When boulders continued to bust up its barges, an Ohio sand and gravel operator turned to a custom solution to keep its water transportation moving smoothly.
By Carl Emigh
For more than 80 years, Oscar Brugmann Sand & Gravel, Inc., located in Mantua, Ohio, near Akron and Cleveland, has been a thriving family business. “We’ve always been a family-owned and operated company,” says President Alan Brugmann. “The company was founded in 1929 by my grandparents, Oscar and Sally Brugmann.” Their children, including Roy Brugmann, Joan Martin, and Olga Van Auken — along with her husband Don — comprised the second generation of owners and operators. Third generation owners include Alan, his brother Todd, and two cousins, Jeff and Tom Van Auken. Brugmann serves as president while his brother and cousins serve as vice presidents, and the four form the current management team.
“Nobody works as hard as the owners to please the customers and provide them with the products and service they want. Our livelihood and good name are on the line with every transaction,” Brugmann says. “If any of our customers have a problem, we always take care of it. We take great pride in the fact that we have so many long-term customers who give us repeat business year after year after year. We aren’t always the cheapest, but we give our customers the kind of quality and value that they want and need in this highly competitive business world.”
The company produces 40 different products. These include everything from concrete and asphalt sand to sand for horserace tracks and golf greens, as well as grit for icy winter roads. Large rocks and boulders are sold mainly as decorative products, but that oversized rock can cause headaches during dredging.
Meeting the materials challenge
To provide the right mix of materials for its customers, the company operates two wash plants, two floating clamshell dredges, and produces about 600,000 tons of material in an average year. Extracted sand and gravel includes rocks and boulders too large for the water-borne and connecting land-based conveyor system. Rocks more than 8 inches in diameter are separated out in the dredge-vessel’s hopper and deposited down a steep 20-foot chute into a barge moored alongside each floating dredge.
“Years ago, when we first started using clamshell dredges, we bought some metal barges with wooden sides because they were relatively inexpensive and easy to build,” Brugmann says. “But we soon learned that was a mistake. The rocks — some of them larger than 36 inches in diameter and weighing up to 5,000 pounds — made short work of the wooden sides.” Suddenly, an inexpensive capital investment yielded significant operating expenses, and the company turned to all-steel barges from various manufacturers as it sought a solution to the heavy wear of its oversize material.
“Even then, the big rocks were battering the barge sides and bottom so much that we were constantly having to repair them,” Brugmann says. The result was considerable expense in manpower, repair materials, and lost production time. “We absolutely needed a custom-built rock barge that could take a real beating and have a long, trouble-free service life.”
The challenge was finding a barge maker who would design a unit to fit the company’s exacting requirements. Brugmann says that the company considered the low maintenance operation of its Grasan wash plants and custom engineering abilities and approached the manufacturer to see if it would design and build a custom unit.
“We talked to Grasan Vice President Ed Eilenfeld, and he said — somewhat to our surprise — that they could and would do it, even though they had never built a barge before,” Brugmann says. The operator and manufacturer’s engineering staff worked out the design options, and the equipment was ordered.
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