CalContractor Grading & Excavating 2018

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Michael Willhite and Willhite Grading & Excavation, Inc. – It’s Not Just a Job, It’s a Lifelong Passion


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Feature Articles 06





Hard Work and Faith Combine to Usher Elite Earthworks & Engineering Into 30-Plus Years of Success in the Southern California Grading & Excavating Industry




Integrity, Respect, Responsibility and Good Old-Fashioned Hard Work are the Key to Success for Southern California Grading






CalContractor Magazine / PUBLISHER: Kerry Hoover



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Left: Michael Willhite (left) with his son Hunter Jay Willhite.

Michael Willhite and Willhite Grading & Excavation, Inc. – It’s Not Just a Job, It’s a Lifelong Passion


o many, passion is often thought of as an emotion associated with something that an individual or group of people enjoy doing, but to others it is much more. To some, passion is a word that describes the willingness to put more into something than is required to pass or succeed. It is something that pushes certain individuals to happily endure uncomfortable 6

situations and even difficult struggles to achieve the desired goal. It is much more than just enthusiasm or excitement; it is ambition that creates action and knows no boundaries. The moment you meet Michael Willhite, you can't help but immediately notice the positive energy and excitement that he exudes. When you spend a small amount of time with him, you realize that he not only loves


his life's work but also has an unbound passion for it that can't be concealed. His work is not a job or career; it is a way of life and as much a part of him as his physical body that allows him to carry out his vision each day. Michael Willhite (Willhite) grew up in Los Osos and attended school in both Los Osos and its neighboring community Morro Bay, just a few miles away.

Above: Michael Willhite on the Santa Barbara “Ridley Tree Cancer Center” project using his Engcon tiltrotator to shape a bio swale holding pond area in front of the facility. Willhite was involved in this project for 2 years.

This particular area of California is heavy in farming, commercial fishing, and ranching and many are in the construction trade. Willhite had a good friend growing up, by the name of David Crye, who came from a well-known construction family (Ed Crye and son engineering). David Crye went on to start David Crye Engineering, a highly respected company operating out of San Luis Obispo County. Willhite recalls the family taking him under their wing, and in doing so, he was exposed to and fell in love with all things heavy construction oriented. "By the age of 14, I knew what I wanted to do with my life," says Willhite. "I wanted a career that was based on operating heavy machinery and one day owning my own construction company. I had a clear vision, and I knew getting there would take time.” Willhite also had a great love for the ocean, being raised on the water and fishing with his father as a kid. His dad had a roofing company, and young Willhite

would help out whenever he could on weekends and during the summer break. "My father had always been in business for himself for as long as I could remember. He was an entrepreneur, and I wanted to work for myself one day, just like he did,” says Willhite. “I gave some thought to going to work for my dad after graduating from high school, but he suffered an injury and was no longer able to continue operating his roofing business. I had to change my short-term game plan.” Willhite thought of immediately pursuing a job as an equipment operator, but he lacked the skills, knowledge, and connections to just jump right into the industry. He turned to his love of the ocean around this time instead and decided to join the Coast Guard in 1998, only eight months after graduating high school. "I went to boot camp in Cape May, New Jersey, and requested that I be stationed in Alaska," says Willhite. "It wasn't the most popular

destination, so my request was of course granted.” Willhite spent much of his time on a construction tender in the Bering Sea servicing shore structures and maintaining buoys and other navigational aids. He also helped out with search and rescue missions and other law enforcement duties. “I love big seas and knew that I wanted to push myself,” says Willhite. “I learned a lot about myself, and life in general, but I also looked around me and saw just how hard it was on the human body. After three years, I decided it was time to return home to start my pursuit of pulling levers.” Willhite ended up landing a job in the oil fields for Robert Heely Construction and thus began his first official career operating backhoes, wheel loaders, skip loaders and other machines. “I remember operating a backhoe close to the roadside and noticed an individual observing my work as he drove by each day,” says Willhite. “It turned out he was a member of the IBEW and wanted



Left: One of Willhite Grading and Excavation's crews finishing up a pool dig for Vernon Construction in the hills above Montecito using the Engcon Tiltrotator.

to know if I was interested in joining his team at Henkels & McCoy running fiber optic cable in the Sacramento area near Donner Summit.” Willhite put in his notice and hit the road, essentially walking right into the IBEW as an operator. He spent the next couple of years running a D6 dozer and a backhoe to run fiber through mountain passes, before returning home to go to work for another communications company. “I was yearning to get back to the core of grading and excavating, but it was difficult to find work at the time,” says Willhite. “I spent the next eight or nine years traveling around, working for several different companies and learned a lot about infrastructure, particularly where underground utilities were concerned.” By 2005, Willhite had moved to Santa Barbara to begin working for Pozzebon Backhoe Service, Inc. and this is where he remained before starting his own company in 2011. “I got my C-12 contractors license while working for Pozzebon and when I left to start my own company, they kept me busy for the first couple of years as a sub which is what I needed to keep my head above water,” says Willhite. “I am thankful for the work they gave me during this time.” 8

