"Running Skinny" Leads River Docks to Sennebogen

Constantino Lannes, Sennebogen LLC
Special Collaboration

For a long-time river man, Pat Shea knows his way around the concrete and gravel business. "We're moving hundreds of thousands of tons of aggregate a year for several river facilities throughout Chicago along with other river facilities up and down the Illinois River," he beams as he talks at the River Docks' home office on the Illinois River at Peru, IL. With cranes working at River Docks' various loading facilities up and down the Illinois River, Pat's extremely pleased with his latest piece of material handling equipment. "Our other cranes can only do one to one and a half barges in a day. The new Sennebogen machine, it can normally unload three barges in an 8-hour shift - on some days, four barges."

"We run pretty skinny here," he continues. "That's the kind of performance that saves you!"

Shea has spent 30 years as a river pilot and also has spent time servicing the heavy machinery that keeps the product flowing through river facilities up and down the Illinois River and throughout Chicago.

River Docks originated as a subsidiary of Mertel Gravel Company which is a family owned ready-mix company founded by Joseph A. Mertel in Peru, Illinois, over 75 years ago. The business passed to Joseph Mertel's sons - Joe, Art and Tony. With the passing of Joe and Art, Tony Mertel still keeps an eye on things, but day-to-day operation of the business now is handled by the son-in-laws, including Pat Shea. River Docks commenced with a tow boat and a couple of barges years ago. Today, Mr. Shea, along with family members, has been expanding River Docks' river business.

The Purchase Process
"It's a lot of money for us to consider," Pat Shea admits. The family, including Tony Mertel, sits down together any time there's a major equipment decision to be made. For the port facilities, River Docks has primarily purchased traditional cable cranes. "We bought three hydraulic-type cranes a few years ago that we weren't too impressed with. We did a lot of research to buy 'this one'. This time, everyone was convinced that Sennebogen was the right machine."

'This one' is a Sennebogen 870 M rubber tired material handler fitted with a 3,8 m3 Young clamshell bucket.

"To tell the truth, I was dead set on getting a tracked machine. But I was surprised to learn from Sennebogen that, with the outriggers down, I could actually get a greater working radius with a wheeled machine!"

"What sold me on Sennebogen was the knowledge of the people," Mr. Shea says. "Phil Linoski from Howell Tractor really knows the equipment: the radiuses and capacities - it's rare to see a salesman who really knows the machine. We also met Andreas Ernst, the port specialist from the factory. He let us know that Sennebogen will always do their best to look after you."

"One thing I like is that they don't pass on a question. A lot of these equipment people say 'I'll have to get back to you' but the Sennebogen people - they know! They really know their machines. And it helps that Sennebogen is a family business, like us. They care. I also met Mr. Sennebogen personally. He's a first-class guy!"

For Pat Shea, a little extra reach is reason enough to go with a wheeled unit, but he added that mobility is a benefit, too. "We don't have to reposition a machine often, and we don't move anything at all by truck. It's all barge out here. But if another machine goes down, we're able to move the Sennebogen in to help out."

Where the Sennebogen truly shines, though, is doing the job it was built for: moving buckets of material quickly. According to Pat Shea, "There's no comparison! The cycle times are so much better! The cable cranes are much slower and operators are hard to find. A new operator on a cable crane needs someone experienced in the cab with him for a year before he's able to work alone; and he's still not all that proficient even then. Rick, our Sennebogen operator, was fully proficient on it in a month, unloading 3 barges a day. That kind of productivity is great for operating costs. We really need a machine that's going to help the operator perform. An operator can sit in the Sennebogen and unload 3 barges straight and come out and he's not hurting; if you put a guy into a cable crane like that; he comes out pretty beaten up."

As barge operators, River Docks is highly conscious of fuel prices these days. The efficiency of the Sennebogen machine is another key factor in helping the facility to "run skinny." Whereas Mr. Shea's cable cranes use considerably more diesel per hour than the Sennebogen, the 870 M moves much more material per hour with less fuel.

With its elevating cab, the 870 M makes work easier for other crew on the work site, too. The operator can maneuver the cab as much as 2,1 m above the chassis' upper deck. This gives the operator an excellent vantage point for seeing exactly what, and who, is in the hold of the barge. Like most facilities, River Docks will often have a skid steer or small loader down in the barge to clean up and move material to the middle. As Pat Shea says, "The man in the barge feels a lot more secure doing his job down there, knowing the crane operator can see him."

Mr. Shea sees how the advantages of the Sennebogen machines are inherent in the way they are designed. "They aren't over-engineered," he says. "There's no computers on them that can shut you down. The other machines seem more built for breakout force. The Sennebogen is built for lifting jobs. It's designed right for material re-handling instead of breakout."

Meanwhile, River Docks has been putting their new machine to the test in other applications. Again, he is pleased with its performance. Pat Shea now sees a growing role on the river for Sennebogen. "We'll keep using our Manitowocs for loading steel; that's a different type of machine and application. But we also did some salvage work with the Sennebogen and we tested it out for a dredging application. We were able to get about 150 m3 out for every 2 hours of dredging, no problem."

Based on all the results, River Docks expects to build on its new Sennebogen fleet soon. Pat Shea might run his business skinny, but by running lean with Sennebogen, he plans to go far!

Sennebogen has been a leading name in the global material handling industry for more than 50 years. Based in Charlotte, North Carolina, Sennebogen America offers a complete range of purpose-built machines to suit virtually any heavy lift or "pick & carry" application. A growing network of distributors supports Sennebogen sales and service across the Americas, ensuring the highest standard of professional machine support and parts availability.

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