How forward thinking got River Aggregates ahead

By |  January 10, 2020
River Aggregates’ Rye Plant, located just outside of Cleveland, Texas, utilizes all-new equipment to produce about 400,000 tpy of concrete sand 
and gravel. Photo courtesy of McLanahan Corp.

River Aggregates’ Rye Plant, located just outside of Cleveland, Texas, utilizes all-new equipment to produce about 400,000 tpy of concrete sand and gravel. Photo courtesy of McLanahan Corp.

Overcoming hurdles is a way of life in the aggregate industry.

But when you pair two aggregate industry veterans together, some hurdles don’t seem so insurmountable.

When Hurricane Harvey hit the Greater Houston area in August 2017, aggregate producers were faced with significant challenges that halted production at existing facilities and put a hold on long-term plans. But ask Rob Van Til and Carl Davis how the hurricane impacted the opening of River Aggregates’ new Rye Plant, and they’ll calmly explain it was just another hurdle that had to be overcome.

“Harvey slowed us up,” says Davis, a managing partner at River Aggregates. “It was wet and rainy, so it slowed the site development and foundation work. [The Rye Plant] still got built in a year, give or take a month, though.”

As explained by Van Til, another managing partner at River Aggregates, Hurricane Harvey affected the whole community. Van Til, who served as chair of the Texas Aggregates & Concrete Association (TACA) in 2018, says Hurricane Harvey sent the industry in the region into a pause.

To help the community and industry get back on its feet, Van Til lent a hand during relief efforts, overseeing donations from TACA to affected families who work for member companies while getting River Aggregates’ existing site in Conroe, Texas, back up and running safely.

Van Til stressed the importance of safety and the value of the industry’s workforce during those challenging times. Today, he and Davis continue to make those priorities at the company’s Rye Plant just outside of Cleveland, Texas.

An eye on the weather

Carl Davis, left, and Rob Van Til have been working together at River Aggregates since 2013. Prior to that, the two worked together at Pioneer International and Hanson Aggregates. Photo by Joe McCarthy

Carl Davis, left, and Rob Van Til have been working together at River Aggregates since 2013. Prior to that, the two worked together at Pioneer International and Hanson Aggregates. Photo by Joe McCarthy

Davis began placing equipment orders for the Rye Plant in the summer of 2017, just a few weeks before Hurricane Harvey made landfall. That storm compounded with a wet first half of 2018 that slowed the construction of the facility before its opening later that year.

From the start, Davis, who was charged with the design and build of the plant, knew weather would be his biggest challenge come production season.

“We don’t like to see rain,” says Davis, a 30-plus-year aggregate industry veteran. “I tell Rob when we are working every day with no rain, it takes a certain level of effort. When it rains, we have to double our efforts because it’s what it takes to get the job done right. We live by the weather, we are watching the weather and we start planning so we can make accommodations for the rain.”

Preparation is key when it comes to the weather, Davis adds. To accommodate potential rainfall, employees at the Rye Plant ensure ditches are clear and roads are in good shape so water runs off quickly. All of the preparation is to ensure production goes uninterrupted.

Keeping the plant up and running and the workforce on task is all a part of a regular day at the Rye Plant. Although irregular days aren’t uncommon at aggregate operations, Davis knows limiting those instances is key to an efficient day.

“It’s a very routine deal,” he says, referring to a typical workday at the Rye Plant. “All the guys like that, and they know what they are getting themselves into. They know what they are going to do every day.

“This is a business that’s very routine, except when we have a non-routine day,” Davis adds. “But we work to not have a lot of those types of days.”

Attracting the right person

Finished product from the McLanahan Hydrosizer and Ultra Fines Sand Plant travel to these stockpiles, courtesy of Crisp Industries conveyors, before being loaded into customer trucks. Photo by Joe McCarthy

Finished product from the McLanahan Hydrosizer and Ultra Fines Sand Plant travel to these stockpiles, courtesy of Crisp Industries conveyors, before being loaded into customer trucks. Photo by Joe McCarthy

As Davis describes, a routine is one attractive quality of a career in the aggregate industry. Working longer hours outside in the elements is not, however, that desirable for every prospect.

“It’s up to us to make sure we have a desirable destination for employees in a job that might not seem all that glamorous,” Van Til says.

Working outside in the elements comes with the territory of the aggregate industry. It takes a certain type of person to appreciate this line of work.