Willhite Grading & Excavating, Inc. slowly began earning their own clientele, and although they were not yet performing any big grading jobs, they were getting noticed and staying busy with underground utility work. "I wanted to make an impact, and so I decided to double down and invest heavily into modern technology," says Willhite. "I slowly grew my business to 10 employees, seven tractors and six trucks. I was also successful in building mutually beneficial relationships with leading technology manufacturers like Caterpillar, Trimble and Engcon Tiltrotrator.” Several manufacturers had taken notice of Willhite Grading & Excavating and their presence on social media and approached Willhite to talk about implementing mutually beneficial marketing and platform testing programs. “I got into social media around five years ago because I was feeling isolated geographically and within the industry itself,” says Willhite. “I began using the various platforms to connect with other contractors and manufacturers to learn from them, and it has resulted in a noticeable growth in my business, and I have become a part of a fellowship with other industry professionals.” Manufacturers like Engcon Tiltrotator out of Sweden noticed


Willhite’s social media success and the following that he was getting on platforms like Instagram. Their marketing manager, Joanne Tomczyk had the idea of leveraging the social media influence that Willhite had built and approached him about adopting their product and speaking freely about it either positively or negatively. Willhite agreed, and he took delivery of one Tiltrotator attachment which essentially performs as an excavator’s wrist allowing the bucket to rotate unhindered around its axis with infinite 360-degree flexibility. “We have been using and promoting the Engon Tiltrotator for around a year and a half, and it has changed the way that I view excavation," says Willhite. "I can give you an example of where I was digging a pool a few months back and was able to do so without the use of shapers that I would normally use to finish off the sides. This saved me both time and money and made me even more valuable in an already competitive market. It is an amazing attachment that will quickly pay for itself many times over.” Willhite is also a big fan of Trimble and their Earthworks Grade Control Platform. “I use the Trimble Earthworks platform on [Continued on page 10]

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Right: Michael Willhite tackling steep terrain on hillside failure and rebuild. In this photo he is finishing out the top of this slope on phase 1 of this 2 phase project.

Left: Starting phase 2 of hillside failure and rebuild project about 1 year later. In this photo Willhite’s crews are in the process of backfilling the 6 ft. keyway at toe of phase 2 hillside failure project behind existing wall.

[Continued from page 8] our 308E excavator and just started using their new Trimble Earthworks Go! Grade Control Platform, which is a 2D & 3D grade control solution for compact machine grading attachments. “I am currently involved in beta testing for Trimble and even participated in some of their commercials and other media coverage,” says Willhite. “Their technology, along with newly released products from Caterpillar and Engcon are transforming the industry.” Willhite Grading & Excavating is currently utilizing their Engon Tiltrotator and Trimble Earthworks platform on a hillside failure and rebuild in Santa Barbara. “We are currently finished with around 45 percent of the hillside and can finish much of the project with the use of our Engon Tiltrotator attachments and our Trimble Earthworks Grade Control Platform on our Cat 308 mini hydraulic excavators,” says Willhite. “We started the first phase of this job in early 2017, and after taking a short break from the job, we will be wrapping things up in a few months.” 10

According to Willhite, the owner of the apartment complexes where the hillside was failing did not want to get into building an expensive engineered wall system, so they called Willhite Grading & Excavating in to assist in coming up with a plan that included cutting in a keyway system behind the existing wall, effectively eliminating the walls influence on the slope. “We went in and cut a six-foot-deep keyway to strengthen the failed hillside in an area that has a rise of around 60 feet, and a run of about the same," says Willhite. The width of the construction area is around 310 feet long, and according to Willhite the trick has been getting it all done with the residents still inhabiting the apartment structure. "Some parts of the hillside slid to the point where it is almost vertical," says Willhite. "We are using two Cat CTL's (compact track loaders) and two Cat mini excavators on each side. The hillside is too steep, so we have built ramps at 1.75 to 1 for the tracked machines to make their way up and down the slope.” Willhite crews are cutting these


slopes from 1.6 to 1 over 310 feet and transitioning to 1.75 to 1. This requires a lot of math to get it right, especially since they can’t work from the above road down, due to safety concerns. “This job takes time due to the space restrictions and the fact that all of the dirt has to be removed to the parking lot and cleaned and processed by adding moisture on-site to provide consistency in the soil,” says Willhite. “On an average day, we can do two lifts and process around 100 cubic yards per six-inch lift in the process. We have done around 5,000 cubic yards so far and have imported around another 1,000 with another 5,000 needed before completion.” Willhite points out that Mirifi Triacle fabric is also being utilized every 24-inches, and back drains are being installed every 15 feet of elevation rise to keep water from creating another issue by giving it an easy way out to the slope face thus eliminating the seeping underground water issues. "We are working on a bench that is just eight to 9 feet wide, and that is why we need the smaller excavators," says Willhite.

Above: One of Willhite’s crews using the CAT Accugrade Box Blade System to grade out tennis court sub grade. Willhite is often called in by other contractors when high tolerances are required. Left: Michael Willhite working with Trimble Technology to test the Earthworks Go platform. Willhite Grading was also the company used in the making of the debut promotional video used in its unveiling and marketing of the product.

