This week took me to the Carolinas, where I visited Caterpillar factories, locked my keys in my rental car (more on that later), and learned how bridges are built.
I do my best to shove as much stuff into each trip as I can, and this trip was no exception. My plan was to spend Monday and Tuesday touring Cat facilities, head to Contour Mining & Construction on Wednesday, and finish the week at Carolina Bridge on Thursday and Friday. Oof.
I started the trip off in Raleigh, North Carolina, to visit Caterpillar’s Building Construction Products Group. Was I paid for the visit? No. I spent a lot of my own money and time to be there. But when Cat offers you the chance to visit factories, and potentially photograph places that have never been photographed before, you say yes and make it happen.
Monday morning began at the Sanford skid steer facility. Every Cat skid steer in the world originates from these nondescript-looking buildings in North Carolina. We toured the assembly line, where bare metal components enter at one end, and finished skid steers of all shapes and sizes emerge from the other. My mouth was open the whole time. This wasn’t my first heavy equipment factory, but it’s still total sensory overload. Music sounding, conveyors moving machines, workers buzzing about, lights flashing, and even robots delivering components.
At first, they said absolutely no photos. It’s easiest for the lawyers to put a blanket ban on photography. My heart sank. Why did I come across the country to visit if I couldn’t bust out my camera? My host, Caitlin, got to work on photograph approvals and sure enough, she did it. I had a second opportunity to walk the factory floor with a camera in hand. I still had to ask permission before I took any photos, but I was ecstatic nonetheless.
Day two brought me to Clayton, NC to visit the wheel loader factory, where loaders up to the 938M are manufactured. We walked the factory floor, listening to our guide ― who used to work at the factory ― describe every process in detail. I was awestruck again.
The afternoon was what I was really waiting for ― play time. They turned me loose in their demonstration facility full of mini excavators, skidsteers, and loaders. It was amazing! Every time I’m in the seat of the machine, everything else fades away, and it’s just me and the dirt. It sounds crazy, but it’s totally true.
All done with Cat. Next up was Contour Mining & Construction in Columbia, SC. I made the mistake of thinking it was a short drive ― it wasn’t. Cue a 2AM wake-up to be on site by 6:30.
I arrived on site, a new quarry development project, and got out of my rental car to talk with Heath, the man behind Contour. We had a nice chat and before long, the sun was rising over the trees. Time to work. The best lighting for shooting the work I do is in the morning. I walked over to my rental car, still running, and tried to open the door. It was locked. All the doors were locked. My cameras were inside the car. What a start to the morning!
With my tail between my legs, I told Heath that I was a moron who locked my keys in the car. He laughed and I went to work calling someone to jimmy open my door. Amazingly enough, only an hour later, a 20-year-old kid with the local towing company opened my door in two minutes flat. Now it was actually time to work…
I spent the morning shooting the new quarry project, and then we drove about an hour outside of town to another pit. Heath used to be a Cat dealer instructor, meaning he’s an absolute wizard in the seat of any machine. It’s almost an unfair advantage when it comes to pairing his insider equipment knowledge and his experience with running a company. I even got a lesson on the 12M grader!
The last company to visit this trip was Carolina Bridge. Richard, the owner of Carolina Bridge, called me about a month prior asking about a new website for their company. Normally, we wouldn’t touch a bridge company because we only do dirt. But I couldn’t say no to the opportunity. He didn’t want a website to make his company look fancy for potential customers. He told me he could care less about marketing to win work ― all their work is public anyway. He wanted a site dedicated to hiring, and telling his people’s stories. How could I say no to that?
The first step to any website we develop is a site visit. We get to know the company, and create fantastic artwork for the website. So, there I was Thursday morning on a bridge project somewhere in South Carolina. After a few jokes about my height (I’m 5’6” ― thank goodness I’m not self-conscious about it…) the crew was off to form up bridge caps before the concrete showed up later that day.
Let me tell you, I’m around a lot of construction companies these days. Carolina Bridge is one of the most impressive I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting. Not because of their size or speed or quality, but because of their humility. You couldn’t pick Richard, the owner of the company, out of the rest of the group on a jobsite. He’s dressed like everyone else. Everyone keeps their head down and works hard. They build bridge after bridge, anywhere in North or South Carolina. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter, but they don’t care. They build bridges and make a damn good living while doing it.
I’m thrilled about the website we’re developing for them. It’ll be the model for the rest of the industry to follow. It’s all about their people. We’re publishing stories about their employees. We’re publishing charts outlining the career paths available at the company. We’re even publishing wages. Why? Because transparency is everything. It’s 2018 ― everyone already knows what you’re paying your people. Why not put it all out there in the hopes of attracting new people to your company?
All in all, it was a great week. I met a whole lot more fantastic people, saw more amazing companies in action, and ultimately had another chance to tell the stories of multiple companies. On to the next one!