Fleming Cats

LLOYD FLEMING’S TRADE TURNS INTO NEARLY 50 YEARS OF MOVING DIRT IN ALBERTA

Jan 11, 2010

Komatsu equipment helps build a reputation for quality work

When Lloyd Fleming founded Fleming Cats in 1962, he literally traded wheels for tracks.

“I ran equipment for another contractor in Alberta, and decided that I needed to do something else, to start my own business,” Fleming recalled. “So I took the only real asset I had, a 1960 Pontiac convertible, and traded it in for a crawler tractor in the fall of 1961. That’s how I started Fleming Construction, which I later changed to Fleming Cats. My first job wasn’t until the spring of 1962, so technically that’s when the business started. Just that dozer and I were the business.”

Things did not go well that first spring. Wet weather brought tough conditions that forced Fleming to shut down the clearing and land-improvement jobs he was supposed to do for farmers in the Bonneville area, where he started the company. Instead, he took on provincial government projects, building roads alongside a government crew.

That started Fleming down the road to success. At the end of July in 1962, he hitched a ride to Edmonton with a trucking company and looked up his aunt. She drove him to a local equipment yard where he bought a scraper to go along with his dozer. Throughout the rest of the 1960s, Fleming kept building the company through various jobs that included road and highway work in Alberta.

“Things really took off and I was able to add personnel and equipment to meet a greater demand,” said Fleming, who’s business is located in Lac La Biche, Alberta. “I just kept plugging along with a controlled growth approach. When I first started, it didn’t look like I was going to make it, but looking back now, it seems trading off that car for a dozer was a good move.”

Working the oil patch

In the 1970s, Fleming made another good move as he began working with companies in the Alberta oil patch, where Fleming Cats still does the bulk of its work. Fleming Cats began building access roads to and levelling off well sites, as well as doing the necessary work for construction of pipeline right-of-ways, including timber clearing, logging and delimbing in forested areas. His employee list numbered as high as 150, with crews working multiple sites at once.

“Things were really booming during that time, and we added a fleet of oil-field moving trucks and a pipe yard,” said Fleming. “Things took a turn in the economy in the 1980s, and we had to downsize and back off a little on the work we were doing. It was tough, but we made it through and came out stronger for it. When things picked back up in the ’90s, we were ready to hit it hard again.”

Fleming Cats has continued to hit it hard throughout the past two decades as Fleming has grown the business back to one that employs about 100 people during peak construction season and does multiple projects each year for numerous repeat customers.

“I believe we’ve developed a good name in the industry because we work hard and give an honest day’s work,” said Bookkeeper Duane Koerner, who’s been with Fleming Cats for more than 37 years. “Our customers are looking for a contractor that is fast, fair and honest, and we’ve brought that to the table for a long time. The technology of our business has changed dramatically over the years, but the dedication to quality work has always remained.”

Fast may be an understatement for Fleming Cats, which is known for doing quality work in a short amount of time. An example is a project that involved clearing 52 kilometres of pipeline right-of-way in less than two weeks. Fleming put all the company’s resources behind the project in an effort to ensure the time line was met as Fleming Cats cleared, logged, delimbed and skidded the timber.

“That’s probably an extreme example of what we can do, but it illustrates our commitment to our customers,” said Superintendent Leo LeMay. “We don’t mess around on a project. When someone hires us they expect us to work well ahead of them as they’re preparing to set up production. The old adage for us is, ‘If you can see them (customers) behind you, you’re not going fast enough.’ ”

Referrals lead to Komatsu purchases

Helping Fleming Cats keep customers out of the rearview mirror is a fleet of equipment that includes Komatsu dozers (D155), articulated haul trucks (HM300 and HM350) and excavators (PC300LC-8, PC400LC-8, PC308USLC-3 and PC270LC-8). Fleming has a longstanding relationship with SMS Equipment Territory Manager Cliff Chamberlin and works with him to rent and purchase equipment.

“Building a reputation for quality work goes a long way in being successful in this business, and we’ve done that,” noted Fleming. “Komatsu has done that as well. In fact, our initial trial of Komatsu equipment came directly from referrals that other contractors gave us. They’re happy with the Komatsu equipment they use, so we rented an excavator on a trial basis. We’ve never been disappointed with our choice.

“I believe Komatsu makes some of the best excavators on the market in terms of power and production,” he added. “They’re fast and easy to operate, so we get more done in less time. We’ve paired the PC400s with the haul trucks, and that’s made a good combination, as we’re able to load in four passes. When moving mass amounts of dirt, that really pays off in terms of time and per-yard cost.”

Similar to Fleming Cats’ excavators, its dozer purchases were the result of renting a machine first. “We tried a D61, and I was quite impressed with the power and visibility,” said Fleming. “When we needed a bigger machine, the D155s were a good choice because they offered the same features. Our operators can push a good-size load and get a good look at where they’re placing it. That means less guessing and wasted movement.

“They are very powerful for ripping as well. We used them all last winter to rip 24 hours a day on a project and didn’t have a bit of trouble. We’re very happy with them.”

Fleming is also happy with the service he’s received from Chamberlin and SMS Equipment’s Edmonton branch. “Any good relationship is built on honesty and trust, and SMS has done a good job of finding us equipment and making sure we’re taken care of if we need anything.”

Not ready for retirement

Though he’s been in business nearly 50 years, Fleming is not ready to trade in his tracks yet.

“I still tremendously enjoy what I do; there’s variety in it every day. I’ve tried to retire, but it doesn’t seem to work for me. There’s still a lot of work to do, with the oil industry booming right now. It would take something dramatic happening for me to sell out in the near future. We’ll have to see what happens.”