"It can be very dangerous. Safety is always the most important aspect of any job for us, and we take it very seriously. I have witnessed and heard of too many tragedies, and we follow our safety protocol to the letter." Willhite Grading & Excavating has grown so quickly in part because they are always willing to take on the projects that other contractors shy away from, like the above-mentioned hillside job. They are also called on regularly because of the technology they have invested in and have become proficient at using. Case in point would be a project they were asked to be a part of at a high school turf field project in Goleta. “The contractor on the job was running a motor grader with a GPS system, but the tight tolerance on this particular job called for a grade that was tighter than the GPS could provide. This is where our CTL (compact tractor loader) equipped with a box blade and the Cat AccuGrade™ Laser Guided Automatic System came in handy,” says Willhite. “The Cat AccuGrade™ 2D system runs off

laser guided automatics and is as accurate as you are going to get in a grading situation.” Willhite points out that the turf field in question has a crown in the middle and a flowline at the edges with hips and valleys. It is designed to handle 26 gallons per square foot per hour, and these days it is all about pumping water back into the aquifers and water table below. “The job called for 0.053 in one direction and 0.059 in the other from the crown in the middle of the field. The inspection process is brutal and leaves no room for error,” says Willhite. “We took several passes over a four-day period and ended the job with around 300 cubic yards of extra imported base material. A perfect example of how quickly you can recoup your investment with technology if you take the leap.” Willhite Grading & Excavating just recently finished a land restoration project in Montecito that they are quite proud of. They were contracted by a homeowner to rehabilitate a three-acre parcel that was devastated by the recent floods. “There was a few feet of mud covering everything including

the base of oak trees and other plant life and structures. We came in over a two-month period and restored the land back to its natural setting,” says Willhite. “We eliminated trees and brush where necessary, recontoured the land with hips and valleys and brought in a couple hundred tons of stone and sandstone boulders to finish off the project.” Willhite also rebuilt the waterway throughout the property and lined it with some of the boulders and used other rock material to create a faux creek bed to aid in erosion control in the future. “We exported a great deal of trash and debris and imported chippings from trees that were being ground up from the area and given away to those that could use it on their properties. We used the material to install a trail around the outskirts of the property to serve as a safe and dry walking path." There is one consistent component for success that tends to come up when you have any sort of lengthy discussion with Michael Willhite, and that is Caterpillar equipment. "Caterpillar is the apex of equipment as far as



Left: Photos inside the closed area of Montecito mudslides. Willhite Grading was already working in Montecito and one of the first in the area doing what they could do to assist in any and all operations. Middle: A photo of one of the most heavily hit areas of the mudslide which shows the pure scale of the actual rock boulders the earth moved through the town. Crew pictured on top working to split the massive boulders. Right: Willhite Grading was a guest of Trimble Dimensions in 2018. Willhite will be one of the first in the world having automatics on any Cat 308 coupled with an automatics Tiltrotator system.

I am concerned. I grew up around a different brand as a backhoe operator, but throughout the rest of my life, no matter where I worked, I was reminded of the value of Caterpillar equipment. Whether it was the engines, pumps, and motors used while with the Coast Guard on the Bering Sea, or the heavy equipment used while working for several construction firms, Caterpillar was the one thing I could count on seeing and using on a daily basis,” says Willhite. “They were always a little bit better and lasted longer than the other brand machines. I remember when the first Cat 420 backhoe came out and just how impressed I was with that machine. I was blown away by the beauty, power and perfectly designed controls and other amenities.” Willhite says that he believes that it is the quality and well thought out engineering that is responsible for the longevity of a Cat machine. “They are built for the long haul this is why you see so many older Cat machines still working on jobsites,” says Willhite. “The pilot controls are simply amazing, and I am really impressed with their dozers and motor graders as well. I just can’t say enough about Caterpillar machinery.” Willhite loves Cat equipment so much that he has agreed to take part in some of their 12

advertising efforts and video testimonials. “You get maximum efficiency and the longest life span possible with a Cat machine, but for me the bottom line is customer service," says Willhite. "I rented from Quinn Company for the first few years, and they gave me credit when no one else would. They took a chance on me, and I will be forever grateful to them for helping me get my start. My representative is Jacob Bates, and he has been there for us every step of the way and has had our back whenever there was even the smallest issue." Willhite currently owns and operates seven Cat machines including a Cat 420E backhoe, a Cat 300.9D, 308E2CR and 305.5 CR mini excavator and Cat 239D, 259D and 289D compact track loaders along with six trucks, a water trailer and several Cat attachments like the Cat Box Blade System. “One of my first goals was to have a million-dollar fleet within my first 10 years in business,” says Willhite. “Now at seven years, I am quickly reaching that goal and will certainly surpass it within the next three years.” Willhite has been investing heavily in the overall infrastructure of his company. “I have invested in equipment, truck and employee tracking technology to build the data that will help me to tune


my company to its maximum efficiency in the near future,”says Willhite. “It is all about the future and to be perfectly honest, I would like my last name to stand for something someday. I hope and pray that my son will have the interest to manage whatever I can build in my lifetime and take it to the next level. I have modeled my life after a lot of the families that I grew up with. I saw the love and support that these families that have been in this trade for generations have for one another, and the drive and ambition that their children had to carry on the family tradition. I want the same for my son and grandchildren.” Michael Willhite has already taught his son quite a bit about the business, even though Hunter Jay Willhite is only 3 ½ years old. "He loves to watch me run the Cat machines, and he has just about every toy that Cat has ever made. It seems to be in his blood. He knows all the tractor names and many of the models and that amazes me," says Willhite. "I told myself early on in life that I needed to pick one thing and be the very best at that one thing. That has worked out well for me, and I pray that it serves my son just as well.” Willhite Grading & Excavation's tagline is "Earth Work is Art" for more information please visit Cc

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Hard Work and Faith Combine to take Elite Earthworks & Engineering Into 30-Plus Years of Success in the Southern California Grading & Excavating Industry

