In the small city of Valdez, Alaska, terminus port of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, Hitachi excavators are working on a big project: The City of Valdez New Harbor Development Project, a multi-year, multi-phase project to build a new harbor basin and upland facilities.
A major contributor to the harbor project is a company that has a deep understanding of the area and its people: Harris Sand & Gravel. After all, owner Bill Harris is a true Alaskan – his great-grandfather was part of the Gold Rush. The family settled in Valdez, and eventually, Harris’ father started Harris Sand & Gravel in 1958.
"I grew up in the business,” Harris said. “I remember riding around in dozers with my dad.”
Harris is not only a true Alaskan but also a true Hitachi fan. His first experience operating a Hitachi excavator was in the early ’80s, around when he began running the family business.
“In my opinion, Hitachi pioneered the modern excavator controls,” Harris said. “They’re precise, smooth and you can do multiple functions at once. They’re great machines!”
Harris Sand & Gravel purchased a ZX870LC-5 in October 2015, and it’s doing its part to move about half a million cubic yards of rock and dirt for phase one of the new harbor project, estimated to be completed in the fall. The company bought the excavator at the end of a six-month rental after realizing it was critical to successfully completing the project.
“The 870 is a beast,” Harris said. “It can dig out shot rock and load. I was hesitant at first because I wasn’t sure if we needed that big of a machine. I'm glad we got it.”
And his operators couldn’t agree more.
“The 870 is powerful,” said operator Martin Werbelow. “It does everything from methodical work to moving mountains.”
Once completed, the new harbor will include docks/moorage capacity, additional vessel launch ramps, a vehicle parking lot and support services. New access roads and pedestrian walkways will provide increased waterfront accessibility.
“Reliability” holds a different meaning when it comes to operating in the harsh conditions of Alaska, where temperatures can dip to 40 below and the permafrost can be up to 2,000 ft. (609.6 m) deep. But Harris said his Hitachi excavators never fail him.
“I’ve always liked the Isuzu engines. They’re good cold-starters, and that’s really important when you work in places like Alaska,” he said. “Not every type of engine is a good cold-starter.”
Harris’ new ZX870LC-5 joined a ZX135US-5 purchased in June 2015, a ZX650 in September 2014, as well as several other Hitachi machines in the fleet. Harris still owns an EX400, and runs a ZX470 and two ZX450 excavators.
Operator Tim Hodge runs one of the ZX450 excavators, which has10,000 hours and the original engine and undercarriage.
“I prefer Hitachi over other brands,” Hodge said. “The controls are easy to use, and Hitachi does a good job with ergonomics.”
It’s clear Harris understands the importance of dealer support – he has partnered with Construction Machinery Industrial (CMI) for more than 20 years.
“It helps tremendously if you have good dealer support,” he said. “They know what’s going on and what equipment is available. The machines are no longer just mechanical; they have a brain. We rely on CMI for support with the technology and electronics.”
Harris’ Hitachi fleet, with CMI’s support, will continue to stay busy working not only on the harbor project, but also in the company’s own quarry. Harris has transitioned to marine work as well.
“It's been a good show so far thanks to the excavators,” he said. “They’re well-built and simple. Minimal trouble. Typical Hitachi.”
Harris Sand & Gravel Inc. is serviced by Construction Machinery Industrial LLC, Anchorage, Alaska.