...is really about how many rigs we can put on a job, how many crane barges we can put under them and how many deck barges we have to support them,” he says. “It is not a monetary thing to me.”

Effective equipment management also is about managing people, he adds, and that nitty-gritty detail work falls to Thad Pirtle, the firm’s vice president of equipment. He came to Traylor in 1983, interestingly, to assemble one of those old model 9310 American crawler cranes like the one Chris helped fix. “I was working out of the union hall in Terre Haute,” Pirtle says. “I came out for a one-day job; been with the company ever since.”

Pirtle’s Plan

Production machines are core to Traylor’s business. Cranes are one example: The company owns about 100 cranes, from 450-ton derricks all the way down to 80-ton crawler rigs, as well as a large spread of about 350 truckable barges to move them around the coasts and upriver. Some of these machines are famous: Just splashed down out of dry dock on the West Coast is a Clyde Super 28 “whirley” crane—a 130-ton derrick mounted on a barge—called the “William F” after Traylor’s founder. Bought from Kajima Corp. in 1999, Pirtle says it was formerly the “Guy F. Atkinson,” after the historic contractor that folded in 1997 and is now a unit of Clark Construction Group.

Despite today’s recession, Traylor’s business is strong in part because it seeks specialized work, not “Wal-Mart” volumes, Vorster says. Among other work, it is a partner on major flood-control projects under way, including the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal rebuild in New Orleans with Massman Construction Co. and Weeks Marine. All are in charge of delivering gear to the $695-million storm-surge protection project for the owner, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and construction manager, Shaw Group. Between the three firms, orchestrating the cranes, tugboats, pontoons and other heavy gear in a hurricane-prone region has been a difficult task.

As the project progresses, a surge of reinforcements is headed to the front line. Traylor’s cranes are among the troops, including the 9310 American cranes that Chris Traylor and Pirtle worked on in the 1980s. Some of them just off the five-year, $136-million Galveston Causeway rebuild are in the Evansville shop, about to be deployed to New Orleans. Last month, Pirtle gave ENR an exclusive tour of Traylor’s equipment facility, offering a rare, behind-the-scenes glimpse of how one heavy construction firm is upgrading and remanufacturing to tackle the nation’s next round of mega-projects.

When we joined Pirtle on the tour, three, 30-year-old American cranes were in the shop and one faded, Manitowoc 3900 crane of similar vintage was disassembled in the yard (see slide-9). They had returned from jobs that punished them, so Traylor had taken them apart, one bolt at a time, to make repairs and retrofits.

One American crane was stripped down to the bare metal. One was looking sharp in new paint, all ready for action with several upgrades (see slide-2 to slide-8). A third was fitted with a wider, new cab and was about to receive a Cummins diesel that meets modern emissions standards. Upgrading the engines are important, says Pirtle: “We upgrade it to a ‘Tier 3’ so it can be used anywhere in the U. S. The other reason is longevity. We want the first life in this crane to be 20,000 hours. Tier 3 lends itself well to both of these things.”

By contrast, unregulated engines typically last about 8,000 hours and cannot be used in some regions with air-quality concerns. A Tier-3 off-road diesel is an Environmental Protection Agency designation meaning it was made after 2006 with proper emissions controls. Cleaner engines will phase in through 2014.

These new engines save fuel and stretch out oil drains. A decade ago, Traylor was lucky to get 100 hours out of the engine before an oil change. Now, it averages 500 hours. Soon, Pirtle hopes to double that to 1,000 hours. “If you change the oil every 250 hours, and you extend the interval to 500 hours, you have just cut your maintenance costs in half,” Pirtle explains. With hydraulic oil tanks on cranes exceeding 100 gallons—in addition to the engine oil—it pays to implement periodic oil-sampling to extend intervals, Pirtle advises. Lab results typically are available on the Web in 24 hours.

Another upgrade is an “Auto Lube” system made by St. Louis-based Lincoln Industrial Corp. Traylor mounts them on the upper and lower portions of the crane. It uses a five-gallon reservoir and circuit of steel tubing to squirt a dollop of grease into the bearings, bushings and gears of the machine at predetermined intervals. As cranes have...