By Brian Hoover


ndrew Backlund (Backlund) was taught the ins and outs of the grading and excavating business while working for Phil Clegg at Clegg Engineering in the 1980s. Eventually, Backlund left the business to go to work in an entirely different industry but soon found that he missed working in the construction business. He had retained his Contractor’s License, and after a sit-down with his wife, Greta Backlund, they decided to take the plunge and start their own grading and excavating business. Backlund began his work as a contractor under the name, AJ Backlund in 1987. After incorporating as GK Backlund, Inc. in 1993, the company eventually changed their name to Elite Earthworks & Engineering and has been delivering projects with the highest quality of workmanship for over 30 years. They operate as an open-shop nonunion construction firm with around 40 employees. Andrew Backlund is the company’s founder and President, and he has worked hard to diversify his customer base over the years to ensure that they remain busy, even during economic 14

downturns.“We value every individual that is or has been a part of our history and growth. It is not easy to find and maintain capable and skilled team members, but we are always on the lookout and recruiting talented, qualified personnel,” says Backlund. Elite Earthworks & Engineering performs as an “A” licensed general contractor and subcontractor allowing for a wide variety of project types, both in the public and private sector. They perform mass grading, excavations, rock handling, material handling, storm drainage, utilities, and coordinated site work packages. On the private construction side, they have completed work on commercial shopping centers, industrial buildings, self-storage facilities, as well as large projects for land and home developers. They work throughout all of Southern California on everything


from digging subterranean work in Los Angeles to moving mountains in the Inland Empire. The public sector represents a large portion of their growth over the past few years. Elite Earthworks & Engineering does most of their public work with School Districts ranging from South Pasadena Unified to Solana Beach School District. They often work as a subcontractor for companies like C.W. Driver, Tilden-Coil and

Balfour Beatty, providing services such as import/export, ground clearing, grading and excavation, and demolition. They also have experience and expertise working on parks and offices, as well as health care and religious facilities. “I remember our first job was for Dan Miller of Miller Contracting. He gave me my first shot, and we just continued to grow from that time forward,” says Backlund. “We started on small

projects giving them lots of attention, and we are doing the same thing today just on a larger scale.” Elite Earthworks & Engineering has developed their business these past 30-plus years through slow, steady growth. “We eventually picked up a couple of contracts for big box stores such as Walmart Super Centers and those projects generated the revenue and confidence we needed to begin taking on larger, more complex jobs,” says Backlund. More recently, Elite Earthworks & Engineering completed one of those larger, more complex projects for The Picerne Group out of Newport Beach on the Laguna Niguel Blu Apartment development in Orange County. The project features two adjacent apartment

communities, offering luxury 1- and 2- bedrooms just 7 miles from the ocean. ‘The Picerne Group approached us to help value engineer the site because it was located on a hillside that had been impacted by a landslide,” says Backlund. “We succeeded in meeting their goal of helping to design a safe and stable site in the most cost-effective manner.” Elite Earthworks & Engineering helped develop the strategy where they would haul away over two hundred thousand yards of excess soil, while also removing, remediating and recompacting the landslide area in question. There were shotcrete walls that were constructed to support the road above. “These were large caisson shotcrete walls that were utilized to maintain the geometry of the site, while also preserving the driveway access,” says Backlund. “It was a very challenging project, not only due to the landslide remediation but also because we were excavating 20 to 30 feet

Left: Cat 657 scrapers breaking ground at Nuevo Business Park in Perris.



Left: Screening topsoil for Lago Vista Sports Park in Menifee. Above: Excavation for the Musco Center for the Arts at Chapman University in Orange.

below nearby Oso Creek. This meant our crews were dealing with extremely saturated soils, all within a confined work area. The job began at the end of 2016 and wrapped up in February 2018 after dealing with the many complex issues and the immense scope of work on the site.” As the company was completing the project, The Picerne Group and the builder on an adjacent project, Alliance Residential, approached Elite Earthworks & Engineering to see if they could help out on another piece of the puzzle that was important to both of the stakeholders. “There was an equestrian bike trail that ran through both builder’s projects, and they approached me to see if we could erect a bridge across Oso Creek Trail to tie both of the developments together,” says Backlund. “We agreed, and it turned into a fun and challenging project. We built a few retaining walls, segmental walls, poured in place concrete and drilled caissons into the creek bed for the bridge abutments.” After assembling the prefabricated 16

bridge, Elite Earthworks & Engineering lifted, placed and secured the bridge in place across the Oso Creek Channel during the midnight hours. “The job just wrapped up a few weeks ago and is a beautiful and rewarding project that we are very proud of,” says Backlund. In 2017, Elite Earthworks & Engineering completed a sixmonth project where they were tasked to perform a mass over excavation and compaction of soil over a 100-acre parcel. The job was for Balfour Beatty, one of the country’s top education builders. “The San Diego offices of Balfour Beatty contacted us to ask if we could first help valueengineer the project where they were building a new campus for Palomar College in Fallbrook,” says Backlund. The new extension for Palomar College opened this past summer and was funded by Proposition M funds. The job had some challenges including some archeological and paleontological concerns on what was designated a Native American site. Additionally, there were some environmental challenges, and


so they worked closely with Balfour Beatty to help develop a work plan that would allow the job to move forward. In addition to helping out with the planning stage, Elite Earthworks & Engineering also bid on the mass grading and drainage portion of the project and ended up being the successful low bidder. The public works project was full of complexities and Tom Whedon, superintendent for Elite Earthworks & Engineering was the foreman on the job. “We started the Palomar College project in early 2017 and finished our portion of the work in June 2018,” says Whedon. “It was a large mass grading job with more than one million cubic yards of dirt to move.” Elite Earthworks & Engineering moved the dirt to numerous areas over the 100-acre site, establishing contour graded areas for future university buildings. “We ran a 12 Cat 657 scraper spread with two Cat D10 dozers, two Cat 825 compactors and three water pulls,” says Whedon. “The main challenge was dealing with the [Continued on page 18]

