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To save money, Stamford rehabs heavy-duty machines

September 17, 2018

STAMFORD - Taxpayers fund a lot of heavy-duty equipment to operate the city, but they get their money out of the loaders at the transfer station.

The big machines push and lift piles of garbage across the concrete floor into chutes that drop it into trucks that haul it to a Pennsylvania landfill.

The 42,000-pound, 15-foot-tall loaders work long hours in a tight space, crawling over all manner of trash.

They get old fast. New, they cost about $500,000.

So the city has taken to refurbishing them instead.

On Monday Mayor David Martin and Fleet Manager Mike Scacco unveiled one that just underwent a rebuild that they say will give it thousands of hours of new life. It cost taxpayers just under $220,000.

“Historically we have run these machines into the ground, bought new ones, and sold the old ones for scrap,” Martin said. “If we can refurbish them rather than run them to death, I think that should be the life cycle.”

Working with a company called H.O. Penn that refurbishes only Caterpillar machines, the city first tried it with a transfer station loader in 2015, Scacco said. That less extensive rebuild worked well, so Scacco decided to do a near-complete overall on this one.

It was stripped to the frame and cleaned, the transmission rebuilt, the cylinders resealed, the pumps and hydraulics overhauled. It was put back together and repainted. It comes with a three-year, $5,000 warranty.

“It’s like a new machine,” Scacco said. “We’re going to do another transfer station loader, and then a loader used by the highways department.”

The city has 12 loaders, including three that move garbage where it needs to go inside the transfer station, he said. The rest are used to pick up leaves, move snow, replace sand at the beaches, and remove storm debris from the streets, he said.

Loaders are the most common type of Caterpillar machine to get refurbished, said Dan Bezdelovz of H.O. Penn, which has one Connecticut office, in Newington, and four in New York.

“It’s the most affordable rebuild,” Bezdelovz said.

Some municipalities do rebuilds “but it’s more popular in the construction industry,” said Jim Scott, also with H.O. Penn.

Customers don’t usually buy used loaders because “you might be getting something that’s already pretty run down,” Bezdelovz said. “Some cities buy used ones and rebuild them.”

Martin said he likes a particular feature of Stamford’s newly rebuilt loader -- the bucket edge is fitted with solid rubber strips made from recycled tires. It makes him feel better about a $1.1 million project, now underway, to redo the transfer station floor, Martin said.

“One of the reasons we need a new floor is that the metal blades of the loaders keep hitting the concrete and, after so many times, it’s like hitting it with a jack hammer,” the mayor said. “This has rubber on the blades that will prolong the life of the new floor.”

Just as a new car may come with a “sport package,” the newly refurbished loader has a “waste arrangement.” Scott said it includes special features that allow it to operate better inside a transfer station, such as a “reversing fan,” which not only blows air at the engine to cool it, but also blows outward to clear trash off the grill.

The need for it was clear Monday inside the transfer station, where operator Ray Ghant was running the loader that was rebuilt in 2015.

Within the tall concrete walls - and with workers reconstructing a portion of the floor nearby -- Ghant maneuvered the loader like a sports car.

The 5-foot-tall, solid rubber tires ran over glass, shards of metal, and plastic bags containing who-knows-what as Ghant moved the pile toward the chute, where huge dump trucks waited below to take it away.

Pieces of trash hung to the loader, Ghant shook them off, and other pieces clung on. At one point Ghant plucked a mattress out of the trash pile and held it in the bucket claw.

“He cleans the floor with it,” Operations Supevisor Vito Candito said. “He uses it like a big broom. It works great.”

Dan Colleluori, supervisor of solid waste and recycling, said he recently spotted one of the city’s Toter trash bins in the garbage pile.

“The city gets reimbursed for those, so I asked Ray if he could get it for me,” Colleluori said. “He wheeled over to it and plucked it right out. He’s really good.”

And the loader is a workhorse machine worth saving - if it saves the city money, he said.

But not all loaders fit the bill, Scacco said. He considers age, mileage, and hours of use when deciding whether one should be refurbished. He also consults with H.O. Penn.

“There are certain situations where you can’t do a certified rebuild,” Scott said. “Sometimes it’s just not worth it.”

Cracks in the main frame - even “micro-cracks” - are a bad sign, Bezdelovz said.

“Things can get to a point where you know they won’t last,” Bezdelovz said. “Those machines are not good candidates, and we advise against a rebuild.”

acarella@stamfordadvocate.com; 203-964-2296.

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