Project Profile: Toeing the Line

Jan. 1, 2011
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Mickey Grguric is certainly no stranger to excavation, having worked in some form of the business his entire life. “Way back when, I actually got my start as a coal miner, which undoubtedly gave me a very “˜old-school’ approach to excavation,” he says. “Since then, I’ve worked for other excavation companies, and five years ago my brother Chris and I decided to start our own business.”

Having grown to a total of 50 employees in two offices and two maintenance shops over the past five years, Grguric Excavating’s success is due in no small part to the fact that the company doesn’t put all its marbles in one bag, as Mickey Grguric says. With locations in Washington, PA, and Clarksburg, PA, the Grgurics will perform excavating services in just about any type of situation, jobs both large and small. This versatility has served the brothers well by earning them an excellent reputation with municipalities and utility service providers in southwestern Pennsylvania. Grguric Excavating has a large restoration contract with Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania, a major provider of natural gas in that region. “Restoration involves returning the area around the gas line back to its original state,” Chris Grguric explains. “After a line is repaired or installed, we go back and replace the soil, roadways or sidewalks that were removed for purposes of the repair.” The company also installs mainline gas service, performs hookups, and works with a flagging company to set up traffic patterns for the crews that work for Columbia Gas.

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While one might think that a company named Grguric Excavating uses excavators to perform the majority of its work, Chris Grguric says that it’s actually a JCB 4CX backhoe that gets used the most. While a full-size excavator is typically used for large construction or demolition projects, backhoes like the 4CX are well-suited for the type of precision necessary that can be necessary when working with underground utilities. “Excavators are intended to move large amounts of material from a job site,” Chris explains. “Because we do restoration work, we’re concerned with being able to both excavate a site and then fill it back up. With our backhoe, we can use the back end of the machine to dig and then use the bucket to fill. An excavator can’t do that.”

Known for their high lift capacities and breakout digging forces, most backhoes can be fitted with large-capacity buckets for moving large amounts of material in short periods of time. Powered by a 100-horsepower engine, the 4CX is specifically designed for a high level of maneuverability (two-wheel, four-wheel, and crab-steer). Four equal-size tires provide high flotation, thereby broadening the range of applications in which the backhoe can be used.

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Mickey Grguric had attended a trade show in Pennsylvania, where JCB was demonstrating the 4CX machine, and he became interested in acquiring one for the business. With support from his JCB dealer, Walsh Equipment of Prospect, PA, Mickey flew to JCB’s North American Headquarters in Savannah, GA, to tour the factory before purchasing the backhoe in 2009. “The machine’s demonstrator actually tipped the backhoe over on its side, and it was able to lie so flat. I swear you could set a cup of coffee on it,” Mickey says. “I was also impressed by the fact that the operator could spin the tires, and you could see that the oil wouldn’t run away from the pump. The closed circuit hydraulic system keeps the oil intact in the circuit without a gulp of air.”

The Grgurics’ dealer representative, Charlie Walsh of Walsh Equipment, believed the backhoe would be just the right piece of equipment for the excavating company’s needs. “With the type of precise digging that the Grgurics do near natural-gas lines, as well as on other job sites, I knew that they needed a machine that had both power and extreme maneuverability,” Walsh says. “The 4CX backhoe does exactly that. All we needed to do was get the machine into their hands, and it proved itself.”

Knowing that the Grgurics are the go-to-guys for their customers, Walsh and his crew quickly realized that they required fast, attentive service. Between Walsh Equipment and JCB, the Grgurics have received the same high level of support that their customers require from them. “At the end of the day, it’s about adding value to the Grgurics’ business,” Walsh says. “We try to always focus our support on that mandate.”

Customized for Safety
Since purchasing the backhoe, Grguric Excavating has customized it for use in more sensitive environments-a process the Grgurics go through with almost every piece of heavy equipment they own. “We put some electric switches on the backhoe that allow us to manipulate the bucket in such a way that we can be even more precise,” Mickey says. “You need that type of precision when working in potentially hazardous conditions like around natural-gas lines.”

