Brooke Wisdom

May 7, 2011

Smooth Operator

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.

A heavy-duty, all-steel barge with an outboard motor-powered pusher launch is moored alongside a clamshell dredge to accept oversize rocks down the chute from the hopper. A higher outside wall on the barge keeps rocks from overshooting.

“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.

Left to right: A third generation of management includes (left to right) Vice President Todd Brugmann, President Alan Brugmann, Vice President Jeff Van Auken, and Vice President Tom Van Auken.

“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 open ends of the barge allow unloading with an excavator.

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.

“They built the barge in a surprisingly short time, trucked it to our site, put it in the water, and guess what — it didn’t sink,” Brugmann says with a chuckle. “What’s more, it’s exactly what we need. Barge problem solved!”

Brugmann owns and operates two wash plants.

The barge has now been in use for the better part of a year and has shown no signs of damage. “When the barge we’ve been using with our other dredge needs to be replaced, we know what to do about it,” Brugmann says.

The all-steel barge measures 35 feet long, 18 feet wide, 8 feet, 4 inches high, and weighs about 77,000 pounds. It has a load capacity of about 53,000 pounds. The deck is constructed of heavily reinforced 1-inch thick plate. When full, the barge is pushed ashore with a flat-nosed, outboard-motor-powered launch. The open-ended design facilitates easy unloading with an excavator, and the barge design is adaptable to other sizes.

Brugmann’s two clamshell dredges include a 7-yard, 250-ton-per-hour luffing jib type and a 10-yard, 350-ton-per-hour gantry type, which is used with the all-steel barge. The company operates two wash plants, as well as a 5- x 10-foot screen and screen tower with 30-ton hopper and belt feeder; a screen feed conveyor and 20-inch x 80-foot wash screen conveyor; a 5- x 14-foot, triple-deck wash sizing and rinsing screen; a 6- x 12-foot, double-deck de-watering screen with 24-inch x 70-foot stockpiling conveyor; a sand plant with 6- x 16-foot, triple-deck wet screen with hopper and belt feeder; a screen-feed conveyor; and a 30-inch x 80-foot, pit-portable conveyor.

Leaving its mark

In addition to the continuity of its family-based management team, Oscar Brugmann Sand & Gravel, Inc. boasts an excellent employee retention record. “Almost all our employees have stayed with us, too, for many years. And the company has hired a lot of people since 1929,” Brugmann says. “We’ve always tried to be fair with them, and they’ve been fair with us. Currently, we have 18 employees.”

Brugmann converts mined-out pits to scenic parks and home site areas and has received awards for reclamation achievements.

The work environment puts a high priority on its workers, including miner safety. “Safety is very, very important, of course,” Brugmann adds. “I’m proud to say that we have had no serious injuries in the entire 82 years we’ve been in business. That’s pretty amazing.”

The company also is an active corporate citizen in its local community. “Civic responsibility is another hallmark of our company. We try to be good citizens and give back to the community,” Brugmann says. “For example, we donate our loaders and operators for snow removal on roads and township properties each winter. And we have donated materials for making asphalt when no funds were available for paving township roads. We worked with an asphalt manufacturer nearby that also donated its time and materials.”

That same attitude of being a good corporate neighbor can be seen in the company’s sustainability goals. “Down through the years, we have made a concentrated effort to responsibly reclaim the land and water-filled pits, which are now being used for recreation and picturesque home sites,” Brugmann says. “In fact, the company has received awards for reclamation achievements. We’re very proud of that.”

By paying attention to customers and the community, Oscar Brugmann Sand & Gravel, Inc. is creating a legacy of family-owned excellence in operations and safety. AM

This article is courtesy of Grasan.

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