Customers in Action

Mechanical Systems, Inc.

THE UTILITY DIVISION OF THIS CHEYENNE FIRM SPECIALIZES IN “UNIQUE” PIPE JOBS

January 12, 2015

“Komatsu PC228 outperforms the other brand.”

In 1984, Bob Strasheim, Bob Hemenover and Jim Portz started a commercial plumbing and heating company, Mechanical Systems, Inc., (MSI) in Cheyenne, Wyo. Early in 1985, Keith Zabka joined them, bringing with him the ability to do exterior site utilities such as sewer, water, gas, pump stations and lift stations. Although Hemenover and Portz have sold their portions of the business, both still work for MSI when it fits their schedules. Meanwhile Strasheim, who serves as President of MSI, and Zabka, who serves as VP, recently celebrated the company’s 30th year in business.

“Many partnerships don’t last this long, so we think it’s a pretty good accomplishment,” said Zabka. “We’ve all remained friends and continue to have a great working relationship. We’re proud of the fact that we’re still in business together and still like each other.”

He’s also proud of the growth that’s occurred at the company during the past three decades.

“When we started, it was just the four of us – we bid the work, managed the work and did the work. Today, we have a payroll of 85 people. I don’t think any of us had any idea that we would be this big. We just went to work every day, did the best job we could and added people as we needed them. Throughout the years, we’ve been able to grow quite a bit.”

MSI works primarily in Wyoming and will go as far as Rawlins to the west and Casper to the north, but most of its work is centered in Cheyenne and Laramie. Zabka estimates that about 60 percent of the company’s business is on the mechanical plumbing and heating side with about 40 percent coming from utility work. Sometimes both sides work together on the same job, but not always.

“I would say our jobs on the utility side tend to be somewhat unique rather than run-of-the-mill municipal sewer and water projects,” said Zabka. “We tend to shine on jobs that require some special planning and/or coordination with other contractors.”

Examples of projects where MSI excels were a job tying SWAN Ranch (an industrial park near Cheyenne) into the city water supply, and one installing “purple pipe” throughout Cheyenne so that sewer water could be treated and re-used for irrigation purposes.

“Currently, we’re doing a large job at the University of Wyoming for a new STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) building,” said Zabka. “We’re putting in pipe to supply steam for the building. We excel at this type of job because it requires welders from our mechanical side, as well as a pipe crew from our utility side. It’s pre-engineered pipe with 10-inch steel and 16-inch casing. It’s a unique job that requires both of our divisions to work hand-in-hand.”

MSI has many long-term employees including Project Manager/Estimator Paul Steed and Labor Superintendent Craig Goble. “Because of the type of specialty projects we do, we need talented and experienced people, and thankfully, we have many people who fit that description,” said Zabka.

Komatsu excavator impresses

Last year, MSI bought its first Komatsu excavator, a tight-tail-swing PC228.

“Our salesman John Custer brought it out for us to demo,” said Zabka. “I ran the machine, and we had many of our operators run it also. We were all impressed with it, so we bought it. We’ve had it for more than a year, and we’re still impressed.

“Number one, we’re impressed with its reliability. We use it every day, and we’ve had virtually no problems with it. Number two, it’s a very fuel-efficient excavator. And number three, which may actually be number one, it has great power. It digs well and lifts well. Recently we used it with the bucket still on to pick up a 14,000-pound lid, and it did it with ease. Head-to-head, against a comparable, competitive model we have, the Komatsu PC228 outperforms the other brand.”

Future growth

Regarding the future, Zabka says he doesn’t anticipate much more growth for MSI, but adds, “You never know.

“We never thought we’d be this big. I guess we could decide to add other services, such as earthwork, but we don’t have any plans to do that at the present time. I think our main concern is to keep busy with our current people at our present level and give our clients the best job we can every time. If that requires us to grow, that’s what we’ll do.”