Recent boom in natural-gas production has been a boost for this Fort Worth crushing operation
Fort Worth Crushed Stone isn’t in the business of drilling for natural gas, but it’s still enjoying an economic boost from the north- Texas geological formation known as the Barnett Shale
The Barnett Shale is believed by some to be the largest onshore natural gas field in the United States, covering more than 500,000 acres in 17 counties west of Dallas, and is estimated to contain up to 10 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas. Recent improvements in technology have made it more feasible to fracture subterranean rock and extract gas that was previously unrecoverable. As a result, thousands of wells have dotted the Texas landscape in the last few years.
Those rigs require a rock base for their pads and the roads leading up to them, a product produced by Fort Worth Crushed Stone at nearby quarries in Weatherford and Cresson. Owner and President Fred Brown said the majority of his company’s limestone product goes to local contractors, counties and individuals. The recent increase in demand for drilling operations has translated into a surge for his business, similar to the oil production surge of the 1970s.
“In the mid-1970s, during the oil crush, many wells were drilled in this area,” recalled Brown. “That gave us a big boost at the time. Now they’re drilling all over this area again, and that’s given us a big boost too.”
Beginning a business
Brown has been around long enough to see the impact of both ventures on his business. In 1969, he had just returned from military service in Vietnam and was working for his father’s road construction business. Brown’s father, James Brown, saw there was a market for road-base material in the area and invested in a quarry operation west of Fort Worth. With his father’s experience and financial backing, Fred Brown ran the operation with a partner.
“That was kind of a scary time,” Brown admitted. “Even though my dad was financing it, we were deeply in debt for a while. It took about six or eight months before it looked like we might be a viable operation.
“My dad had been doing road work since the 1950s and had been around crushers his entire life, so he had a lot of knowledge to help get us started,” Brown added. “He pointed us in the right direction, which is what we needed at that time.”
In those early years, Brown said Fort Worth Crushed Stone quoted a large amount of work for his father’s business, Brown & Blakney. In 1975, Fort Worth Crushed Stone moved its quarry operation to a site in Weatherford and a year later opened a second quarry location in Cresson, both of which are still in operation today. Brown bought out his father’s share of the operation about eight years after going into business and has been running the company on his own since his partner passed away in 1985.
Among the many decisions he has overseen during that time has been purchasing the right equipment. Wheel loaders are an essential tool at Fort Worth Crushed Stone, whether it be for loading rock into the crushers or loading trucks with purchased material.
In December, after nearly 40 years in business, Brown made the decision to purchase his first piece of Komatsu equipment — a WA600-6 wheel loader.
“There are several reasons I decided to go with Komatsu,” Brown described. “One was machine availability. Continental Equipment Company had the machine I needed when I needed it and they offered me a good price.
“We haven’t had it very long, but I like the suspension and ride control. That really helps makes operating the machine much more comfortable. Plus, although we haven’t used it yet, the KOMTRAX equipment monitoring system is there if anything goes wrong.”
Brown said durability also plays an important role when he’s considering an equipment purchase. “I still have machines that we bought in 1978,” he said. “We’ll replace the engines and just keep them up. I want a transmission that will be dependable for a long time and I’ve heard a lot of good things about Komatsu.”
When service issues arise, Brown said he has in-house mechanics. But for more complicated, electrical issues he said he relies on the experience and knowledge of his distributor.
“One of my priorities when I bought this machine was service,” Brown explained. “What little bit we’ve had to do, Continental has been right on top of it. We needed an adjustment a week or two after we received the machine and Continental’s technicians were out here first thing the next morning.”
Proof of performance
Fort Worth Crushed Stone Operator Ronnie Carr spends many of his mornings running the WA600. He said he likes its automatic lubrication system.
“It’s less work for us to do,” he reported. “That wheel loader has worked out tremendously for us. It’s totally different than some of the other wheel loaders we’ve used here. The other ones require manual shifting, but the Komatsu has an automatic transmission. We’re getting spoiled with that very quickly.”
“It does just about everything we need it to do and does it well,” observed Foreman Aaron Decker. “It has plenty of power. It’s big and it has very good visibility, plus many other cab comforts that we’re not used to, such as mirror placements and other things. All in all, it’s a very well-thought-out piece of equipment.”
Quality work force
Brown said the employees of Fort Worth Crushed Stone, such as Carr and Decker, have played integral roles in the success of the company. After starting with six employees back in 1969, Brown’s business now has a combined work force of 22 at its two quarry locations, many of whom have had long careers with the company.
“Having good people is probably the most important factor to our success,” Brown acknowledged. “I’m not here trying to get rich; I just try to keep everybody focused on doing a good job and producing a quality product. But I couldn’t do it without very good workers, and I enjoy the people who work for me.”
How much longer Brown and his employees get to reap the economic benefits created by the Barnett Shale remains to be seen, but Fort Worth Crushed Stone is making the most of the opportunity. In a few short years, the field has evolved from a marginal petroleum resource to an economic shot in the arm.
“This drilling has been going on for three or four years, but from what I understand, it’s just getting started,” Brown said. “Right now they’re spreading out, drilling wells, seeing where they hit and going from there.”
Whatever happens, Brown’s routine after almost 40 years in business is unlikely to change anytime soon. He said he usually leaves home around 6 a.m., visits both quarry locations, and is in the office by 9 a.m.
“I enjoy being around big equipment,” he reflected. “Sometimes I think it would be nice to take some time off, but I hate to be away from it for very long. I just don’t know how to quit.”