Productive Komatsu equipment and "the best service in town"
Bruce Oakley, Inc., headquartered in North Little Rock, Ark., is one of the U.S.’s leading bulk commodity sales and transportation companies. Oakley owns and operates six river ports (stretching from Shreveport, La., to Caruthersville, Mo.) to handle barge traffic. Each port has a rail link and warehouse storage. From its ports and warehouses, the company, which also has a fleet of almost 500 trucks, transports commodities as far as Minneapolis and Pittsburgh in the north and east, to Brownsville, Texas, and Mobile, Ala., in the south. Commodities it handles include grain, fertilizer and aggregates.
Bruce Oakley, Inc. opened its port in Louisiana in 1998. Oakley Louisiana, located on the Red River in the Port of Shreveport-Bossier, primarily handles fertilizer, aggregate and, more recently, a product called frac sand, which is used extensively in the drilling of oil and natural gas wells to help “fracture” rock formations.
“When we first started down here in Louisiana, the entire operation consisted of me and my wife, Jurita,” said Oakley Louisiana Manager Robert “Bobby” Berry, who’s given more than 30 years of dedicated service to Oakley and its customers. “We started from scratch. I even did the initial dirt work for the building. Through the years, we’ve grown steadily. Today, we typically do about 600,000 tons of barge work (unloading and loading) annually.”
Customers include farmers, contractors and drillers
Much of Oakley Louisiana’s business is with companies in east Texas, as well as northwestern Louisiana and southwestern Arkansas.
“With the fertilizer, we deal with farmers and co-ops throughout our territory,” said Berry. “We also supply local contractors with aggregate. For the most part, they just send their trucks over to pick up product. And recently, the frac sand has been in heavy demand due to all the natural gas drilling around here.”
Despite a large increase in material handled, Oakley Louisiana is able to operate efficiently with a relatively small work force of about seven people.
“All of our guys are good hands,” acknowledged Berry. “They all know how to operate and do whatever else needs to be done around here. I used to do all the excavator work myself, but recently turned most of that over to David Thompson. David’s been here more than 10 years and was the first guy I hired. He’s excellent, as are the other men.”
Productive Komatsu equipment
One of the keys to a successful port, warehouse and transportation operation is top-quality mobile equipment that’s productive, reliable and longlasting. Oakley Louisiana turns primarily to Komatsu equipment from Head & Engquist Equipment Services in Shreveport.
The company has a PC750 hydraulic excavator to unload and load barges, a WA320 wheel loader to handle rock and fertilizer and a new WA250-6 wheel loader that handles frac sand exclusively.
“That was a requirement from Mississippi Sand, the company that supplies our frac sand,” said Berry. “They want their product to be totally free of contamination from fertilizer. They won’t allow the same bucket that handles fertilizer to also handle their frac sand, so we bought the WA250 specifically for that purpose. When the machine’s not working with the frac sand, it sits.”
Berry says the Komatsu units have worked well.
“The wheel loaders are good machines and the PC750 has been excellent. I ran it myself for most of our existence. For such a big machine, it’s very responsive and downtime has been minimal.”
H&E Service: “A night-and-day difference”
As good as the equipment’s been, Berry says the support Oakley Louisiana gets from H&E is what he’s most pleased about.
“Downtime is a killer in this business because it eats your profits right off the top. When a barge comes in here, they want a quick turnaround. If we’re not unloading, it costs us big time. Standby time for a barge is now $300 an hour. So the lost revenue mounts up quickly when a machine is down.
“I’ve tried other equipment from other dealers in town and frankly, it was kind of a horror story. They get to you when they feel like it. It may be six hours before they show up, and then they may have to order parts. Their attitude seems to be, ‘well, that’s the way it is.’ To me, it was apparent, they just didn’t care.”
Berry says his experience with H&E is totally different. “They are the only equipment dealer in town that will back you up. When I have a breakdown, whether it’s during the week or on the weekend, I call my H&E Product Support Rep Mike Vandergriff, Branch Manager Joel Talley or Sales Rep Bo Moseley and they make things happen. They get a technician out here, often within the hour. And if they can’t fix it quickly, they generally find me a replacement machine to use. H&E just gets it. They understand what we’re going through and try to help us. It’s a night-and-day difference from everybody else.”
In addition to repairs, Oakley Louisiana has H&E do all the services on the PC750.
“That’s such a crucial machine for us, we can’t afford for it to be down,” said Berry. “H&E has done all the maintenance on it since we got it and they do a great job. Another plus of having them do the service intervals is that they do an inspection at the same time. It’s another set of eyes on my machine. They can see problems as they develop and take care of them before they become something major.
“As service providers, the staff at H&E has proven themselves to me many times over,” continued Berry. “In my experience, that’s where they really shine compared to other dealers.”
Optimistic about the future
Like many companies, Berry said business was down last year at Oakley Louisiana for the first time in memory, but he says things are picking up.
“I’d say there are signs that the worst is behind us. Our level of activity has improved this year. The addition of the frac sand has really helped. There’s so much drilling — that’s a product that’s really been in demand.
“Through the years, we’ve handled many different dry bulk materials,” he noted. “In addition to the aggregate, fertilizer and frac sand, we’ve loaded meat and bone meal for dog food and sodium sulfate for paper mills. Basically, whatever anybody wants to bring into this area, we can hold it for them and help them distribute it in an efficient, cost-effective manner. As long as we’re able to continue to do that, we’re optimistic about what lies ahead for Bruce Oakley, Inc., and Oakley of Louisiana.”