Because the Grgurics and their employees do a great deal of work in potentially hazardous conditions, safety on the job is an even greater issue. And while Mickey may have had an “old school” introduction to excavation, the approach that he and Chris take to safety is anything but old-fashioned. All of Grguric Excavating’s employees are operational quality (OQ) certified, meaning that they have been trained in safe operational procedures when digging around gas lines, fusing pipe, or flagging traffic patterns.

The company’s JCB 4CX also contributes to a safer working environment by offering excellent stability and unmatched visibility through all its windows. However, the Grgurics’ penchant for customizing their machines has led them to incorporate other safety enhancements to the backhoe as well. “We’ve installed a PA system so that the operator can easily alert anyone who may happen to cross his path and is in danger as a result,” Mickey explains. “We’ve also installed CB radios so that operators can talk to the truck drivers on the site who are carrying away the excavated material.”

These CB radios enable his backhoe operators to leave their hands on the controls-they simply push a button to transmit their voices, which is much safer than having to pick up a microphone. The Grgurics also rewire the horns on their machines so that they’re louder and able to be heard over the engine’s decibel level when operating. Not only are the horns louder, they’ve also been relocated to the machine’s boom area so that they are closer to the actual area where digging is being done. “We also install a few extra lights so that we can dig in the dark,” Mickey says. “The extra lights illuminate the ground so that operators can see exactly what they are moving.”

Earning Its Keep
After the backhoe arrived at the Grgurics’ shop and was customized, it was soon put to work on multiple job sites. Now, in addition to digging out the worksite around gas lines and then filling it back in after the repairs are finished, the Grguric brothers use the backhoe for a number of other tasks. The backhoe hauls in the sand bedding on which the pipes are placed as well as the pipes themselves. The machine is even used to gently lay pipes into place before they’re connected and covered up with earth. “We also use the machine on a daily basis for general digging projects and grading slopes,” Mickey adds. “It also comes in handy for snow removal around the shop during the winter months.”

A recent restoration project in a remote area presented a few unique safety issues for the Grgurics. A high-pressure gas leak on a steel line had to be fixed, but first the equipment had to be able to get to it. “The leaking pipe was located on a slope on the side of a hill near some active railroad tracks,” Chris says. “There was only one way that we could get to it, and that meant crossing a stream. We used the backhoe to move enough dirt and rocks to create a sort of “˜bridge’ that allowed us to get to the pipe.”

Grguric Excavating also had to clear its work schedule at the site with the railroad to ensure that no trains were in the area while its employees were working. Columbia Gas required a traffic control person on the site at all times, because it was necessary for the equipment to cross the tracks a number of times during the restoration process. When the site was accessible and all required personnel were present, Columbia Gas lowered the pressure present in the gas line, and Grguric employees used the backhoe to remove rocks and dirt. Due to some special fittings that had to be flown in from Texas, the leak was temporarily fixed. After the fittings arrived and were permanently installed, the Grgurics restored the site to its natural condition.

“That’s probably one of the more unusual jobs we’ve done for Columbia Gas,” Chris says. “But regardless of whether we’re working on a mundane job or one that’s a little bit more complicated, our backhoe continues to give us the performance we need to do it right.”

Grguric Excavating makes the most of its equipment by choosing the best machine for the job and then making any necessary modifications to fit the unique situation. To ensure that their equipment is as useful and user friendly as possible, Grguric relies on his operators to be honest and forthcoming. “We keep a notebook of likes and dislikes in every machine,” Grguric explains. “The operators mention things like visibility, seat adjustment, how their feet sit on the rocker switch-all these little details are written down. The way I look at it, if operators are in a machine that’s as unique as ours, they’ll take better care of it, and they don’t get as fatigued. It’s a win-win situation.”