“We work outside, and it is not a job for everyone,” Davis says. “A lot of times we just have hard work to do, too. It takes a guy who is willing to work outside and get his hands dirty and do a little bit of everything to work in a location like this.”

Despite this challenge, Davis and Van Til are constantly working to proactively address future labor challenges. Maintaining a safe and clean work environment are two ways River Aggregates works to entice and retain its workforce. These are important efforts to make because, as Van Til describes, the aggregate industry in Texas is strong and there are a lot of choices for people seeking careers.

Setting a high safety standard 

Making safety a priority is one step River Aggregates takes to maintain its workforce and attract new business.

“Safety has to be our number one priority,” Davis says. “We do not have an unsafe workplace, but there are some hazards that come with the work. Our approach is if it’s not safe, we aren’t going to do it.”

Putting an emphasis on training is how Davis and the Rye Plant team gets ahead on safety. Davis says the team stays consistent with weekly safety meetings and monthly meetings that include refresher training on certain subjects. Sometimes, Davis will even bring in outside speakers to keep meetings fresh and reinforce certain topics.

This is all done in an effort to regularly keep a watchful eye on safety practices.

“We are looking at safety every day and we are looking at what we can do to mitigate hazards,” Davis says. “We train our employees to look for hazards so we can do something about it.

“We are going to work safely and we are going to do whatever it takes,” he adds. “Whether that’s time or money, we are going to make sure we work in a safe environment.”

Establishing a safe environment requires a tremendous amount of effort every day, Davis adds.

“We have a good working relationship with MSHA (the Mine Safety & Health Administration),” Davis says. “We usually get good reviews because we keep a good, clean and well-organized workplace that is safe. Inspectors can visit with our employees at any time, and I feel like they always come back with positive feedback that our employees know the emphasis on safety.”

The safety emphasis has earned River Aggregates awards from MSHA, TACA and the Houston Contractors Association. Being honored with such awards also helps with the company’s image when it comes time to do business in the booming state of Texas.

“Customers see you’re one of those companies that are winning these awards, and it’s easier for them to know you are doing the right thing and they have faith in you as a vendor,” Van Til says.


Out with the old, in with the new

This dredge, which was purchased new from DSC Dredge ahead of opening the Rye Plant, pumps about 400 to 500 tph of material through a 14-in. pipeline. The material is pumped to the plant in the far background. Photo by Joe McCarthy

This dredge, which was purchased new from DSC Dredge ahead of opening the Rye Plant, pumps about 400 to 500 tph of material through a 14-in. pipeline. The material is pumped to the plant in the far background. Photo by Joe McCarthy

Planning for River Aggregates’ Rye Plant was put in motion in June and July 2017, according to managing partner Carl Davis. Equipment purchasing for the plant went into full swing that summer.

“When we built the plant, it was all new,” Davis says. “The plant, the dredge and the mobile equipment were all purchased new.”

The new dredge from Louisiana-based DSC Dredge produces about 400 to 500 tph to feed the new McLanahan Hydrosizer and Ultra Fine Sand Plant. From there, newly installed Crisp Industries conveyors carry finished product to the appropriate stockpile.

River Aggregates utilizes all Caterpillar mobile equipment, with the exception of one rental piece – all courtesy of the local Mustang Cat dealer.

All of the equipment has about a year under its belt, which, as Davis explains, means River Aggregates is about three years away from any upgrades. When that time comes, Davis has a plan to maximize his fleet.

As equipment wears down, River Aggregates will move older equipment to a second-level position and purchase new pieces for frontline work. From there, Davis will run secondary equipment until it’s time to move those older pieces off the line entirely. The purpose of this rotation is efficiency and equipment life maximization.

“You always want your best equipment on the frontline production,” Davis says.

For example, an excavator that’s seen around 10,000 to 12,000 hours of frontline work will be repurposed to utility work. That way, the operation still maximizes the excavator’s life but it doesn’t slow down production.

The same goes for front-end loaders, because the operation always wants its newest and most reliable ones loading customer trucks.

“We always try to put the new equipment where it’s doing the most production and is most efficient,” Davis says.


More River Aggregates

For more on River Aggregates, check out Pit & Quarry‘s November 2019 article on the company’s new Hydrosizer plant.

Joe McCarthy

About the Author:

Joe McCarthy is an Associate Editor of Pit and Quarry Magazine. You can contact him at jmccarthy@northcoastmedia.net and at 216-363-7930.

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