Cheaper Trick

There are benefits to operating transfer stations in a large state like Texas where haulers are forced to consolidate their waste to avoid costly, long-distance trucking expenses, but that doesn't mean it's always happy trails in the Lone Star State. Just ask Rustin Transportation.

The owner of 11 Texas transfer stations, Rustin processes an average of 2,300 tons of solid waste per day at its South Houston location alone, and moves 5,500 to 7,000 tons per day in its five Houston-area facilities. The company also operates transfer stations in Galveston, Matagorda County, Eagle Pass, Burnet County, Killeen and Arlington, Texas.

“We run about 90 tractors and trailers throughout our Houston operation,” according to Sid Sherwood, owner of the company's waste-handling operations.

Problem is that in south Texas, the air is humid, so “the floor stays wet all the time,” Sherwood says. “In Denver, you've got dry floors, and dust just flies off the floors. Here, there's an acidic liquid on the floor that attacks rubber [tires] and eats [them] up.”

Compounding that situation are local zoning laws. Regulations require the floors of three of Rustin's Houston facilities to be washed daily, and the transfer stations can only be open for 13 hours per day.

“In other words,” Sherwood says, “all that trash has to be gone and washed out every night. In one of [the facilities], we get about 1,500 tons per day, and we only have 12 hours to process it.”

An Unorthodox Solution

To process the large waste quantities while maintaining equipment, meeting regulations and surviving under time constraints, Rustin had to develop a system that would make loading garbage faster. Sherwood also wanted to ease communication so that the company's main office would know how much tonnage is on the floor of every transfer station at any time.

Because machines with tires would not stand up to the wear-and-tear caused by wet garbage, Sherwood, decided to use track loaders — despite the popular belief that track-type loaders have no business in transfer stations.

“Track machines scare everybody to death,” Sherwood says. “I was in Oklahoma City recently, and there was a new transfer station being built. One of the stipulations was that there couldn't be any track loaders on the floor because of the damage they cause to the concrete.”

But Sherwood says that for his operating environments, he compared the costs — what it would cost to put rubber-tire loaders and replace the tires every three or four months, running to the landfill with 20 tons vs. 25 tons that could be put on track-type loaders — and it was more economical to replace the floor.

“With 200 loads per day with an extra five tons per load, that's a lot of extra tonnage,” Sherwood says. “Last year we spent $30,000 to repair the concrete floors. The extra tons per load that we can handle offsets the cost of having to repair the concrete.”

Bigger, Faster

Now, Sherwood uses track loaders in each of his transfer stations. Chopper pads on the track loaders break up the trash and compact it, using the weight of the machine. This reduces the volume and makes it easier to load trash onto the trailers, Sherwood says.

“We compact trash on the floor with a Cat 963, and then we can push it with the same machine,” Sherwood explains. Then, “We come over [the retaining] wall and dump into the trailer,” he adds. The top of the trailer sits just about three feet above the loading floor next to a retaining wall. “We've got enough reach that we can pack-in [the garbage] with the same machine,” he says.

Rustin uses 45- and 48-foot trailers, loaded with an average of 26 tons of trash. To complement the track loaders, the facilities also use Caterpillar 325 Hydraulic Excavators to load garbage. “We can load a truck in eight minutes,” Sherwood boasts. “We can load much faster, which is a big deal in Houston. When a truck rolls in here, 15 minutes later, I want to see it down the road.”

One wheel loader is available at each transfer station, but it is only used to keep bays clean. Tires on these machines last approximately four months, Sherwood says.

On the other hand, a typical track loader works 16 hours per day and lasts three years. “In three years, in our last round of machines, one of our excavators had 11,000 hours on it,” Sherwood says.

Tracking Trucks

To keep the company's main office abreast of all operations, Sherwood also has developed a communications system that better manages the faster loading process.

“From our main office, we can tell you every hour how much tonnage is on the floor at every transfer station,” Sherwood says. This helps the company adjust truck traffic to fluctuating trash inflows. As each transfer station reports its volume, dispatchers can divert trucks to “cover” the transfer stations that are seeing larger volumes. “You might get 1,200 tons in one day and 1,400 the next,” Sherwood explains. “Two hundred tons is a lot of garbage, so you've got to get the trucks moving.”

For instance, when one of Rustin's transfer stations was predicted to see 300 tons per day but wound up receiving 650 tons of trash, the company had to quickly divert trucks to that facility. “If a carrier in the Houston area can't come in and work all the transfer stations, he'll go broke,” Sherwood says. But with the new communications system, “We can work the trucks to the busiest transfer stations,” he says.

Ultimately, the communication system and heavier-volume track loading process are beneficial for Rustin's customers. “We bid our locations by the ton so we can give our customers a big break,” Sherwood adds. “When the garbage trucks hit that floor, our customers have a fixed rate per ton, all the way to their landfill.”

Johnny Campos is a trade press relations marketing administrator for Caterpillar Inc., Peoria, Ill.


To keep pace with the waste flowing through his transfer stations, Rustin Transportation's Sid Sherwood has helped to develop a preventive maintenance program that keeps his fleet of machines on the job — despite their demanding applications.

Rustin's equipment provider offered a special maintenance package, but Sherwood also supplemented this with modifications developed by his staff.

In addition to the manufacturer's regular maintenance package, Rustin has added extra guarding for the hydraulic hoses, lift cylinders and rear tractor guarding to keep garbage from reaching the area behind the boom.

“You've got to protect the final drives, cylinder hoses and so forth,” Sherwood explains. “We run our machines for three years and put 9,000 hours on them, and don't have to replace the rails or undercarriage. Our operators stay on the garbage, but there are times when they're going to hit the concrete.”

In addition, Sherwood says track loaders also offer a special bucket option, called “trash rack,” to provide more loading and pushing capacity.

And, the radiators of the excavators are modified to prevent overheating, Sherwood says. This includes a hinge on the cooler and swivels on several hoses near the radiator to make the area more accessible for cleaning.

“We steam clean the radiators and inspect all of our machines every night,” Sherwood notes. Filters also are cleaned, and the machines greased “from one end to the other” every night. Prior to these modifications, however, radiators were being replaced as often as every eight months, he says.

Routine maintenance is key to keeping machines running smoothly, Sherwood says. To that end, service intervals have been shortened for machines that sometimes work two shifts per day in some locations.

“We do our servicing at 200 hours instead of 250 hours,” he says. “The 500-hour servicing is done at 400 hours, and the 1,000-hour servicing is done at 800 hours. I wanted to do them a little quicker because of the way we work the machines and the environment that they're in.”
Johnny Campos