Red, White & Smooth

Patriotism runs through the veins of Rich Carron and his family. He served his country in Vietnam, while his dad served in World War II. His father in-law was in the Marine Corp for 27 years, which included two tours in Vietnam; and two nephews are in the Air Force in special operations.

Patriotism also runs throughout Carron’s company, Valley Paving. “When we’re hiring, we absolutely look for military applications,” he says. “We’re one of 117 veteran-owned businesses in our state.”

The Minnesota Department of Transportation gives veteran-owned prime contractors up to a 6% ($60,000 maximum) preference on state-funded highway projects. “It’s wonderful that the state has a commitment to working with veterans,” says Carron.

Valley Paving is one of the largest road pavers in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. But it wasn’t always a smooth ride getting there. After returning from Vietnam in 1969, Carron spent seven years working for an asphalt paving company before deciding to start his own company. “I went broke within the first year,” he says. “I went back to my old company for two years before giving it another go.”

What made the second attempt a winner was a trip to California, where Carron observed the windrow method being utilized. “I saw the wave of the future when it came to road building — windrow elevators,” he says. “It made sense to me that using belly dumps on longer hauls equals more tons on the ground with larger units hauling 22 tons vs. 17 straight units. The cost associated with hiring tractor trailers is more expensive, however, not that far from the cost of straights.”

Winning with windrows

When using a windrow elevator, the unit is positioned directly in front of the pavers and is designed to pick up HMA placed in a windrow then transfer it to the paver hopper. This allows for virtually continuous paving without stopping.

“Windrow elevators weren’t being used much in Minnesota, and not at all within the metro area,” Carron points out. “I saw how fast they allowed roads to be built. So I started using this technology and our productivity went way up. We figured it out before others in this area. However, soon after, the rest followed. But it helped launch our business and increased our ability to tackle larger projects.”

Valley Paving operates 22 company Class 8 trucks, and supplements them with up to 80 additional owner-operators (depending upon demand) pulling belly dumps. There are many benefits when using windrow elevators, says Carron, including smoother operation at the paver; no need to push the trucks with the paver; eliminating the need to constantly remind drivers not to dump the load in front of the paver, thus shoveling the entire load into the hopper; and the ability to meet tough rideability specs and avoid penalties.

“One of the challenges of using windrow elevators is having a good dump man,” says Carron. “If you don’t have a good dump man, then forget using this system.”

Valley Paving uses the windrow method whenever possible. “This method has proven itself time and again,” says Carron. “It offers good ride incentive, good density results, good production.”

The windrow method has been a proven winner for the company. In 1994, it received the Sheldon G. Hayes Award, the highest national paving award, from the National Asphalt Paving Association for its project on Interstate 35 E from White Bear Lake to Forest Lake. To date, Valley Paving is the only Minnesota contractor on a Minnesota highway to win this award.

Short Season Requires Dependable Equipment

One of the largest projects Valley Paving completed last summer was a 13-mile repaving stretch on Highway 95. “It was about a three-month job and kept us plenty busy coupled with other projects within the metro area,” says Carron.

The road structure of Highway 95 was over 20 years old. The contract called for milling 4 in. at the centerline and maintaining a 2% cross slope for 18 ft. either way of the centerline, leaving approximately 4 in. of surface remaining to reclaim. Valley Paving then installed approximately 100,000 total tons of mix with three lifts of 6 in., a 2-in. non-wearing course of PG 58/28 and a 4-in. wear course of PG 58/34 modified.

“We were supposed to begin this job in early April,” says Carron. “The spring was horrible due to snow storms. Then, we had rain day after rain day for 40 days. It somewhat turned around, but it continued to not be a typical Minnesota summer. We were behind schedule like most other contractors in the area.”

The combination of variable weather conditions and the region’s already short working season (typically from mid-April to Thanksgiving) make having reliable equipment crucial. Carron has purchased just about all makes of pavers over the past 35 years, and service and dependability are a must when it comes to the brands he chooses. Based on crew preference and company maintenance records, Blaw-Knox (now part of Volvo) and Cedarapids (now part of BOMAG) are the preferred machines.

According to Carron, a typical paving contractor that performs heavy highway work using one paver should be looking at 250,000 to 300,000 tons per year per machine. “The tractor of any paver pulls the screed; the screed makes or breaks you,” he states. “A paver can range from $450,000 on up. To be honest, we have machines that are 20 years old that will stay side by side with the newer equipment — sometimes they’re even better.”

This type of performance has a direct impact on Valley Paving’s bottom line. “When we get contracts with governmental agencies, there are penalties attached if you can’t get the work done as stated,” says Carron. “Penalties are not cheap, which makes us demand both good people and excellent equipment.”

For airport work, for example, fines can be as high as $5,000 per half hour. “If you have a piece of equipment down, you not only lose money and pay penalties, you also may be answering to the public on the nightly news,” says Carron. “For this company, we can’t have that.

“A paver that is broken down brings all associated equipment to a halt — plants, loaded trucks, all paving equipment. It can be very costly,” he continues. “With an average price of a ton of mix today at $65 per ton, quick response, knowing what the problem is and having good mechanics on board to get it back up and running are critical.”

Giving Back to Those Who Serve

Good equipment is imperative, but good people are just as important. To that end, Carron makes it a point to hire military vets and give them the opportunity to succeed. About a dozen of Valley Paving’s 100 employees and owner-operators have served in the military.

“With vets, you gain a brotherhood relationship through respect for one another and the military experience you share,” Carron comments. “Most veterans I know who have signed on the dotted line to serve go well beyond perseverance for the good of the country. They don’t expect parades or a pat on the back. They have stepped up! That character alone proves why employers should hire vets.”

He adds, “Everyone here is very proud of our commitment, proud to show support to the retuning vets, and we encourage others to put veterans back to work.” ET