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groundwater. We were over excavating in some areas 20 to 30 feet deep, and so the challenge was the remediation of the soil.” According to Whedon, they were working with manageable soil up until around the five-foot mark, when it became increasingly more difficult to move through. “It was a slow process with the scrapers, and it slowed us down from what is normally a 1 ½ minute production round to more like a five-minute run,” says Whedon. “This was one of our larger and more difficult projects, but we knew what we were getting into and finished the project on time and on budget.” The Nuevo Business Park Project was another million-yard project that Elite Earthworks & Engineering started in April 2018. Dan Broome was the estimator on the job and is also vice president of operations for Elite Earthworks & Engineering. “We were contracted to over-excavate and grade around 1 million cubic yards of dirt over a 100-acre plus parcel. We were also asked to perform the fine grade for the building pads and parking areas on the project,” says Broome. “In addition to the rough grade and fine grading responsibilities, we were also contracted to perform

some off-site grading work on four streets surrounding the project.” Elite utilized a fleet of between eight to 12 Cat 657 scrapers and other support equipment like a Cat D10 dozer, Cat 834 wheel dozer, water trucks and other support equipment. Elite Earthworks & Engineering completed the bulk of their work by July 2018, “We still have a small amount of finish work left to do, and most likely some blasting in the near future,” says Broome. “The water supply and the hard rock were the two main issues on this project. We knew that there were some hard rock outcroppings where the rock material was too large to deal with conventional equipment or the bedrock could not be ripped even with our Cat heavy duty equipment. Around 10,000 cubic yards of rock was reduced and buried in strategic areas that did not interfere with the footings and buildings. We will most likely be moving into the blasting phase which will bring us to the end of another successful project.”

When Andrew Backlund is not hard at work on one of Elite’s many construction projects, he can be found with his family or at fellowship with Faith Bible Church in Murrieta. His church supports SOS Ministries, which was started to reach out to the people of Uganda in Africa. “My friend, Shannon Hurley started and helps to oversee the SOS Ministries, and after hearing about Shannon’s vision for Uganda, I wanted to do whatever I could to help,” says Backlund.

Top: Excavating borrow for the Shepherds Training Center in Kubamitwe, Uganda. Top Inset: Shannon Hurley and the men installing RCP undercrossing in Kubamitwe, Uganda. Background: Placing and compacting fill at Shepherds Training Center and building pads with Cat 140G motor grader and 966G loader.

Right: The Elite Team performing demolition and grading for new shops at Montclair Plaza in Montclair. Below: Cat 345 excavator and breaker sizing boulders at Nuevo Business Park.

Left: Brandon Shane, Darrel Naus, Andrew Backlund and Tom Whedon checking the demolition plans for Montclair Plaza.

SOS Ministries focuses on serving the local village of Kubamitwe, which serves as a base from which the ministry supports over 1,500 churches nationally. “I felt that the Lord was calling me to do this work and that part of what I have been doing for much of my life could be used to help others, and the Church in Africa. We are not all called to be missionaries teaching in Africa, but we are given gifts, skills and abilities that we use every day that can be used by the Lord everywhere,” says Backlund. “God had allowed me to do various projects all over Southern California and provided the opportunity to use my skills and experience to support this ministry in Uganda. They did not have to hire surveyors, engineers or large crews of people. We got our work done with a three-man crew, along with the assistance of local operators and equipment.” Backlund first supported the ministry in 2012 and spent his first trip helping to clear and

grub, as well as to build roads. He returned in the summers of 2014 and 2016 to build more pads and to generally continue to develop the property. He has plans to return in the summer of 2019 to continue his work building housing for teachers and ministry workers. So far Backlund has been blessed to help transform 160-acres of SOS campus into a thriving community, along with bringing the love of God and the message of Jesus Christ to hundreds of adults and children. “It has been a privilege to help improve the community roads of Kubamitwe, build pads and roads on the campus, and a state-of-the-art elementary school that serves hundreds of children,” says Backlund. The ministry is also responsible for erecting administration buildings, property management buildings, missionary housing, student housing, and a new Pastoral Training Center. For more information on SOS Ministries,

please visit www.http:// Andrew Backlund is a man of faith and a hardworking contractor. “I am thankful for the help and blessings of God in our business and the people we work, as well as the ministry that we have been able to help. I want to thank all of the individuals that make up Elite Earthworks & Engineering because without them we would not be able to accomplish the difficult tasks that we face each day. And one of the most important people I am thankful for is my wife, Greta. She is my God-given completer and has helped, supported and encouraged me from the beginning, over 30 years ago, and still does today. This is an exciting business and an adventure to be in, and I look forward to what the future has in store.” For more information on Elite Earthmoving & Engineering, visit or call their Corona headquarters at (951) 245-2220. Cc




By Brian Hoover

Making the Grade Since 1969



ounded in 1969, Southern California Grading will soon be celebrating their 50th anniversary. The company was started by good friends, Bob Cutler and Bob Kehrer. Cutler was working for a soils engineering laboratory, as well as for a grading contractor, while Kehrer came up through the ranks as an owner operator. The two men had worked together over the years and become friends. Times were tough at times back in the 60s and the two Bobs decided that it made sense to combine their years of experience and knowledge to chase their dream and do their own thing. Together they built a thriving enterprise and remained partners until the mid-90s when Kehrer decided to sell his share of the business to Cutler. Kurt Cutler (Cutler) watched his father, Bob, grow the family grading and excavating business since he took his first steps as a toddler. “I have been around this business all


