Everyone is familiar with the St. Louis Gateway Arch. This world-renowned landmark opened to the public in 1965, and for the last 50 years, has drawn millions of visitors to the 82-acre site on the banks of the Mississippi river. But those many decades of time and millions of trampling feet have taken their toll on the property. In addition, the development was completed prior to the passing of ADA compatibility guidelines, making parts of the memorial grounds inaccessible to some guests.
In 2015, the CityArchRiver project was launched to implement a comprehensive renovation to the Arch grounds. New biking and running trails, handicap accessible pathways, an outdoor concert venue with a complete overhaul of all the green space are being undertaken. Not surprisingly, a project of this nature will require an enormous amount of dirt: 130,000 yards to be precise. And not just any dirt — eight precision blends have been specified for the project. After all the quotes and bidding, Oldcastle Lawn & Garden Midwest won the two-year contract to supply all the new soil.
Gary Phillips is the operations manager that oversees this, and five other Oldcastle plants throughout the Midwest. His team assembled the winning bid for the CityArchRiver project, and for the last year has been working to fulfill the rigorous demands set forth by the contract. “The contract is pretty rigorous,” Gary admits. “All the blends need to go through a 1/2-inch screen and must be screened within no more than a week before delivery. Each blend is very precisely specified, and every 1,000 yards a sample is collected for testing. When the sun shines, we can often be asked to supply the daily maximum of 1,600 yards, so there is always a lot of activity surrounding this effort.”
Prior to the commencement of the contract in March 2015, Gary’s team explored all their equipment options to ensure they had the right machinery on site to handle the tasks. Screens were one of the highest priorities. “We needed a screen that was highly flexible, and we needed a screen that was extremely reliable. There is very little margin for error on this project so we didn’t want to waste time with changeovers and equipment failure.” The screen they ultimately chose ended up being two screens, both of which are Doppstadt SM Series trommels.
“We looked at all the different options there, and there were some possibilities that could have offered higher rates of production, but having two machines gives us even greater reliability and uptime,” Gary continues. “Besides, a larger screener would have required us to also have a high-tip bucket. With the units, we can feed them with our standard loaders.” Another benefit was the discharge method of the trommel. “A big screen would have a stacking conveyor that would have made too large a pile. We need this soil to be piled in windrows no more than eight feet high, so we actually built dollies for each machine that allows us to push them around and make windrows as we screen.”
The two models Oldcastle purchased were an SM 720, which is a standard large-sized trommel that delivers a very high level of production; and the larger SM 726, which is the biggest trommel screen in the Doppstadt line. All Doppstadt SM trommel screens are incredibly fuel efficient and have a quick-change horizontal screening drum that allows sizing changes to be performed in less than 15 minutes. But the biggest advantage that Gary appreciates on the Doppstadt trommels is the ability to have full control over the belt speed and drum rotation.
“Depending on the blend we’re making, we can range from 80-115 yards per hour through our trommels, per machine,” he details. “Running 8-10 hour days of production between each machine we’re able to hit the 1,600-yard daily maximum when they ask us for it. Not dealing with any major downtime issues on these machines has been crucial since we’re running on such a thin edge.”
Having two trommels dedicated to the project has also been helpful in dealing with the wetter-than-usual weather. “Last spring we broke a record with 60-some inches of rain for the year. Our contract specifically states that we cannot deliver soils with a moisture content greater than 19 percent, so having the extra capacity has made a real difference in our ability to keep up, even when it’s wet.”
The CityArchRiver contract is certainly a big opportunity for this location, but it is hardly the only activity happening there. With a 54-acre site, Gary estimates that about 4 acres are being employed for this particular project. The rest of that acreage is used for their retail soil, aggregate and mulch blending and bagging operation, which averages nearly eight million bags per year — an enormous volume by most standards. “We do other commodity soils and mulches, but all that production is separate from this. We use our trommels almost exclusively for the CityArchRiver work unless we get an occasional oddball mix request that a trommel would be best for.”
Originally, the plan was to employ these two Doppstadt screens for the roughly two-year life of the contract, then move these machines elsewhere. But the area demand for specialty blended soil continues to grow. Gary’s team has already secured one new contract and are pursuing several other large ones that will commence at the conclusion of the CityArchRiver production, so the trommels are likely to continue in production at this site for the foreseeable future.
And that is precisely what draws Gary to this industry. “The one thing that is certain is that nothing is ever going to stay the same,” he shares. “Every day is a new challenge: the weather, the equipment, the methods, the market, the sophistication of our customers. When I first started, we were putting mulch in a bag with a pitchfork, and now we’re cranking out eight million bags a year. We used to simply deliver ‘topsoil’ to a site, and now we’re creating highly specialized blended amendments. It never ceases to be exciting.”
He emphasizes the challenges the industry provides as well. “We do 80 percent of business in a 4-5 month window, but it takes all year to prepare for that. It’s very challenging and personally, I enjoy that, taking on challenges.” Gary describes this current CityArchRiver as another good example. “When this arch project came up, this was something we had never really done before, but I pushed our team that we could do this and out of the three bidders who responded, we won. We’re doing a great job and now this is opening up still other new avenues for us.”