Operation’s owners preserve, refurbish historic equipment

By |  April 1, 2016

Bulldozers. Cranes. Crushers. Dump trucks. Equipment is seemingly everywhere at Lakeside Sand & Gravel, a family-owned operation in Mantua, Ohio. Only a handful of the machines on site are the kind you’ll typically find operating in a modern-day sand or gravel pit, though. The majority are antiques that Lakeside co-owners Larry and Ron Kotkowski acquired over the years for their ever-growing collection of construction equipment.

A walk through Lakeside’s garages and surrounding property is, in a sense, like visiting a construction equipment museum. Every machine on site has a unique story in terms of how it was used, acquired and, in a number of cases, brought back to life.

Some of those stories are as fascinating as the very sight of construction equipment that hasn’t operated in 50-plus years.

Take a Bucyrus-Erie 71-B shovel Lakeside acquired from a construction company that went out of business 30-some years ago in Youngstown, Ohio. After the company went out of business, Ron says a son kept that company’s old equipment and restored as much of it as he could over the years.

The son died before the 71-B was fully put back together, though. The Kotkowskis eventually purchased the shovel, and they finished the restoration work that the son started with the help of Lakeside’s employees and volunteers, who are instrumental in the restoration of all of the company’s antique equipment.

Now, Larry and Ron say Lakeside’s 71-B shovel is the only operational one they know of.

“A lot of times what happens is equipment sits around forever and it gets scrapped,” Ron says. “Really, we’re just trying to beat the scrap guys. We’re bidding against scrap metal guys in many cases.”

Building a collection

Like the 71-B shovel, every piece in Larry’s and Ron’s collection has a story. In another instance, Larry took a 1930 Caterpillar Sixty crawler tractor to a local festival. The tractor started occasionally, Ron says, and Larry got it started for the listening pleasure of those at the event.

The sound of the Cat Sixty triggered memories for one man, who heard the tractor’s engine from a distance and ventured over to see the source.

“He said his dad had a tractor just like that, and that it has an engine like it,” Ron says. “He gave us his phone number, and I went down and looked at it.”

Ron visited the man in Ravenna, Ohio, where he found a 1926 Buckeye Model D that was used to backfill trenches. Ron purchased the machine, and Lakeside got it running.

“We got it running and we got wood for the corrugated roof, but we stopped working on that one,” Ron says. “It just needs somebody to take up the project.”

Project managers are key to the completion of restoration projects at Lakeside. The company leans on employees and volunteers to restore equipment that typically arrives inoperable, rusted and in need of various parts.

Wednesdays at Lakeside are dedicated to project work. Lakeside serves as the home of the Historical Construction Equipment Association’s (HCEA) Harry Young Chapter. Members gather each week to work on antique equipment, swap stories and share a meal.

Antique equipment isn’t the only thing the Kotkowskis collect. They’ve found a number of industry-related signs over the years. A wall of one Lakeside garage is decorated with signs featuring the likes of Barber-Green, Euclid, Lorain and more.

Flea markets are generally a good source for the signs, the Kotkowskis say. eBay is another good source for some of their collectibles, including equipment manuals, catalogs and related literature.

But old literature, including some of the earliest Pit & Quarry Handbooks, is more than just a collectible to the Kotkowskis. In many cases, literature provides Lakeside with the minute details it needs to return a piece of equipment to its original look and design.

Generally, the older the equipment, the more challenging it is to precisely reproduce part placement or the paint job. Fortunately for the Kotkowskis, they’ve built a collection of old literature to which project managers can turn. And if they don’t have a particular manual or catalog on a piece of equipment they’ve acquired, they have the know-how to go get it.

Unique finds

Their interest in antique construction equipment led them to other unique collectibles over the years. For example, the Kotkowskis have three of Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller’s Caterpillar tractors in their collection.

“[Feller] was a Caterpillar collector,” Larry says. “He grew up on a farm and his dad had Caterpillar tractors. We met him several times through collecting.”

Another unique “collectible” of sorts at Lakeside is a replica gas station. The pumps at the station are original ones from 1918, Ron says. The gas station was acquired from nearby Marshallville, Ohio, and it was hauled about 50 miles to Lakeside’s property.

Larry and Ron envision the gas station eventually being one large component of a replica, old mining town that would be set up at Lakeside.

The brothers also have a number of early 20th century automobiles in their collection. A 1913 Buick Model 25 touring car is among them.

“We bought this old car that was previously purchased by a Civil War veteran,” Ron says. “The guy died in 1921, and the family rolled it into a barn.” According to Ron, the Buick hadn’t run since 1921. But a group at Lakeside got it to run.

“It went 94 years without running,” Ron says. “You get a high when you get something like that running again.”

The hunt for antique equipment is also an exhilarating part of the collecting experience. Larry and Ron say they’ve been collecting since the 1990s, when they acquired what they call their “first major piece” in a 1949 REO truck. But, as Larry and Ron accumulated equipment over the years, word spread about their adventures.

Now, people bring equipment-purchasing opportunities directly to them. And, on occasion, generous people donate equipment because they know the Kotkowskis will preserve it.

They’ll also share it with others, exhibiting equipment at local festivals and at Lakeside’s annual open house and antique construction equipment show. The Kotkowskis say the show draws hundreds of equipment enthusiasts each year.

Lakeside doesn’t just display its equipment at the show, though. It operates antique equipment that’s capable of running.

Lakeside’s next show, which is free and open to the public, is in April. The company accepts donations at the event for the Hattie Larlham Foundation, which develops programs and services to support people with developmental disabilities.

Day-to-day operations

Collecting is Larry’s and Ron’s passion, and it’s something both would like to someday focus on full-time. In the meantime, the two are active in the daily activities of the operation.

Their sons are also active in the operation, as are a son and stepson of their late brother, Alan. Two active pits are on the site, and Lakeside provides washed and crushed gravel and a variety of sand products. The operation also produces an assortment of landscape and limestone products.

According to Larry, the operation typically serves between 100 and 300 trucks per day. Manitowoc 3000 and 4600 draglines are key pieces of equipment Lakeside uses, and Caterpillar loaders feed the operation’s three-year-old 20 x 36 portable jaw crusher from Eagle Crusher.

From the crusher, material is conveyed about one-third of a mile to Lakeside’s plant, which features a Grand Slam secondary crusher, Haver & Boecker (formerly W.S. Tyler) screens and sand-producing equipment from Eagle Iron Works, including a 10-ft. x 40-ft. tank and two twin 36-in. fine material washers. Larry says the plant produces between 400 and 500 tph.

“We’ve put a lot of effort into being more efficient, so most everything is conveyed to the plant from the pit,” he says.

Lakeside’s antique equipment acquisitions and restorations require tremendous effort, as well. But the time and energy spent is well worth it, Larry and Ron say, because history is preserved and passed on to next generations. “A lot of these machines were from local guys,” Ron says.

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About the Author:

Kevin Yanik is editor-in-chief of Pit & Quarry. He can be reached at 216-706-3724 or kyanik@northcoastmedia.net.

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