Above Left: Southern California Grading's Cat 349F excavator loading bottom dump trailers at Mt. San Antonio College project in Walnut.

my life and remember holding the Linker rod for my father at just 7 years old,” says Cutler. “When we were finished, I was treated to something special when I would ride along for the blue topping of the pad. These are wonderful memories.” Cutler took it all in and by the


time he was in high school in 1984, he was doing everything from takeoffs and estimating to project management and was already gaining tremendous field experience. Kurt Cutler serves as the president of Southern California [Continued on page 22]



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Above Left: Southern California Grading utilizing their Cat 824B wheel dozer to push and compact material on Mount San Antonio College project. Above Right: Southern California Grading used their fleet of scrapers, water pulls, excavators, and dozers to move and mix 160,000 cubic yards of dirt on the San Antonio College project.

[ Continued from page 20 ]

Grading with the responsibility of all daily operations being turned over to him around 10 years ago. Steve Toth serves as vice president and joined the company in 1977 right out of high school. He started out laying sprinkler pipe for prewatering operations, before taking part in a long list of grading projects in the foreman capacity, and then becoming superintendent at Southern California Grading. After joining the Operating Engineers, Steve commenced to operate and master every piece of heavy machinery in the Southern California Grading fleet. Bob Cutler remains active in the business, retaining ownership along with his son, Kurt, and serving as an officer of the company. The company has been a member of the Local 12 Operating Engineers and Laborers’ Union Local 652 since 1974. “We have evolved


and made changes with the times, having once performed a great deal of road and tilt up construction around Southern California,” says Cutler. “We still do a lot of industrial work today, just on more high-end projects for companies that are building high-rise buildings, or for contractors building apartments or schools.” Grading and excavating remain the bread and butter of what Southern California Grading does each workday. They are at around 50/50 when it comes to public and private work as they move millions of cubic yards of earth for large engineering contractors and local school districts throughout Southern California. They do however perform more than just grading and excavating massive quantities of dirt. For instance, they were called on to help out with the cleanup after the Santa Rosa fire in 2017, and just finished work for the


construction of a new hospital in Santa Barbara. Southern California Grading just finished up on the Discovery Business Center job for Irvine Company where they were operating as a subcontractor to Snyder Langston, the prime contractor. This core and shell project is being built concurrently over two phases and includes the ground-up construction of two four-story buildings and one three-story building and extensive sitework over a 19-acre area. Southern California Grading is performing all of the grading and excavation work, including the export, over excavation and fine grade duties. The job began in February 2018 and was completed just recently at the end of December 2018. The contract was for around $2 million and included moving more than 160,000 cubic yards of dirt. Southern California Grading used their Cat 623 scrapers, their Cat 140M3 GPS blade and their

Above Left: Southern California Grading;s Cat D8 dozer pushing earth on the Mount San Antonio project. Above Right: Southern California Grading excavating below grade on the Discovery Business Center project.

Cat 336E and 349F Tier IV excavators, among other support equipment, along with trucks and bottom dumps. “The challenge on this particular project was compacting the soil to 4 percent over optimum,” says Cutler. “We were working in expansive clay conditions that require significantly more time and money to get the mix to meet specifications. It’s a bit of a balancing act working between the wet and dry spots as we continue to push the material around. We have to take time to break up the clay and then just keep using our (Cat) 623 scrapers and (Cat) 824 soil compactor with a disk, along with a blade and massive quantities of water to get the mix right. It’s kind of like baking a cake. You just keep on mixing until you reach the proper consistency.”

In addition to moving and mixing the 160,000 cubic yards of earth, Southern California Grading was also required to export around 70,000 cubic yards off-site to an Irvine Company dump site. The elevation needed to be lowered to match the existing channel and street levels surrounding the site, which was a lot cheaper than building walls,” says Cutler. Southern California Grading recently finished up another project in November for Mount San Antonio College (Mt. Sac) in Walnut. They were on both phases of the project with the first one beginning in August 2017 and finishing in January 2018 and the other phase beginning in July 2018 with completion in November 2018. According to Cutler, both phases of the job called for the export

of massive amounts of soil and rock. The first phase ended with Southern California Grading exporting around 140,000 cubic yards with the second phase calling for another 325,000 cubic yards for a total of 465,000 cubic yards being exported in just 15 months. “We utilized our (Cat) 349F excavator, along with our (Cat) 980 loaders to load the bottom dumps, and then our (Cat) D8 dozer to do the heavy ripping of the rock material,” says Cutler. “We were also required to perform over excavation and fine grade and build the pad on the second contract.” Cutler points out that builders and developers have been taking and adding material for years from the giant hill onsite that was now being exported to make room for a future stadium and parking structure.



Above Left: Cat 336E excavators loading bottom dumps on the Discovery Business Center project. Above Right: Southern California Grading exports 70,000 cubic yards of dirt offsite.

