The story Leon Harris tells has been a Harris family legend since the early 1930s. Harris, president of Freddie E. Harris Sand & Clay, tells how his grandparents raised cattle on a sandy plot of Texas land. Every month, they made the 20-mile trek to San Antonio to buy groceries, spend the night with relatives and return the next day.
"When they were gone one time, someone knocked on the door and asked my father and uncle if he could buy some sand," Harris said. "When the grandparents came home and saw a big hole in the front yard, they were livid. The boys said, ‘Look at the money we made,' but it didn't impress their father. They got a whipping and had to use a mule and a sled to haul sand from the back acreage
to fill the hole. The way they told the story over the years, they were more
impressed with the money than the whipping."
Today, parts of that back acreage are now considerably lower than they were when Freddie and Herff Harris first dug that front-yard hole. Today, sand and clay is leaving the property at the rate of up to 9,000 tons a week. Harris and his two sisters, Beverly and Dorothy, still live on the property and run the operation.
"Probably 75% of our business is white screened sand for asphalt contractors," Harris said, "but every contractor in San Antonio knows about us. Utility contractors use our material for bedding."
The Harrises do business by the motto "We mix anything," and they bring in topsoil and gravel to have on hand if customers want a custom mix. A popular item is a 50-50, top soil/red sand mix for residential yards and golf courses.
"Getting the material from the ground to the truck in the fastest and least expensive way is what this business is all about," Leon said. "And when that seemingly simple path can mean handling the material up to fi ve times, how we do it is critical to our success."
To do all that material moving, Harris uses a fl eet of four Caterpillar 950 wheel loaders with 4-cu-yd buckets (Circle 907). They are not new. The company purchased the oldest one in 1985 and the newest of the fleet in 1995. All average more than 60 hours a week. In fact, the company still owns a 944 Caterpillar wheel loader it purchased in 1960.
"Beyond the production, we need our machines to be reliable and dependable; we can't afford to keep a ‘spare' machine around," Harris said. "We maintain them well, so they hold that traditionally high Caterpillar resale value."
Those priorities of Harris made it a natural for him to accept an offer from Caterpillar to try a pilot of a new wheel loader: a 962. Among its many
improvements, the new machine would have the ACERT Technology, low-emission engine, simultaneous lift and tilt and a 4?-yard bucket.
Operator Rudy Ledezma, a 20-year veteran of operating wheel loaders for Harris, drew the assignment of operating the new loader, and he put 2,700 hours on it in 10 months.
"It's smooth," Ledezma said. "It cycles faster and we learned our screens can take the extra quarter yard, so of course, we're getting more on each cycle. Bigger loads and faster cycle is the perfect situation."