Like father, like son

By |  November 10, 2014
Kevin Keeney, right, and his father Dennis.

Kevin Keeney, right, and his father Dennis.

A northeast Ohio quarry operator applies decades of on-the-job training from his mentor – his dad.

One moment Kevin Keeney is on a wheel loader feeding a crusher. The next he’s doing light maintenance on miscellaneous equipment. Later, Keeney is returning phone calls and meeting with potential customers.

There isn’t much Keeney, the operator of Keeney Sand & Stone, doesn’t do each day at his small, family-owned business in Painesville, Ohio.

“Most of my days I’m sitting on a piece of equipment and running material through to process,” says Keeney, who typically handles day-to-day operations in the quarry with just one other employee. “There are days when I’m wearing 10 different hats, from one place to another, just trying to keep things moving.”

Keeney has worn just about every hat possible in his career at the operation, which has spanned nearly 25 years. He began working full-time there in 1990 after graduating high school. His dad, Dennis, led the operation back then and for a number of years thereafter.

“My dad was pretty adamant about starting from the bottom up,” Kevin says. “When I decided I wanted to start doing this stuff, I was sweeping floors and emptying garbage.”

The start Dennis gave his son was all part of his master plan. According to Kevin, he started from the very bottom because it was his dad’s way of telling him he’s never too good for a job.

“I was his apprentice,” says Kevin, whose company has provided materials used in commercial jobsites, parking lots, driveways, backfills and landscape projects. “He was teaching me everything there was to do, from welding and maintenance and mechanic stuff right into the position I am in right now.”

Meticulous maintenance

Keeney Sand & Stone’s origins trace back to the 1950s, when Kevin’s grandfather, D.R. Keeney, purchased the land where the operation currently sits. The Keeney family didn’t start mining there until the 1980s, when Dennis put together his first screening plant.

Today, the operation’s plant consists of a Terex Cedarapids 2540A roller-bearing crusher and a 5-ft. x 16-ft. triple-deck Cedarapids El-Jay LF 5163-32 screen. The equipment has served Keeney Sand & Stone well over the years, Kevin says, because the family has stuck to a strict maintenance schedule.

“I’m probably a little crazy about the maintenance on the plant because if the crusher is down or if any of our conveyors or screening plants are down, then we’re not working and we’re unable to produce,” Kevin says.

According to Kevin, his machines sit about 2,000 ft. from the nearest house and he prefers not to run the plant on Saturdays out of respect for his neighbors. Saturdays are generally reserved for equipment inspections and minor repairs, he says.

Doing the weekend work helps to maintain steady production throughout the week, Kevin adds.

“If there’s even a little cut in the belt, it’s spliced,” he says. “If a bearing is getting ready to cut loose, we put a new one on. If guarding is looking shabby, it’s fixed up. If something is looking ugly and it needs a paint job, we tend to it.

“We run all week, and we’re still doing our greasing and light maintenance throughout the week. But on Saturdays we start from front to back with everything here. That way starting Monday morning we’re able to run the whole week without minor stops in our processing.”

Kevin adopted the regimen of meticulously maintaining equipment from his dad.

“My dad was always strict about it,” he says. “If the oil is supposed to be changed at 250 hours, it’s not changed an hour later. Whatever the fluid intervals are supposed to be, that’s when [a change] is supposed to happen. I know a lot of companies are lucky if the dipstick is checked. Guys want to go run the equipment. But if you don’t stay on top of your maintenance plan then you’re going to have different types of damage.”

Equipment management

Kevin is careful how he runs his equipment, too. Keeney Sand & Stone’s plant is an older one, as is some of the ancillary equipment used in the operation. As an example, the Keeneys have a Caterpillar 980 wheel loader in use that it first acquired in 1981. The loader was completely rebuilt at one point, Kevin says.

Another Keeney Sand & Stone loader has an interesting history, as well. A Komatsu WA-120 was acquired about five years ago in an unusual fashion.

