“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
“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.”
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.”