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Doing it right

“It was the top-notch milling machine out there. I looked at other milling machines that couldn't match up with this Volvo.” – Charley LaSarge, transportation manager for the Muscogee (Creek) Nation

It's not every day that you hear about a government agency talking about profit margin. Budgets, yes. Contracts, sure. But figuring out how to put a pile of money back in the bank thanks to a new piece of construction equipment? No. That's pretty rare.

But that's exactly what the Muscogee (Creek) Nation has done with its purchase of a Volvo MT2000 milling machine. Instead of watching as private contractors snap up work with local governments in need of road milling work -- and charging high prices in the process -- the Muscogee tribe in Oklahoma figured it could get in the game.

And that's exactly what the tribe did. It's first job with its new Volvo milling machine, the Muscogee tribe banked $9,500 -- after just a day and a half.

“In my mind were the dollar signs. I knew what we could make with it if we could put it to work,” said Charley LaSarge, who manages the transportation division for the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and who first took the idea for the purchase of the Volvo milling machine to the tribal council. “I guess it's the manager's way of thinking. We're thinking in all different directions. We needed supplemental money. That's one way to get that for the tribe.”

The Muscogee tribe covers a huge swath of ground in eastern Oklahoma, extending into 11 counties south of Tulsa. LaSarge oversees a multi-faceted department within the tribe. He's the guy who makes sure the transit buses are running on schedule to help tribal residents get around. He's also the guy who makes sure the tribe's chartered bus program is running smoothly. And he's responsible for making sure hundreds of miles of federal roads that run through the tribe's territory are in tip-top shape.

It's not an easy job. When LaSarge showed up several years ago, he knew he had a tall task in front of him – “They didn't have much equipment when I came here, and it was in poor shape,” he said.

Since then, he's scraped together funds to buy a new bulldozer, dump truck, and front loader, along with several other new pieces of machinery. But there's always the need for more. And there's not always the money for it.

So LaSarge got creative. What he noticed were private contractors getting hired by local cities and counties to do a wide range of road work. But it was the milling work that caught LaSarge's attention. Contractors were charging anywhere from $750 to $1,000 per hour with their milling machines -- up to $10,000 a day.

What LaSarge noticed were that milling machines aren't that easy to come by in rural Oklahoma. It's tough to find a contractor who has one when you need one. It makes them valuable – worth the higher rates that companies charge for milling work. And there are plenty of times when you need a milling machine. Often, a county won't have the funds immediately for a complete reconstruction of a road. But a good stopgap is milling up a road and re-laying it with the old asphalt until funds for an overhaul are available.

To LaSarge, a milling machine made perfect sense for the tribe, which frequently does road work for surrounding counties. And so he convinced the tribal leadership to buy a Volvo MT2000.

The tribe's first job was a small one -- just less than a mile of county roadway. He went conservative, charging just $500 an hour for the milling machine, plus labor, figuring it would be a solid two-day job. Of course, the work went faster than that with the tribe's new Volvo milling machine, which is equipped with an 86-inch drum and a high-production conveyor, capable of moving more than 35,000 cubic feet of material per hour. The MT 2000 also has three distinct cutting speeds to fit any possible job.

“It's hard for four or five dump trucks to stay up with it,” LaSarge said. “It's a hoss.”

In the end, the tribe was off the job site in just over a day, but still with a hefty $9,500 in its pocket. That money was funneled back into its equipment fund. Now, if the tribe needs a new dump truck or backhoe, there's a growing source of money to use. But why Volvo?

Muscogee CSS

“It was the top-notch milling machine out there,” LaSarge said. “I looked at other milling machines that couldn't match up with this Volvo. The safety features, the computer updates that were available -- it was overall a better milling machine in our book.”

Part of the appeal of the MT2000 is its advanced diagnostics technology. Multiple screens give operators details about the machine's performance, with messages displayed in common language instead of confusing codes. The Volvo's One Touch system makes for easy maneuvering, allowing operators to shut down the conveyors and adjust the grade controls to move over manhole covers and other obstacles. The stability control system monitors the cross slope of the milling machine, automatically adjusting the support legs on uneven ground. Plus, the MT2000 has a walk-in service compartment allowing easy access to the engine, hydraulics, and coolers.

John Brown, an equipment operator on LaSarge's crew, gave the Volvo MT2000 high marks recently as he guided the milling machine down a stretch of worn out county road. He and the other operators were working safely in a protected environment, with all of the controls to the key components of the milling machine – the engine, hydraulics, fan, and coolers – within easy reach. The dual control panels with LCD display showed the real-time track positioning of the MT 2000.

“It's really reliable. It's smooth,” Brown said.

LaSarge and the tribe struck their deal on their Volvo MT2000 after visiting the World of Asphalt convention with Laine Rieger, a salesman with G.W. Van Keppel Company in Tulsa. The tribe has found a good match with Volvo and Van Keppel. A Volvo representative provided job site training with the new MT2000, and tribal staff attended a formal customer school at the Volvo factory in Shippensburg, Penn.

“It seemed like the technology was better with Volvo,” LaSarge said. “Plus, they were willing to give us all the training we needed. (Van Keppel) is right here in Tulsa if there's anything we need. They come right down when I call them. Volvo has treated us really well.”