Years run together

Company keeps aging fleet's engines firing with maintenance checklist

Engines Article October 31, 2001
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A mere 40 years ago, Colleen Garrison, a registered engineer, and her husband William E

A mere 40 years ago, Colleen Garrison, a registered engineer, and her husband William E. Garrison, Jr., a registered land surveyor, pooled their talents and thus began the seed of a successful Raleigh, N.C., site preparation business: W.E. Garrison Co. Inc.

W.E. Garrison Co. holds a unique status in the industry as a certified Woman’s Small Business Enterprise. Garrison, an astute woman, saw promise in the small shop she and Bill had started and worked hard to grow the firm into a major contractor, which now handles about $7.5 million in billings annually. W.E. Garrison Co. is responsible for site preparation of the Triangle area’s roads to ensure school buses a smoother ride, building shopping centers to stock area residents’ shelves and developing business complexes to grow local commerce.

According to the Garrisons, running a successful business boils down to keeping a keen eye on equipment maintenance over the long haul. W.E. Garrison has a fleet of 240 pieces—equipment ranging in size from the smaller tractors used in fine grading operations to one of the area’s largest ripper dozers—including 30 trucks one-ton and above.

The Garrisons’ top-five list for keeping trucks on the road reads like this:

1. Good drivers who won’t abuse the trucks;

2. Good maintenance personnel interested in doing the job right the first time;

3. Quality parts installed correctly;

4. Understanding that downtime is expensive; and

5. Good dealers that are willing to work with the customer.

Proving point No. 5, 40 years ago, Cardinal International Trucks, an authorized dealer of International trucks, extended the Garrisons their first line of credit, and they remain the company’s preferred truck dealership to this day. W.E. Garrison does much of its fleet maintenance in-house, but the company relies on a strong dealer relationship to answer tough maintenance questions in a hurry. For that reason, and because of their reliability, all of W.E. Garrison’s severe service trucks are Internationals.

The oldest truck in the fleet is an International F-1900 from 1971. The newest, an International 9900 heavy-duty tractor used to pull a low-boy trailer, arrived in August. Most of the trucks are International 5000 Series dump trucks powered by the International 530E HT diesel engine—they run every day, hauling trees, stumps, dirt, concrete, stone and asphalt, carrying an average load of 15 tons.

Recent projects include site preparation for a new shopping center in Durham, N.C., expanding an existing site for a solid waste container in Wake County, building a large subdivision called Churton Grove in Hillsborough, N.C., and widening Highway 70 in front of it, and preparing bridge approaches in Granville County, Cumberland/ Sampson Counties and Wake County for the North Carolina DOT.

New and used

Acting as both the primary and subcontractors for most of the company’s high profile jobs, it is absolutely necessary to ensure that the truck fleet is up and running to meet project deadlines and come in on budget. The Garrisons and their maintenance team take a resourceful approach to fleet management.

For example, when they bought a fuel truck three years ago, an International 4700 with a T 444E V-8 diesel engine, they bought a new truck and paired it with a used tank body from 1955. It was important to have a new truck that wouldn’t break down; however, by purchasing a used body, the company spent only as much money as it would have for a complete eight-year-old truck. It was feasible to purchase an old fuel tank body because it won’t rust as long as it has lubricants in it. As long as it is in use, it won’t wear out.

Inventive spec’ing is just the beginning. Regular parts maintenance is key to keeping the truck fleet up and running. The maintenance department uses computer software to keep a maintenance schedule, including a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet that uses formulas to calculate when the trucks are due for routine diagnostics and lubricant changes. Each day, the maintenance team keys in the mileage or engine hours on every piece of equipment. The maintenance supervisor prints a weekly report, and when he sees that a vehicle is down to 20 hours or 300 miles before hitting a negative number in the "time due" column, he orders any necessary parts (e.g., gaskets, filters) and schedules a service time with the operations manager. This ensures that all of the trucks are working every day, and reduces preventable breakdowns in the field.

The company relies heavily on its longstanding relationship with Cardinal International, loaning each other shop tools and calling in the dealer mechanics to work side by side with the in-house crew on tough repairs.

Listen while you work

W.E. Garrison Co. is consistently looking for ways to improve their maintenance operations and save money. Recent changes include beefing up the staff to handle day-to-day maintenance so that experienced mechanics can build engines, work on transmissions and handle other big repairs that previously had to be outsourced.

The company’s challenges are unique because of the rough terrain the fleet traverses on a daily basis. The Garrisons’ parting advice to keeping the trucks up and running: listen. Before making a maintenance decision, gather all of the information you can and look at it from every perspective—listen to the truck driver, the mechanic, put in your own two cents and make the best decision for all parties involved.

The example of Colleen and Bill and their four-decade-old business shows that the best investment fleet owners can make is in preventative maintenance.

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