Southern California Grading has worked on a long list of elaborate and exciting projects over the years like the new LAX Terminal, The Honda Center, Metro Gold Line Extension, Kaiser Hospital and many more jobs on transportation projects, medical buildings, entertainment arenas, as well as for numerous schools and universities, and on other industrial and commercial jobs. Their resume is long and impressive and encompasses many disciplines including: land clearing, over excavations, site demolition, grading, import/ export, excavating, natural disaster cleanup response, cut/fill, erosion control, placement of BMP devices, general engineering for site development and operated and bare heavy equipment rental. Kurt Cutler is quick to point out that none of the great work


that his company has been given the opportunity to complete would be possible without the efforts of his hardworking team of employees, as well as the great vendors that they rely on to supply the jobs with equipment and services. They currently have more than 30 machines in their fleet, from John Deere 210LE and Case 570 skip loaders to seven Cat 623 scrapers, a 259 skid steer loader, several 950 and 980 wheel loaders, 14H and 140M motor graders, D8R and D6N dozers, 824B and 824C rubber tired dozer, CP and CS 433 rollers and a wide selection of Cat excavators. “We still own and operate our very first scraper that we purchased from Shepherd Machinery in 1974 and we just recently purchased a brand-new Cat 623K scraper from Quinn


Company,”says Cutler. “We have been dealing with Dennis Madden for around 20 years now and he and Quinn take very good care of us. We know we can always count on their reliable equipment, service, parts availability and quick response time when we need them out in the field.” Based in Irvine, Southern California Grading is still familyowned and operated, and they pride themselves on the core values of teamwork and mutual respect. Over the years, they have developed strong working relationships with many clients like the Irvine Company and have built a reputation for integrity and responsibility based on good old-fashioned hard work. For more information on Southern California Grading, visit or call (949) 551-6655. Cc



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EPA awards California $187 million for drinking water and wastewater projects LOS ANGELES – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has awarded more than $187.3 million to California for drinking water and wastewater infrastructure improvements. “These funds will be used for 183 local projects that will boost the economy while improving water systems,” said EPA Pacific Southwest Regional Administrator Mike Stoker. “EPA is committed to investing in local infrastructure that will benefit the communities we serve.” EPA awarded $187.3 million to California’s Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (SRF) programs. These federal funds are supplemented with state funding sources, which together provide low-interest loans for wastewater and drinking water infrastructure projects. As money is repaid to the revolving loan fund, California funds new infrastructure projects. “As we deal with an unprecedented demand for clean drinking water, the two State Revolving Fund programs will play a significant role in the State Water Board’s commitment to protect public health and water quality,” said California State Water Resources Control Board Division of Financial Assistance Deputy Director Leslie Laudon. “The funds will address a variety of crucial needs, from upgrading and consolidating small, struggling water systems to recycling wastewater, recharging groundwater and replenishing drinking water supplies. Simply put, these funds help make 26

California water safer, more accessible and sustainable as the state faces a variety of daunting challenges in the years ahead.” The state’s Drinking Water SRF received more than $72.5 million for drinking water infrastructure improvements to public water systems including: • The Indio Water Authority will consolidate two small local water systems serving disadvantaged communities into the Indio Water Authority to provide a reliable supply of water that meets drinking water standards. • The South Tahoe Public Utilities District will install approximately 6,200 linear feet of new waterline and replace approximately 6,200 linear feet of waterline. The program will also include installation of fire hydrants, pressure regulating valves, air release valves, water services, meters, valve clusters, and paving, to provide reliable service to its customers. The state’s Clean Water SRF received more than $114.7 million to support a variety of water


infrastructure improvement projects, including the following: • The East Valley Water District and the San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District will construct the Sterling Natural Resource Center from the ground up. The treatment plant will use the most advanced technology—a membrane bioreactor-- to produce tertiary treated, recycled wastewater that meets all applicable requirements to recharge the Bunker Hill Groundwater Basin and ensure local supplies of drinking water for the community. • The City of El Centro will upgrade the wastewater treatment plant’s high-speed aeration blowers. Aeration is an integral part of the treatment process and updating to efficient blowers will reduce the plant’s energy use by 34% annually and create significant savings. EPA has awarded more than $5 billion to California’s Clean Water and Drinking Water SRF programs since their inception in 1988 and 1996, respectively. These funds support California’s efforts to address an estimated $70.5 billion worth of water infrastructure needs. For more information on EPA’s SRF programs, please visit: For more information on water programs in EPA’s Pacific Southwest Region, please visit: Cc


DRIVABILITY To reduce road noise and help keep neighborhoods quiet, asphalt pavement engineers have developed special mixes like open-grade negraded surfaces, as well as modi ed, rubberized and stone-matrix asphalt that can lead to pavement-tire noise reductions as great as 7 decibels. * No wonder 83% of engineers, developers, transportation o cials and other key stakeholders chose asphalt as the quieter ride.** Smoother, quieter, fewer delays… that’s drivability. That’s asphalt. L E A R N M O R E A T W W W. D R I V E A S P H A LT. O R G

* World Road Association (PIARC). Quiet Pavement Technologies. Report 2013R10EN,2013 **Edelman Berland Survey, 2013

The APA is a partnership of the Asphalt Institute, National Asphalt Pavement Association and the State Asphalt Pavement Associations.



