Crushing Tough Conditions
By With files from Andrew Macklin.
Strilkiwski crushes rock for the most difficult roadbuilding projects in Manitoba.
By With files from Andrew Macklin.
You’ve maybe heard these phrases: a nose for news, a nose for the ball or a nose for the goal.
You’ve maybe heard these phrases: a nose for news, a nose for the ball or a nose for the goal. Having a nose for something is a special, unexplainable ability that allows someone to do certain things better than the rest of us.
He may not be as highly celebrated as an ace reporter or a sports star, but Harvey Strilkiwski has a nose too – for rock. Harvey and his brother Gerald are managers of Strilkiwski Contracting Ltd., a Dauphin, Man.-based company that offers a wide range of construction services throughout the province, but whose specialty is rock crushing. Gerald handles office duties while Harvey takes care of field activities, including sourcing aggregate.
“We own a number of quarries and we supply customers with aggregate from those, but we’re probably best known for on-site crushing for customers, such as roadbuilding contractors,” says Gerald. “On-site crushing often includes locating or being able to work a rock source near the job, and that’s where Harvey and his nose for aggregate come into the picture.
“You can send him out into the middle of a field where people swear there’s no rock for 20 miles, and when you come back the next morning, he’ll have a pile of gravel sitting there for you. He can go virtually anywhere and make that happen. He’s well known in our industry in Manitoba as being the guy you need for the toughest crushing jobs.”
As a company, Strilkiwski Contracting is known for doing the difficult jobs and making them look easy. As an example, Gerald points to the firm’s long association with Mulder Construction, one of Manitoba’s leading paving contractors.
“They routinely put us in the toughest conditions,” says Gerald. “In fact, that’s how we got started with them. They had a job up north and asked me to give them a crushing price. Everything’s tougher up north. The rock itself is hard granite, so it tears up equipment much faster, and it’s difficult to get the mix right. They thought the price was high, so they brought in their own plant and tried to produce it themselves. They made about 7,000 tonnes in six weeks, far short of what they needed.
They called back and asked if the price was still good. I said, ‘Sure,’ and they said, ‘Go to work.’ I think we produced 200,000 tonnes without any problem. That was 20 years ago and we’ve done jobs for them virtually every year since,” he notes. “They’re one of many repeat customers. We regularly work with other pavers, builders and many RMs (Rural Municipalities) throughout the province.”
Challenging jobs are not just commonplace for Strilkiwski Contracting; they’re the fun ones, according to Gerald. “When somebody says, ‘You can’t do this,’ we turn around and make it happen – that’s the best feeling in the world.”
|Strilkiwski Contracting is a multigenerational family business that includes family members (left to right) Gerald, Bonnie, Travis, Anne and John, who founded the company more than 50 years ago.|
For his part, Harvey says he, too, enjoys a challenge, but his greatest satisfaction is the finished product. “When we put down rock on a road and it leads to a great highway, I like to look at it and drive on it and know we did this. It’s a sense of pride that we accomplished something worthwhile.”
And while Gerald credits Harvey’s nose for much of the company’s success, Harvey credits Gerald and their father, John, who started the company. “Gerald keeps the jobs coming in and keeps things rolling along. And we both follow the work ethic established by our dad. He expected and demanded hard work from us and I guess it just became second nature.”
Strilkiwski Contracting got its start back in the early 1960s, when John started doing some trucking, which led to screening, which led to crushing. He turned to implement sales for a time, but resumed the business at the request of customers, and by the time he started back up, Gerald and Harvey were ready to come on board.
“I think we had one little crusher and maybe half a dozen people,” Gerald remembered. “We just kept taking the next step and grew from there. A big growth spurt occurred about 20 years ago when we got involved with Hudson Bay Mining (now Hudbay Minerals) in Snow Lake. And we’re still there, crushing ore and doing site work.”
Today, Strilkiwski Contracting employs about 125 people, has four crushing spreads and access to hundreds of owned and leased pits throughout Manitoba.
Owning multiple pits in the province is one of the keys to Strilkiwski’s success. “My dad had that vision and got it started. Today, we have material from near Winnipeg, right up through Lynn Lake,” says Gerald. “We basically cover the entire province and are able to work as far north as where the roads end,” he adds.
