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Spring 2012

Preserving a symbolic foundation of small-town history … one brick at a time

With precision, care and help from select Bobcat® equipment, Nebraska-based companies complete an intricate water line upgrade and underground electrical installation while maintaining the integrity of a century-old Main Street.

Thompson Construction's Bobcat skid-steer loader

Thompson Construction's Bobcat skid-steer loader

Main Street of the eastern Nebraska town of Scribner (pop. 980) is built of brick. To locals, the thousands of bricks, so intricately bound and woven together, serve as visual representations that reflect the attributes of their community — strong, supportive, steadfast. Aside from the constant rigors of daily traffic, the street has endured floods, blizzards, intense heat and frigid cold for nearly a century.

Scribner has come a long way from the days when the water source consisted of a series of cisterns along Main Street. The cistern configuration was long ago replaced by the current network of underground waterlines, although concerns about the capacity of the system prompted city officials to explore the feasibility of an upgrade. With municipal budgets tight, the town looked for assistance in helping fund the project.

“We rolled up our sleeves and got to work in search of funding options,” said Deb Eggleston, Scribner’s economic development director. “We had worked with several state and federal organizations in the past that were very helpful in identifying opportunities and securing funds. The city was able to allocate additional dollars for storefront improvements, things like building preservation, window and door replacement and ADA accessibility.”

Linear jigsaw puzzle
Scribner city officials tapped Kearney, Neb., engineering firm Miller and Associates to design the project. In addition to the water line upgrade, two new underground electrical mainlines were also specified, each spanning a two-block stretch on opposite sides of the street. City officials chose Thompson Construction, based in nearby Arlington, Neb., as the general contractor after an extensive bidding process.

Founded in 1980, Thompson Construction is a family-owned, full-service contractor that specializes in underground utility installations. The company focuses primarily on water, sanitary and storm sewer work, in addition to substation installs. Thompson subcontracted the electrical portion of the project to Klein Electric, another family-owned business, based in Wakefield, Neb. In addition to the underground electrical mainlines, Klein Electric also installed new streetlamps and related components.

The plan specified that the two new water lines be installed using the open-cut/trench method and the electrical lines by horizontal directional drilling. It was the trenching and digging component that had townspeople concerned. “Maintaining the integrity of the nearly century-old brick street was important to us,” Eggleston says. “It is a part of the fabric of our community and we felt confident Thompson was sensitive to that, and would do everything they could to preserve it.”

Kelly Thompson, company president and one of three Thompson brothers involved in the family-operated business, admits he likely underestimated the amount of time and labor involved with removing, cleaning and replacing the thousands of individual bricks that would be displaced by two open-cut trenches flanking opposite sides of Scribner’s Main Street to make way for the new water lines.

“We had done similar bricked main street projects like this in the past but on a much smaller scale,” Thompson says. “Making all the components mesh in a linear fashion was a bit of a challenge, especially with different elevations of doors and access to the affected storefronts. As you can imagine, after nearly a century, the street isn’t perfect. It had some bumps and rolls in it.”

Bobcat equipment on-site
Both Thompson and Klein used Bobcat skid-steer and compact track loaders to assist with the installations. Thompson also had its Bobcat compact excavator on site. Both contractors have long been Bobcat equipment supporters. In addition to the excavator, Thompson has two Bobcat skid-steer loaders among its fleet of equipment. The company also has a wide variety of complementary attachments for each model, including a hydraulic breaker, type of blade and several different size buckets for the excavator, a vibratory roller, compaction wheel, various configurations of grapples, several buckets and an angle broom.

“The versatility is probably the biggest advantage for compact equipment,” Thompson says. “There wasn’t much room to work between the business fronts and the street since we had to remove nearly half of the sidewalk to prepare the waterline trenches. It was pretty tight. The compact size and maneuverability of the skid-steer loaders was critical due to workspace limitations.”

Eric Klein joined his father Mark in the family business after graduation from Northeast Community College in nearby Norfolk, Neb. He bought a Bobcat compact track loader to help ease much of the manual labor associated with a variety of tasks for different types of electrical installations. Klein also purchased several attachments to extend the functionality of the compact track loader, including pallet forks, an auger and a dozer blade.

“We do so many different things with the T140 on different jobsites that make the project go faster and more efficiently for us,” Klein says. “We really like the visibility. It is easy to see out in all directions. We do a lot of dirt work and trenching and the Bobcat compact track loader is always on site with us. And the pallet fork saves a lot of backbreaking labor for unloading trucks and moving materials around on a jobsite.

“All our employees enjoy operating it,” Klein says. “Some prefer using the sticks (hand controls), while others like the foot pedals. There’s very little learning curve needed for switching back and forth between operational modes. The machines’ designs are very operator-friendly. One flip of a switch allows the operator to select the control mode he’s most comfortable with.”