WATCH HOW A HOLLYWOOD ACTION HERO GIVES VOLVO EXCAVATORS THE BOOT CAMP TREATMENT Volvo Construction Equipment (Volvo CE) has teamed up with Swedish star Dolph Lundgren to showcase the ultimate in excavator endurance in stunt-filled mini-movie Pump It Up. Revealing the toughness, versatility and intelligent engineering behind Volvo CE’s full range of excavators, the film tests the limits of heavy equipment during an exhilarating and entertaining army bootcamp, led by drill instructor Dolph Lundgren. The 80s powerhouse behind films including Rocky IV, Universal Soldier and The Expendables drives the action in a cinematic display of man against machine. In the film – a comic nod to the action movies that Dolph Lundgren is renowned for – a line-up of Volvo excavators weighing between 1.5 to 95 tons are put through their paces in an exhausting assault course. During a series of extraordinary stunts, the machines are seen pulling Dolph Lundgren atop a huge concrete block across an unknown desert location, flipping gigantic tires across a muddy track and taking part in what is thought to be the world’s first ever excavator pull-up – fulfilling the film’s final message that they really are ‘excavators for any challenge’. All of this is set to the iconic beat of the 1989 hit song ‘Pump up the Jam’ by Belgian music group Technotronic. Bill Law, Senior Vice President of Corporate Communications at Volvo CE, said: “This is a good demonstration of the flexibility and strength of our excavators, from the small to the mighty. 28

The result is a feel-good mini movie with Hollywood impact. Some of these stunts are a little out of the ordinary, but we wanted to be daring and set ourselves a challenge to push them further. Our excavators work hard every day at construction sites all over the world, something that requires precisely that power and stamina, together with skilled operators behind the wheel.” Dolph Lundgren has starred in major Hollywood productions for more than 30 years and is currently enjoying a surge in popularity thanks to leading roles in new Hollywood blockbusters Creed II and Aquaman. With a background in engineering and a scholarship to the renowned US university MIT, he is well matched against the brains and brawn of Volvo’s excavator range. He said: “This job was probably the most unusual role I’ve ever taken on. It was fascinating to see Volvo’s excavators and its skilled operators performing all the


various physical exercises - with absolutely no movie stunts involved. Honestly, I didn’t think it was even possible. Being born in Sweden, I have a long relationship with this classic Swedish brand. As a young boy, I rode in the back of my dad’s Volvo. To me, Volvo represents some great Scandinavian values, like clean design, excellent quality and a true care for the environment. I’m really pleased to get this opportunity for us to work together.” Few machines are as versatile as the excavator. This campaign highlights the ability of Volvo excavators to deliver optimum power and performance for almost any task. While pull-ups and tire flips are not everyday activities, these stunts are entirely authentic and were carried out by professionals in a safe and closed environment. In the real world Volvo’s range of machines can be relied on for everything from site preparation, trenching and excavation to demolition, truck loading and pipe laying. Cc

JOHN DEERE UNVEILS ALL-NEW 655K AND 755K CRAWLER LOADERS EQUIPPED WITH FINAL TIER 4 ENGINE TECHNOLOGY Continuing to build on the strengths of the K-Series lineup, John Deere announces the introduction of the 655K and 755K Final Tier 4 crawler loaders. These machines serve as the latest additions to the crawler loader line and provide operators with increased productivity and uptime, along with lower daily operating costs. Designed and manufactured in Dubuque, Iowa, the 655K and 755K feature familiar designs, systems and components consistent with other product lines throughout the John Deere crawler family. Featuring a certified Final Tier 4 John Deere PVS 6.8-liter engine, the 655K and 755K use proven technology and

a building-block approach based on a solid foundation of reliable John Deere engines. Additionally, both machines exhibit a rise in overall horsepower. The 655K's net power has increased from 145 HP to 155 HP, while the 755K's net power has increased to 194 HP from its previous 190 HP. The 655K and 755K boast hydrostatic transmissions, a feature John Deere pioneered in crawlers in North America in 1976. These transmissions provide customers with infinite speed control, power management, live power turns, counter rotation while staying in gear and dynamic braking. In addition, Total Machine Control

allows customized machine response that can be tailored to meet the needs of individual operators. Hydrostatic transmission control options give operators the ability to choose between multiple transmission — speed-in-grip and a v-pattern control with foot pedal steering. Cc

CASE ANNOUNCES NEW C SERIES MOTOR GRADERS New motor graders provide feature-driven solutions for municipalities and small-to-mid-size site prep contractors. CASE Construction Equipment introduces the all-new C Series motor graders. Two new models deliver a wide offering of new weights, horsepower ratings and feature-driven grading solutions for municipalities, as well as small-to-mid-size site prep, road-maintenance and general construction businesses. These new motor grader models feature a variety of standard features designed to maximize productivity and performance. Available in both standard and All Wheel Drive (AWD) configurations, the 836C and 856C achieve Tier 4 Final compliance with Selective

Catalytic Reduction (SCR) engine technology that increases fuel efficiency, keeps exhaust temperatures down and eliminates the need for regeneration. The new models include: • 836C: (138-156 HP; Operating weight: 24,466-pounds) •

836C AWD: (138-156 HP; Operating weight: 27,128-pounds)

856C: (173-190 HP; Operating weight: 33,966-pounds)

856C AWD: (173-190 HP; Operating weight: 34,848-pounds

For more information on the all-new C Series motor graders, please visit Cc 2018 GRADING & EXCAVATING ISSUE CALCONTRACTOR


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A Costco® fuel tank installation presented unique challenges. The project required that the pit accommodate five large fuel tanks placed closely together. Contractor Wayne Perry also designed an “L”-shaped configuration for the 60’ x 70’ pit to save both labor costs and reduce the amount of expensive rock fill.

Great Projects.

Most companies cannot handle such large-scale shoring angles. But Trench Shoring Company’s SBH Slide Rail Shoring system proved more than equal to the task. We designed, delivered and assembled the system on-site, reducing overall excavation and shoring time.

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Because we offer the largest inventory of Slide Rail Systems, with panel sizes from 6’– 28’, we’ll be there for your challenging project too!

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