“That was the only piece of equipment me or anybody in this company has ever bought sight unseen without crawling around it and seeing the maintenance program on it,” says Kevin, adding that he and his dad bought the WA-120 on eBay.

According to Kevin, he and his dad were looking for a machine that was capable of moving their slabs onto landscapers’ trucks. The two initially found a solution in Carlisle, Pa., where Kevin planned to visit for a look at the available loader.

“It needed a new engine; it needed a paint job; and they wanted $30,000 for it,” Kevin says. “The night before I leave my dad says there’s a loader on eBay that’s similar to the one we’re looking at. It hardly has any miles on it. It looks good. And they would deliver it to our quarry for the same price we were willing to spend.”

The Keeneys decided to make the eBay purchase. Once the WA-120 was delivered the loader’s fluids were dumped, hoses were replaced, and other changes were made.

“I think I repainted that one before we put it online, too, and it’s been a perfect machine for us. We have not had one problem with it.”
Would Kevin go the eBay route again, though?

“I don’t know if I would do that again necessarily, but it worked out well,” he says. “ I might do it – but I’d drive to see it if it’s not a crazy driving distance, just to be sure.”

Business advantages

One benefit the Keeneys have experienced through maintaining their older equipment over the years is the cost savings of not having to continuously buy new.

“That’s basically how we were able to survive the recession,” Kevin says. “Our stuff was a little older, but every piece of equipment was completely paid off. When the recession hit we had to buckle down a little bit but we weren’t overwhelmed.”

Keeney Sand & Stone’s decorative rock helped it ride out the recession, as well.

“When people weren’t able to sell their houses they were able to add a rock feature,” Kevin says. “That kept us going – and there’s still a pretty good market in the landscaping.”

In all, Kevin says the operation sells six different products. It’s screening plant separates material into four different items.

Keeney Sand & Stone also makes use of a 5-ft. x 10-ft. Screen Machine Maximum double-deck screen.

“We screen our clay fill instead of hauling it out to the spoil piles,” Kevin says. “We screen our clay fill to get the rock out to run it through our rock crusher. And when we’re not screening clay fill we also run our topsoil and strip off the top layer.”

Whether it’s the land, the equipment or the workweek, Kevin tries to get the most out of the task at hand. His dad, who is now retired yet continues to pitch in to the operation when needed, likely passed that philosophy onto Kevin, as well.

“Few people can say they get to spend as much time with their dad as I have,” Kevin says. “You go off into your career and might only see your family on holidays, but it has been a blessing as my dad ages to be with him each day and work side by side with him. As he’s moved into the retirement role, he can feel safe that he passed on everything he knew.”

Last blast of 2014

Keeney Sand & Stone, a small family-owned aggregate producer in Painesville, Ohio, invited Pit & Quarry to its operation to see its last quarry blast of 2014. Video of the blast can be see at

Hilltop Energy, which is based in Lisbon, Ohio, was contracted to perform the blast. According to blaster Steve Homan, the last blast of the year at Keeney generated about 16,000 tons of rock that will help to guide the operation through the end of the year. Twenty-three holes were loaded with 1-lb. boosters, each of which is the equivalent of seven sticks of dynamite, according to Homan.

“We don’t use the nitroglycerin-based stuff anymore because it’s unstable,” he says. “We don’t have to worry about the [boosters] sweating, deteriorating and breaking down.”

Holes were drilled in a staggered pattern, Homan adds, to provide Keeney with the slab rock it likes to provide its landscape customers. And in this particular instance, Hilltop encountered an unusual amount of water in blastholes that it simply could not pump out.

“We maintained an 8-ft. water level in the holes,” Homan says. “They wouldn’t pump, so we had to use wet tubes in the bottom. I shot this on a 1-lb. powder factor, which is 1 lb. per cu. yd. It really doesn’t sound like a whole lot but it is pretty powerful stuff.”

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Kevin Yanik

About the Author:

Kevin Yanik is the editor-in-chief of Pit & Quarry magazine. Yanik can be reached at 216-706-3724 or

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