Isolated Job Conditions Demand Ultimate In Pump Reliability
There are no equipment dealers on Madeline Island, located 2.5 miles off the northern coast of Wisconsin in Lake Superior. At 14 miles long by three miles wide the island of 200 year round inhabitants had no concrete pumping service until Jim Dobson, owner of Dobson’s Elk River Construction, decided to do something about it.
“Scheduling was difficult because if the rental pump missed the ferry, then the whole job was done for the day,” Dobson explains. He describes most of the concrete work as “challenging pours” because of the lack of roads and inaccessible building sites. “So a pump is a real necessity.” The economics of ferrying a pump and the fact that the boat needed two days notice to accept a large vehicle added to the contractor’s desire to put a full-time pump on the island.
The population of the Island swells ten fold in the summer, which explains the steady development of high end second homes. Dobson specializes in poured walls and flatwork. His headquarters in Phillips, Wisconsin was the hub of his business activity until recently when home building slowed down. His business is now focused on the island. Dobson built a home on the island in 2000 as a retirement investment and has found it to be a blessing in disguise housing his workers. Hotel rooms are in limited supply during the busy summer tourist season.
“Last year I decided I was going to make my life easier and buy my own pump,” Dobson says. Even though his business enjoys the majority of the concrete work on Madeline Island, the company’s yearly volumes are modest. “I decided we should purchase a trailer pump that could handle the mixes. “My son Jacob was a national caliber wrestler in high school, so between him and his friends, I knew where there were a few strong backs to drag the hose in the summer.”
A trip to the World of Concrete 2007 gave Dobson the opportunity to see and talk to a variety of concrete pump manufacturers. “Because of our isolation I knew reliability would be of utmost importance, along with prompt parts and service, if I needed some help.” Elk River took delivery of a Schwing P-305 in May. The 30 yard per hour unit has the ability to pump up to 800-feet horizontally and 200-feet vertically which is important on remote housing projects.
The pump is currently working on a large summer home whose footings consumed more than 35 yards of concrete. Dobson is a proponent of EZ Forms, an aluminum form system for footings that he also discovered at the World of Concrete. They are fully adjustable for height and length. The home has 16-inch walls with rebar 18-inches on center. One of the many amenities is an indoor pool. “The owner flew me to a home on the mainland that had a pool just like the one he wants, “ according to Dobson, “The pool has a 12-foot waterfall feeding it and a treadmill in the bottom.”
Ready-mix supply on the island is courtesy of Nelson Ready-Mix. “You get what you get up here. Aggregate grading is not too refined at the plant so you can get some harsh mixtures delivered and there are no additives but the pump handles it all,” Dobson notes. The plant has only three trucks that can deliver a total of 27 yards per trip. The crew primes the pump with Slick Pak mixed in a five gallon pail because ready-mixed grout loads would cut into concrete delivery. Dobson considers the optional agitator on the pump a wise investment to keep the mix from separating and to help feed the twin five-inch material cylinders of the hydraulic pump, “Plus the grate over the hopper catches the really big stuff.”
Dobson also invested in the optional wireless radio remote that provides on/off control for the pump. It allows him to position himself strategically between the pump and the pour site to control the flow of concrete. The controller also has an emergency stop if needed.
On the current project the crew is pumping through 170-feet of system comprised of 20-feet of 3-inch hardpipe and the rest three-inch flex hose. “The guys really like the wall hook which lets them more precisely place the hose without having to bear the entire weight.” The record pumping volume for the Elk River Crew in one day is 67 yards.
“The concrete pump has made the job easier, “Dobson reflects, “Everything is word of mouth on an island so I don’t have to advertise. I have also pumped for other contractors on the mainland. Having a pump means we just pump more. Where we would consider truck dumping before, we just naturally choose to pump. There is less site preparation and no need to remove trees for access roads. And it helps to have a good relationship with Arnie Nelson who owns and operates the ready-mix plant. There’s never been a day that I have regretted buying that pump.”
Owner/Developer: Private Residence
General Contractor: Paul’s Marine & Mechanical, Madeline Island
Subcontractor: Dobson’s Elk River Construction, Phillips, Wisconsin
Equipment: Schwing P-305 trailer-mounted concrete pump