A MIX OF OLD CRUSHERS AND NEW KOMATSUS
Depending on the source, Batesville, Ark., is either the first- or second-oldest municipality in the Natural State, dating back to 1808. Located approximately 80 miles from Little Rock, it sits in the north central part Arkansas. Thousands of years ago, the area was under water – part of a vast sea that eventually retreated and dried up.
“We are mining out of a typical coral reef that was left behind and is a huge deposit of pure limestone that runs across northern Arkansas,” explained Midwest Lime President and General Manager Mike Low. “Our town is right on the edge of what’s known as The Delta, and from here south to the Gulf of Mexico, limestone is virtually non-existent, which is beneficial for us.”
Midwest Lime Company has enjoyed the advantages of its location for more than five decades. In 1964, Henry Barkhausen, a Chicago businessman, considered starting a quicklime operation to compete with the only one in Arkansas. After extensive research, he decided against it. However, the market surveys found there was quite a demand for agricultural limestone, so Barkhausen committed his resources to that and opened Midwest Lime Company’s quarry in 1965.
“I came on board about six months after the business started, and my job was to weigh and load trucks,” recalled Mike. “Henry sold me a bit of stock in 1970, and 10 years later, I put together a group to buy him out. He was a great businessman, friend, mentor and a real gentleman to work for.”
At the time Mike joined the firm, he was one of six people on staff. Today, he is the majority owner, and the business has nearly 30 team members, some of whom have worked at the quarry for 30-plus years. Other current and former owners are Vice President Barry Ferrell and Office Manager Eric Low, as well as Bobbie, Alyson and Kanisha Low and the late Gary Riley. Key personnel include Plant Maintenance and Equipment Superintendent Brad Fulbright and Superintendent Gary “Corky” Ferrell, both of whom are stockholders.
“We have an excellent group that deserves a great deal of credit for our success,” said Mike. “Four people, each with 40-plus years at the company, recently retired and that dropped our average years of service to around 20. I think those numbers say a lot about us as a company, how we treat each other and the value we place on employees.”
From a shirt pocket to a trainload
Midwest Lime Company produces approximately a dozen products, ranging in size from nearly dust to riprap. Its list still includes agri-limestone used to correct the pH levels in fields and acid-neutralizing limestone, fertilizer filler, abrasives for icing conditions and railroad ballast. Production has remained fairly steady for more than 50 years, and throughout that time, it has sold more than 20 million tons of material.
“Our biggest sellers are constructionrelated aggregates, which are used in concrete and asphalt mixes as well as for road base,” shared Mike. “We have a standard line of materials and also make specialty items upon request. For a relatively small operation, we have a diverse line of products. When the market goes down for one, another typically picks up.”
In the late 1960s, Barkhausen experimented with shipping ag lime by rail from a spot near the quarry. “It worked well, but we also had to get it to the rail location, so Henry decided we needed a spur of our own,” said Mike. “We built one nearly a mile long from the quarry to the railroad. Today, about the only thing we send by rail is ballast and riprap for the railroad company.”
In the past, Midwest Lime Company hauled material as well, but today, private individuals or companies come to the quarry to pick it up. Annual volume is close to a half-million tons.
“We like to say that Midwest Lime sells any amount, from a shirt-pocket full to a trainload,” quipped Mike. “The biggest single order was for the Highway 167 project, northeast of our plant, which was just completed. It took more than 300,000 tons of our crushed stone. That’s roughly the extent of our territory for construction- related materials, but ag lime products go throughout the state.”
A mix of old crushers and new Komatsus
Midwest Lime Company still runs some of its original crushing equipment. “We are old-fashioned in the sense that we have people capable of doing just about anything, including rebuilding machinery,” said Mike. “We have our own electricians and welders on staff, who can refurbish items and fabricate things when necessary.”
On the flip side, the machines that break, load and haul materials are all relatively new. Working with H&E Equipment Services’ Little Rock branch, Midwest Lime Company purchased its first Komatsu product, Komatsu WA470-8 wheel loader, a little more than a year ago. It subsequently added three Komatsu HM300 articulated haul trucks and a Komatsu PC210LC-11 excavator equipped with an Okada hammer to fracture large rocks.
“The WA470 fits our operations and our clientele very well,” stated Brad Fulbright, Plant Maintenance and Equipment Superintendent. “Many customers have high-sided trucks, so we wanted a loader with a high-lift arrangement. With a five-and-half-yard bucket, it loads fairly quickly. It also has good breakout force when digging into piles.”
Midwest Lime initially rented the HM300s and tested them in different parts of the quarry before buying. The company utilizes the 30-ton trucks to haul raw limestone from the quarry face to the primary crusher, as well as from another plant to the stockpile areas.
“The climb from the face to the crusher is quite steep, and they handle it with ease,” noted Brad. “The HM300s are easily outperforming the 35-ton trucks they replaced, while carrying just as much material.”
All of Midwest Lime Company’s Komatsu machinery is Tier 4, so H&E Equipment Services performs complimentary scheduled maintenance for the first 2,000 hours or three years under the Komatsu CARE program. “H&E’s service played a big role in our decision-making process and why we ultimately chose Komatsu equipment,” said Mike. “They are very attentive to our needs, and I have only positive things to say about H&E from all aspects – parts, service and sales.”
Drilling down to success
Midwest Lime Company’s quarry encompasses nearly 400 acres, but it only takes material from approximately a fifth of that area. Throughout the years, operations have largely gone vertical. Currently, the bottom of the pit is nearly 300 feet down.
“We are in a good, deep deposit that’s free of shale and deleterious materials,” Mike emphasized. “Somebody will still be here processing materials 100 years from now, if they want to be.”
In the meantime, the company will continue to focus on what it has always done best, according to Mike.
“We have been involved in some large projects through the years, but those tend to be few and far between,” commented Mike. “Batesville is quite a distance from interstates, so the mega jobs aren’t close enough for us to supply materials to. In addition to an outstanding staff, our success has largely come from providing quality products and service to the immediate area. That will continue to be our top priority.”