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  Construction Articles - People

Moving Mountains - On a North San Diego County Caltrans Project

December 2010

In true American spirit, Dave Kelly begins work every day by unfurling and hanging our country's flag outside his door for many to see. This ritual and symbol of inspiration is also company policy for his position.

His office door happens to be at the top of a fire-escape-like-maze of narrow steel stairs and ladders rising up through the inside of a giant 800-horse-power earth-moving machine that currently sits towering above Highway 76 in North County.

Once at the controls in his cab with a view high above the San Luis Rey River valley, the massive hydraulic excavator roars into action with a deafening diesel power plant as the 25-year operator veteran scoops up room-sized buckets of earth at a time with Old Glory flying behind him.

Kelly is just one of hundreds of career-minded professionals working together and collectively building a new road that thousands of commuters are watching quickly come into shape from just a wide swath of cleared hillsides last spring.

With a little faith, lots of giant-sized heavy equipment, and months of hard work, this team of dedicated local men and women are forever changing the landscape in North County for the $61 million State Route 76 highway widening project. Caltrans' SR-76 Middle Project construction team is being led by Flatiron West, Inc., with their sub-contractor Pinnick, Inc., in charge of moving mountains.

Family-owned Pinnick chose to use one of their largest excavators and an array of huge mining/quarry haul trucks to move the million plus cubic meters of rock and earth for the new road.

They also needed and mobilized some of the largest dozers and loaders that Caterpillar makes along with other grading equipment to cut into the steep and rugged hills and then spread, compact, and fill all of the low lying areas with the moved rock and earth. The large fleet of massive heavy-duty yellow machines they brought to the job is staged right now at three areas of the 9-km project.

Yet, it's the super-sized Caterpillar 5130 excavator trimmed out with the equally large U.S. flag that catches the attention of many daily commuters along SR-76.

"The owner likes to have the flag mounted on both of the company’s 5130’s." explains Jim Baxter, Pinnick’s superintendent on the project.

Bill Pinnick is the patriotic patriarch and founder of the now second-generation family run general engineering construction company from El Cajon. And the family theme doesn’t stop there. Baxter has his brother Ed as foreman on the job as well as his son Steven working as a grade-checker. Even the operators choose to stay with Pinnick over generations like the two main haul truck drivers working everyday on the new road – the Colmenero’s, another father-son team.

Kelly, a member of Local 12 (operating engineers), is Pinnick's operator (and flag bearer) for the last twelve years of one of their two 5130's.

“We had three 5130’s, but, sold one before the downturn.” Baxter goes on, describing the reliance of the machine often at the center of attention and their work.

Following the detrimental year for the construction industry in 2009, Pinnick has rebounded and is working on winning more work. The Middle Project is partially funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has helped them and many others.

“The company officers did well getting us through last year. This project is one of our larger ones this year,” Baxter recalls. “We’re just focusing on completing the 5130’s work here so it will be ready for the next job.”

Baxter is satisfied with their progress so far as they are staying ahead of schedule. Before the recent heavy rains temporarily stopped work, they were working on completing their third large cut through the hillsides in the section between Melrose and E. Vista Way.

“We went through over 100-feet of decomposed granite, before hitting the underlying blue granite.” Baxter noted on the current cut.

That’s when Pinnick called back one of their sub-contractors and long-term partners, Tom C. Dyke Drilling and Blasting (TCD).

"TCD was drilling or blasting almost everyday once we hit the last eight meters of hard granite", says Baxter with another inference to their schedule. “We’ve been working with them almost as long as we’ve been in business.”

Jeff Kermode, an engineering geologist for Caltrans monitoring Pinnick’s work was equally pleased with their progress before the rains and noted that on this last cut, soil borings were not available due to the fast-track nature of the construction project and when the new right-of-way was acquired.

When later asked if there were any planning and production problems by not knowing where they might encounter the harder igneous granitic rock formations on the project, Baxter simply noted with confidence, “It’s what we do; we deal with it as we find it.”

Here are some photos of the 5130 in action on the project: click Here

Here are photos of Pinnick working at night on a two mile haul on the SR-76 project: click Here

Here are more photos of the SR-76 project. Click Here

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