Grangaard Construction

SECOND-GENERATION WATERTOWN BRIDGE BUILDER STAYS BUSY WITH STATEWIDE PROJECTS

Apr 20, 2011

Komatsu efficient equipment adds to productivity

For the third straight year, Grangaard Construction’s work load covers every month in the calendar. That was one goal Yancey and Jeremiah Grangaard had when they founded the bridge construction company eight years ago.

“We worked for someone else for quite a while, and during the winter we’d be shut down,” said Yancey, who’s President of Watertown-based Grangaard Construction. “We found that hard to deal with. Starting out, we wanted to get established and build into a company that works year-round. It’s better for us and our employees who work hard to support their families.”

Grangaard Construction now has 25 full-time employees, including Yancey’s wife Kim, who’s Secretary/Treasurer. That’s about a five-fold increase since the brothers founded the business in 2002. During peak construction times, the company’s current employment numbers can nearly double.

Key individuals at Grangaard Construction include Project Superintendent Darrell Barse, Crane Operators Mike Smith and Daniel Barse, Foremen Dan Starzl, Mike Moldenhauer and Jeremy Moldenhauer and Equipment Operators Jerry Grangaard and Doug Conklin. These individuals represent the core of Grangaard Construction and bring well over 200 years of bridge-building experience to the company.

“There are ups and downs depending on work load, but we have a very solid core of employees who have grown with us,” said Jeremiah, Vice President of Construction. “The majority of our staff are guys in their 30s who have five or more years with Grangaard. The experience they’ve gained, as well as the experience many of our older employees bring to the table, is invaluable. It’s helped us build to this point, and bodes well for the future.”

Among the veteran bridge builders on Grangaard’s staff is the boys’ father Jerry, who owned a similar business in the Watertown area for many years. It’s where Yancey and Jeremiah cut their teeth and it gave them the background to start their own company.

“Like a lot of contractors, we grew up in the business and caught the bug to continue working construction,” recalled Yancey. “We worked for dad from the time we were about 12 or 13 until we got out of high school. I really can’t imagine us doing anything else.”

Broad range of work

Being bridge builders, 100 percent of Grangaard Construction’s work falls into the public, hard-bid sector. Grangaard does subcontract, but mostly they work as a general contractor. Recent projects highlight their range of capabilities in terms of size and scope.

Last April, Grangaard Construction started its largest project ever, a $5.8 million phase of the 69th Street extension in Sioux Falls. Grangaard’s work involved construction of a bridge over railroad tracks with approaches on each side. At its height, one approach measures nearly 30 feet above the tracks. To get there, about 40,000 square feet of concrete panels were placed as walls on either side of the two-lane road.

In between, straps were placed to tie the walls together and the entire approach was filled with 100,000 tons of rock and sand to ensure stability of the road bed. Dirt makes up the bulk of the material for building the approach on the other side.

“The first part of the project involved building aggregate piers to stabilize the area, which is basically a slough,” explained Jeremiah. “We did much of the work early on, which included placing that sand and rock. We subbed out quite a bit of earthmoving — 50,650 tons of select-fill embankment and 91,767 cubic yards of borrow dirt.”

During the same time, Grangaard Construction worked on building a new bridge and approaches on Highway 111 in Lincoln County. At $350,000 for the entire contract, it shows the other end of the spectrum of Grangaard’s resumé.

“It’s the type of job we call a filler,” Yancey noted. “It involves building a structure and approach grading on either side. There’s a lot of this type of work in South Dakota, which involves replacing a lone 60- to 70-year-old bridge in the middle of the country.”

A similar project, albeit larger, marked Grangaard’s first job. The company built a $1.2 million box culvert, subbing the grading out. Grangaard Construction does minor amounts of dirt moving, typically 4,000 yards or less, on projects such as the Highway 111 bridge, but leaves bulk earthmoving to others.

“Our specialty is bridge construction, so we leave major earthwork to subs or the general contractor if we’re a sub,” said Jeremiah. “We’ve developed good relationships with several contractors, and often work with them repeatedly. That was another goal of ours.”

Referral leads to DMI, Komatsu

A word-of-mouth referral from one of those contractors led the Grangaards to DMI for equipment purchases. The company worked with Aberdeen-based Sales Representative Darrel Serfling to purchase Komatsu machinery: a PC300HD-7 excavator, a WA380-6 wheel loader and a D31PX-22 dozer. Grangaard Construction also has an older WA300 wheel loader.

“DMI has certainly lived up to the referral we got,” acknowledged Yancey. “We’re almost exclusively working with Darrel and DMI for equipment purchase, rental and service. We do only routine service work, so we rely on DMI to handle any larger issues on our Komatsus and other brands. They’re good about answering questions over the phone to avoid a service call, but when we do need them to come out, they get to us quickly.”

The Grangaards noted that with newer Komatsu pieces, they rarely need to call DMI. “When you’re working in remote areas like we do, it’s important to have equipment you can trust. We appreciate that Komatsu delivers on that account,” said Jeremiah. “Our work often involves moving materials on creek and river beds, which are not the place to break down. The PC300HD allows us to dig deep when we need it. It also has the lifting capacity that’s necessary in bridge building, including placing riprap, which is common on our jobs. That versatility is why we got it. Next to cranes, it’s our most-used machine.”

“The D31 offers us versatility too,” added Yancey. “The 69th Street project is a good example. We had to place rock and grade around the piers, and it did that easily, even up close to the piers where a larger machine was too big. At the same time, it allowed us to grade dirt in open areas, and is perfect for grading approaches on the smaller bridge projects we do.”

Grangaard Construction placed rock on the 69th Street project with its WA380 wheel loader. “One of the greatest features is its traction,” Jeremiah pointed out. “It allows us to work in places where before we would get stuck because of wet conditions. The technology in the WA380 makes it much more efficient as well.”

Upping efficiency

The Grangaards plan to be more efficient as well; it’s another goal of theirs.

“Careful planning plays a big role in whether a business is successful or not, and that’s something we take into each project we do,” said Yancey. “But there’s always room for improvement, and we take that approach, too. We’ve built a solid reputation through our hard work and that of our employees, who we’re very proud of.”

“We’re about the size we want to stay,” added Jeremiah. “We typically have two or three projects going at once. Doing those on time and on budget is essential, and we want to continue to deliver on that.”