Editorial: 06.01.2023

Castle Presents #DirtVader

Not everyone may know how essential the shop and yard are to the lifeblood of Castle Contracting. Without our earthmoving and excavation machinery and the people who operate them, we don’t exist and simply can’t work. The skill of our mechanics is top of the industry. They make sure our fleet is optimized so that machines are in peak condition daily and work well for decades. This is important for serving our clients and project teams, running efficient work on site, and making Castle profitable so we can keep on working.

The Castle shop and yard dispatch equipment and supplies to all corners of the metro regions where we work. The fleet and team don’t stop there as field mechanics are also assigned full time to large, remote projects like solar providing oil changes to equipment fleets early in the morning before anyone arrives on site, so they are ready for the day. Mechanics are also prepared for any maintenance needs throughout the day.

The Rebuild

Recently, the mechanic team in St. Louis took on a complete rebuild of a mid-sized CAT D6 dozer. The D6 was a 15-year-old machine with original components and 13,925 hours under its belt. Oil samples were starting to trend up showing metal in the engine and transmission causing oil consumption to increase significantly. The team was spending more down time dealing with repairs and it was time to either rebuild or replace. The shop team determined that they could add significant value by rebuilding the D6.

Since this was a total frame up rebuild – meaning the entire machine was taken apart – the team also repaints every component to protect the equipment and make it like new. But the team was thinking they might do something a little different this time.

“We all were thinking a color change on a dozer would be a pretty neat item to get the company noticed. So, we started figuring out a plan of attack to get it done. We ended up getting a sandblaster and decided to do a full color change,” said Foreman JR Stoops.

Why is this significant? Because repainting a major piece of equipment a different color is a detailed and labor-intensive undertaking. It requires blasting grime and old paint off every component and then painting every single piece of the machine. After much deliberation, the team decided to go for it and paint the D6 black. The rebuilt dozer, nicknamed Vader by the mechanic team, will be eye-catching to those who know their heavy equipment!

Construction workers on a job site
Caption: The CAT D6 dozer dubbed Vader by the mechanic rebuild team of Tony Badders, Ricky Pennington, Jr., Rick Pennington, Sr., and JR Stoops.

The Vader rebuild team was led by Ricky Pennington, Jr. who was joined by the team of JR Stoops, Tony Badders and Rick Pennington, Sr. Laborer Kolby Lueken stepped in to help with sandblasting and Director of Fleet Operations Doug Thurman supervised the mechanic team.

What is even more impressive is that during the same time period, the team was working on a second dozer rebuild (not a total frame up rebuild, so no paint), a new engine for one of the large 40-ton haul trucks as well as other maintenance that came in daily. Depending on when parts would arrive for the rebuilds, which is what drove the timeline, the mechanics could hop between projects. There is a lot of stopping and starting, but the team is experienced, and they know their production and how much time a specific task will take.

“As mechanics we kind of all know our times and how things are going to get done because we’ve done it enough. So, we’ll say to ourselves, we’re going to get the engine today, so we’ll make a plan to have the engine hung and plumbed two days from now,” said Stoops. “We have the mindset always going like, I’m getting the transmission today. I know for a fact we can get the transmission done in two hours.”

The team broke down both dozers in November and they came online in March and April respectively. The team estimates that in a perfect world where all the parts are available on their doorstep, they could get the rebuilds done in a few weeks.

“All the good work is in the prep work,” said Badders.

To turn the D6 into Vader, the team hung plastic in the warehouse bays to turn the shop into a variety of partitioned rooms for sandblasting, painting, and mechanic work. They donned rain suits and full-face respirator masks, all seams sealed with tape to blast the parts down to the metal to prep for paint. Blasting was at such a high pressure, the mechanics took turns like firemen, one manning the blasting hose and the other making sure the lead person could see through his mask amidst the debris. Then an assembly process of sandblasting, priming and paint was put in place down to the smallest parts.

The team expects the paint job to last with only a few touch-ups needed. The team is waiting to paint the undercarriage black – it’s still at 80% efficiency so it’s not ready to be taken apart! The team installed a custom chrome stack and they’re hoping for some tinted windows.

A collage of photos documenting a dozer being painted black.
Caption: Paint progress on Vader.

The process was fun and rewarding challenge for the team. “It’s cool to have people see something that you put a lot of sweat equity in. To see it come out and be like, ‘Wow, good job!’” said Stoops. “I’m really curious to see the jobsite reaction.”

“I can’t wait to see it pushing dirt,” said Pennington, Jr. “It looks good, and people notice it. That’s what I like!”

Industry Leader

The Omaha Castle team during a presentation.
Caption: Fabick Cat instructor features Castle team as a successful example for the Rebuild Program.

The efforts of the team were also hyped in April when St. Louis Cat dealer Fabick featured Castle during an annual seminar for their Certified Rebuilds Program as a prime example of a dealer/customer collaborative rebuild. Normally, they highlight rebuilds performed at their own Fabick facilities in Fenton, an operation that runs a total of 120+ mechanics and two shifts. It just goes to show the capability of the Castle shop team and what they can get done.

“I don’t think there’s anything that would beat us. I think we do a pretty good job at it,” said Pennington.

“I wouldn’t be scared to jump into anything, really,” added Stoops.

It was great recognition for our innovative mechanic team and validates the shop team’s efforts of component rebuilds to effectively maintain equipment and extend their useful operating life. “It’s going to save money. It’s definitely a better thing,” said Stoops of the rebuild approach.

Castle’s shop team has earned a reputation of quality work within the St. Louis trade area, for taking great care of our equipment and providing some recognition with dealers in other parts of the country that helps the team get extra support on projects when needed. The Castle shop team is All In and we’re proud of them!

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