Drive around the crushing plants that make up LS Sand & Gravel near Amarillo, Texas, and the value that the company assigns the Komatsu WA500 wheel loader can be seen everywhere. That's because of the size - and nonstop activity - of its WA500 fleet, which includes nine Komatsu WA500-6s and two Komatsu WA500-3s.
"That machine is our lifeline. We couldn't function without it," said Plant Manager Robert Fauske. "There are a lot of substitutes out there, but that loader is just something that we have to have. That's all there is to it."
The WA500s are constantly on the move at the three crushing plants that make up LS Sand & Gravel's 500-acre location about 12 miles north of Vega, Texas. The company has seen significant growth since Owner Mike Smith launched it in February of 2002 on property that used to be part of LS Ranch, a cattle ranch dating back to the 1800s. He started out with one crushing plant on a 100-acre site.
As LS Sand & Gravel has expanded and grown, so has the amount of material it produces. The company today generates about 1.2 million tons of material per year comprising about 25 different sand and gravel products, mainly for highway work and concrete companies. That material is mined, crushed, washed and made into a sellable product.
Fauske said the company's fleet of WA500 loaders plays a vital role in that process. "We do a lot of digging out of the pits and a lot of stripping with those loaders," he said. "We move a large volume of material and load many trucks. Our yard loaders sometimes load up to 250 trucks a day. We also use the loaders to feed our plants, plus, we use them to haul off waste. We use them for just about everything that we do around here."
A growing list of customers is finding a use for the material those loaders help to produce. As LS Sand & Gravel was trying to establish itself as an aggregate producer, the first major demand for its product was providing the necessary material for the rehabilitation of a section of nearby Interstate 40.
"We probably had only one or two customers when the company was getting started, so our growth has been considerable," said Sales Manager Jack Waldrop. "The economy in the panhandle has been good and continues to grow. We now serve several different aspects of the industry - ready mix, building, highway, private. It's been a good time to be doing business in this area."
LS Sand & Gravel continues to produce material that is used on I-40 road work. In addition, a growing number of wind farms and dairy operations established in recent years have also used the aggregate offered by LS Sand & Gravel.
To keep up with this growing demand requires productive, reliable machinery and Fauske said LS Sand & Gravel's Komatsu WA500s have perfectly fit its needs. The company has acquired all nine WA500-6s since the fall of 2006.
"They're more operator-friendly than other loaders we've had in the past," said Fauske, who joined LS Sand & Gravel in October of 2005. "Power-wise they're better than anything out there. Plus, we liked the pricing and availability. But mainly they're a really productive and reliable loader, and all our guys love operating them.
"Another big reason I went with Komatsu was that our WA500-3s held up so well despite having different operators," Fauske continued. "If a machine has just one operator, it will usually last a lot longer because he tends to take better care of it. Our older WA500s had more than one operator but they still held up really well."
"We started with the WA500-3s and they were workhorses," added Waldrop, who has been with LS Sand & Gravel since January of 2003. "We ran them hard and they performed. When we decided to replace some of them, Robert Fauske said he believed the WA500-6 was the loader that best fit what we need to do. We did a little shopping around and compared, but based upon our previous experience with the Komatsu loaders and the fact that our operators preferred them, that's what we decided to go with. The WA500-6 has been a great all-around machine for us."
Durable, cost efficient
As much as his wheel loaders are used, Fauske estimates that when one of them is down it costs the company between $7,500 and $9,000 per day. That's where he said the durability and reliability of Komatsu equipment is so important.
"They've held up really well," he said. "Our distributor, Continental Equipment Company, has done a good job keeping us going. Plus, our Sales Representative, Chuck Thompson, always checks in on us and keeps us supplied with anything we might need. He's done a very good job taking care of us."
Waldrop hopes the demand for the products offered by LS Sand & Gravel keeps going like it has the past several years. With 45 employees, he said the company has grown considerably in its first five years and he sees opportunities for continued growth in the future.
"We're certainly pleased with what we've accomplished up to this point," Waldrop said. "There has been solid growth in the Texas panhandle and we're hopeful that it will continue. If it does, we believe we're in a good position to grow right along with it."