgrader. “We’re putting in 15 to 16 hour days here and we work right through. It means a lot to have some comfort in there.”

Stalhood and his colleagues have been involved in a race against time on a stretch of the I-69 highway in Fort Wayne, IN, after an unusually wet summer put the brakes on their good progress. The crew has since started working every available hour in an effort to prevent their employers, Walsh Construction, being hit by the penalty clauses in the contract.

Thanks to their tireless efforts –– and with a little help from their machines –– they have been making such rapid progress that they are closing in on the contract bonuses offered by the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) for opening the lanes early.

The Volvo G780B has been Randy’s second home since April 2004 when Walsh Construction purchased the grader to help in the construction of five miles of interstate highway and sound wall to be completed by September 2005.

Walsh Construction, a Chicago-based firm with 100 years of experience behind it, is ranked among America’s top 30 contractors with $2.5 billion in projects currently in progress. One of the main reasons behind its success has been the determination never to fall behind schedule –– an attitude ingrained in the work ethic of its employees.

But Walsh understands that if it is to ask its employees to work beyond the call of duty, it is imperative that the working conditions are as favorable and stress-free as possible. The Volvo motorgrader has certainly been a welcome addition to the Walsh fleet in that respect.

“When you spend that kind of time working, you expect to be tired at the end of the day,” said Stalhood. “But you shouldn’t be hurting! With the Volvo cab, everything can be adjusted to fit the operator –– the controls, the seat position and height, the armrests. The seat itself is very comfortable. The AC is great; it’s quiet in the cab –– and I love my stereo!

“In other graders I’ve had, the seat you get is more like a bench to sit on. You see guys standing up in the cab, partly so they can see what they’re doing and partly because it’s more comfortable than sitting. With the Volvo cab, you can sit and work all day. I’ve seen how some of the newer graders from other companies have changed a few things to try and catch up with Volvo in this area. But I think Volvo has really gone the extra mile to make an operator-friendly cab,” he added.

Soil conditions on the I-69 project have been a challenge from the outset. Underneath the clay soil there is limestone and when the heavy rains came in the summer, the site became especially wet, heavy and slippery.

The crew has been impressed by the ease with which the 43,000 lb. (19,504 kg) Volvo grader has coped with the tough conditions to meet the new deadlines that have been set.

“We’ve been glad to have that extra weight and power,” said site supervisor Matt Shepherd. “Especially when you get it on an open stretch, it can dig in and put that power to work.”

Stalhood and Shepherd are scoring even higher levels of productivity with the Volvo grader, thanks to a new Trimble BladePro 3D blade control system using the ATS (Advanced Tracking Sensor) total station.

The system is similar to the GPS-based blade control systems, but the BladePro 3D device features a robotic survey instrument that lets the G780B cut accurately within 0.4 in. (1 cm) of the grade specification on the first pass - an improvement of roughly 0.8in (2 cm) on the GPS system.

The benefits of the new system have been enormous, according to Stalhood.

“These jobs are quoted so tight today, the margin of error with GPS can cost a lot of stone,” he said.

In fact, an inch of difference in the amount of stone translates into an extra 100 trucks full of gravel over just a single mile of a six-lane highway.

As Stalhood was speaking, Matt reappeared with a fresh demand for the grader.

“The paving company has been asking us to lay down an extra inch of stone so their trimmer can bring it down to spec,” he explained. “But on this short section, and with all the traffic coming by the ramp, we don’t have much room to move the trimmer in. So they asked if we can have the grader do the trim!”

Some of the paving crew questioned whether the motorgrader was up to the task, but just a few minutes later their skepticism had been banished. To their surprise, the gravel bed was right on the numbers.

As the grader finished the section, the manager of the project –– J.R. Collard –– talked with Mark Jarosz of Rudd Equipment, the Volvo dealer in Fort Wayne.

Jarosz was checking in on the grader’s service schedule and takes pride in the job the G780B is doing.

“Mark and the people at Rudd take good care of us here,” Collard said. “When we started this job, we knew we would need another grader for this and some other projects coming up. Walsh has a lot of Volvo wheel loaders in its fleet, and the company likes them. Rudd had this grader available for us; they got it ready and it’s been on the job for us any time we need it since then. That’s what I like!”

For more information, www.volvoce.com or www.ruddequipment.com.

(Reprinted with permission from Volvo Construction Equipment – Spirit Magazine.) CEG