Over the past 40 years, the Walker family has learned a thing or two about adaptability and durability. They’re values ingrained in the company’s business since being founded by Chuck Walker and his sons in 1975, and they’re also the characteristics they look for in their equipment.
Being able to adjust to the often-tumultuous Detroit-area economy and transform their business to include everything from demolition and excavation to site utilities and finish work has given them the adaptability they’ve needed to survive.
“When we take on a project, we do it as if it were going to be our own,” Matt Walker, the company’s current president, said. “I always tell the inspector, ‘When you leave, this job is going to go on just like you were here the whole time.”
Currently, the company’s business focuses on commercial site development, operating with six excavators, five dozers, three loaders, two track loaders, a skid steer, a roller, a crane, a 60-ton crane and various smaller tools and machines.
Recently, when it came time to add a new dozer to their fleet, they were prepared to go with the same brand machine that they had stood by for the past 35 years. That long history of devotion was overturned, however, when they purchased the new 1150M dozer from CASE Construction Equipment and Southeastern Equipment Co.
“We buy our machines with the intention of keeping them for 20 to 25 years or more, so we want to buy something that’s built to last,” Matt Walker said. “I noticed right away that the front end of the machine is very heavy duty. The other thing that stood out to me was that all of the service and maintenance checks can be done from the ground.” From easily accessed body panels, all of the 1150M’s regular check points, electrical fuses and filters can be accessed without having to climb on the machine. An easily removable floor panel in the cab also provides convenient access to the machine’s hydraulic components.
Their first impressions were reaffirmed once Walker Construction put the 1150M through its paces.
They brought it to a site with between 8 and 12 inches of frost, and they were going to wait for one of their excavators to arrive and start digging out some of the frost. Instead, Matt Walker said, “that dozer got right into it and started popping off chunks of frost as big as the machine itself. It was pretty impressive.”
The CASE 1150M’s 127 horsepower, Tier 4-Interim engine uses advanced Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) technology to produce 7 percent more power while using 10.5 percent less fuel than previous and competitive models. The 1150M also features a best-in-class 48,000 pounds of drawbar pull along with heavy-duty hydraulic cylinders and improved seals, giving it the power and ruggedness to handle extreme loads.
“One thing my dad, from the time I was young, he’d always say he ‘didn’t like equipment that would get into a pile and push around,” Matt Walker said. “This machine pushes right through straight. As we speak right now, this machine is probably twice as much productive as what we have (now).”
Chuck Walker, who at 84 has been operating dozers since 1956 and still operates this new dozer daily, was equally impressed by the power of the 1150M, but also its ease of use.
“This is a real fast machine,” Chuck said. “It’s a good pushing machine and it’s a real smooth machine.”
Matt Walker said the improved fuel economy was another significant factor in their decision. “Fuel is one of our biggest costs. The 1150M is every bit as good, if not better, than all of the machines we demoed, and it far exceeds the other machines in our fleet.”
Walker noted that adding the diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) required for the SCR engine was a new task, but was simple.
“It’s not that difficult,” Walker said. “It’s just something that we have to get used to. The fill neck is right next to the fuel tank and it’s separated so that there’s no way you can confuse the fuel and the DEF.”
Also clear from the beginning was the improved visibility of the 1150M compared to their other machines. With a new cab-forward design, floor to ceiling glass doors and a sloped hood, the 1150M emphasizes visibility in addition to power.
“I want to know what’s going on with that blade at all times,” Chuck Walker said. “We strip a lot of sites of top soil, and you’ve got to be able to see what’s going on with the blade so that you don’t get too deep.”
Both Matt and Chuck Walker said they found the 1150M’s controls intuitive and easy to learn. “I ran the machine for 30 minutes, and I felt as comfortable with it as something that I’d been running for two years,” Matt said. “I was able to grade 400 feet of curb in that 30 minutes. I never ran a machine that had that fine grading setting, and it was really, really nice.”
The 1150M’s fine grading feature, which increases accuracy by slowing the blade up to 40 percent, enabled Walker to achieve the precise blade control that was needed. In addition, the 1150M offers smooth, moderate and aggressive steering and shuttle settings, enhanced fingertip blade controls that allow for improved control over the blade angle and sensitivity, and blade shake for quick cleaning.
“We prefer the smooth (setting),” Matt Walker said. “A lot of our work is finish (grading). Sometimes we’ll be grading right next to a building. It’s just a very operator friendly machine.”
The blade shake function proves helpful in shaking sticky material from the blade and reducing stresses on the machine and operator.
“Generally, you’d have to shake the blade ten or twelve times,” Matt Walker explained. “Now, this function does it in two or three seconds (with a single button).”
Even though most of their work is on dry soil, Walker Construction opted for the added stability of the wide-track model, which tips the scales at 32,174 pounds and features 5.4-psi ground pressure.
Despite those positive first impressions, perhaps the most rewarding benefit of the 1150M arrives at the end of the day thanks to the comfort and sound quality of the machine’s cab.
“This machine’s a whole lot quieter than we’re used to,” Chuck Walker said. “You’re not worn out by the end of the day. Some of these machines work you harder than you work them.” The 1150M’s positive-pressure cab offers advanced sealing features and an isolated design to keep out both dust and noise to provide a quiet, comfort-controlled environment that reduces operator exposure and fatigue.
Another feature that assists the operator is the 1150M’s electro-hydraulic controls, which replace mechanical linkage controls with electro-hydraulics to greatly reduce the amount of force needed to manipulate the blade.
“Especially in the winter, when the hydraulic fluid is thicker, our operators used to complain that their wrists hurt by the end of the day,” Matt Walker said. “The electro-hydraulic controls on the 1150M completely eliminated that, and the movement of the controls is a very natural motion and didn’t take long at all to get used to.”
Walker Construction obtained the 1150M through a lease-to-own arrangement that includes CASE ProCare, which comprises a full-machine factory warranty and planned maintenance for three years or 3,000 hours, as well as a three-year Advanced subscription to the company’s SiteWatch telematics service. The SiteWatch service gives the company access to real-time data on the machine’s usage and location, allowing them to identify excessive fuel consumption, reduce downtime through improved maintenance scheduling and avoid machine failures through automated function alerts. Most importantly, it allows contractors to add equipment without worrying about unpredictable maintenance and repair costs.
“Maintaining the machines can be a big cost,” Matt said. “With the way everything from labor costs to oils are going up, it’s nice to know the maintenance for the first three years is locked in and that it’s going to be the dealer, who is the most familiar with the machine, doing the work.”
The Walkers have witnessed first hand the effects of increased costs and reduced demand. The past 10 years has seen Detroit bear the full brunt of the economic downturn and many of Walker Construction’s competitors have been forced out of business.
Determined to survive, Matt and Chuck Walker knew that adaptability, along with excellent workmanship and customer service, were critical elements to their success. Having traveled as far as North Carolina for work during the height of the recession, the company prides itself on deriving a substantial portion of its revenue from word-of-mouth and repeat business.
“We feel that when we get a new customer we’ll be able to keep him by being fair with prices and doing excellent work,” Matt Walker said.
Thanks to that approach, business has turned a corner. “We’ve been very fortunate, and it feels like we’re on an upswing.”