Strilkiwski Contracting does many other things beyond material supply – excavation, road work, pipe – but crushing is definitely the company’s bread and butter. It accounts for about 70% of the business, with over three million tonnes of aggregate crushed each year. Strilkiwski has access to approximate 40,000 acres of aggregate resources throughout Manitoba.
The flexibility to crush in multiple locations across such a large geographic area has come from the purchase of mobile crushing and screening applications. Strilkiwski owns several Metso Nordberg 3042 jaw crusher spreads, as well as 4½-inch cone spreads. They also carry both six-foot x 20-foot Nordberg screens and 36'x150' telescopic conveyors. In addition to the full rage of Nordberg crushing and screening equipment, they also carry a combination of Clemro, Elrus and JCI conveyors of varying sizes that can be transported from site to site in order to provide the best possible conveying solution for the project.
Getting the right equipment
To support its pit and crushing operations, as well as do other miscellaneous site work, Strilkiwski Contracting has a large, mobile equipment fleet, much of it Komatsu equipment from SMS. Machines include four Komatsu excavators, five dozers, two articulated haul trucks and 18 wheel loaders.
|Strilkiwski Contracting is primarily an aggregate supplier, but also does road work, such as this job where operator Jerry Hyra uses a Komatsu D65 dozer to level and widen Highway 68.|
“We got our first Komatsu, a WA450 wheel loader, in 1986,” Gerald recalled. “Today, it has about 65,000 frame hours on it, and we still use it regularly. It’s because of our experience with that initial machine that Komatsu is our number 1 choice for wheel loaders.”
“Today, most of our wheel loaders are Komatsu WA500s,” adds Harvey. “They’ve been very reliable, and some of our oldest ones probably have upward of 55,000 frame hours on them.
“Relatively low maintenance costs combined with excellent reliability and longevity are the main reasons we have so much Komatsu equipment.”
Both brothers agreed that Komatsu equipment is excellent but they say a big reason they buy it is because of the support they get from SMS. “It’s a top-notch company, and our sales rep, Rod Stacy, does an excellent job for us,” acknowledged Harvey. “Their parts man in Winnipeg, Ty Barber, does whatever it takes to keep us going, including delivering parts to us on a Sunday morning if needed,” adds Gerald. “We count on SMS to back us up and they do a great job of it.”
The result is that approximately 95% of Strilkiwski’s loader fleet is Komatsu machines, with a few older Caterpillar machines still working in their pits. The excavator fleet still has some Volvo and Deere units, and they still use Deere and Cat D7 and D8 dozers, but Komatsu machines continue to be the machines to replace those units as they need to be replaced.
“One of the other advantages to having the same models in the fleet is that it allows parts to be interchangeable despite the distance,” says Gerald. “That reduces our downtime for getting the replacement parts we need for active sites.”
Providing value to customers
Strilkiwski Contracting founder John Strilkiwski is 81 years old, and although he’s not involved in day-to-day operations, he still comes into the office regularly. When John started the business with the help of his wife, Anne, more than 50 years ago, he says he never envisioned it being the size it is today. “Frankly, it’s grown so big, I wouldn’t be comfortable running it today. But Gerald and Harvey do a great job, so I guess they’ve got it figured out.”
|Operator Jack Standrick loads a truck with a WA500-3. “This machine has 38,000 hours and still runs two shifts per day, and we have even older Komatsus,” says Standrick. “They last a long time.” |
As for the future, the next generation is already in place. Gerald’s son, Travis, is a supervisor, and Harvey’s son, Dillon, is an operator. “Gerald and I both hope our sons will carry on the family business after us, but we’re not going anywhere for a while,” says Harvey. “The business is still growing and we want to keep it moving forward.”
One challenge, according to Harvey, is that aggregate sources are becoming depleted in many locations, so it takes much more work and much more knowledge to put together a product that makes spec. But Gerald says, “That’s where Harvey’s nose for rock is a difference-maker for us over the competition.
“There are others challenges as well, such as finding work and finding qualified help, but our history of successful projects and satisfied clients helps us get jobs and find employees,” Gerald notes. “Meeting governmental rules and regulations regarding the environment and safety practices can also be challenging, but we don’t have a big problem with those because we all want a clean environment and a safe construction workplace.
“The key for our future success is the same as for every business; we have to provide our customers with real value,” he concluded. “We’ve done a good job of that in the past. As long as we continue to do it, we feel good about where we are and where we’re going.”
With files from Andrew Macklin.