When much of the mining industry shut down in the Silver Valley a few years ago, Ron Moffatt saw about 80 percent of his Eagle Pump & Equipment Co.’s business go away with it. But that disaster began a chain of events that today leaves Moffatt with a new product and a much larger potential customer base that he is convinced will allow him to rebuild his company with sales levels that will dwarf what the mines offered him.
“Compared to the mining industry, the asphalt industry is gigantic,” Moffatt says. “In five years, our sales should be a couple million dollars a year. And without a doubt, there’s plenty of room for them to go up from there.”
Moffatt is now manufacturing and selling Eagle-Lube, a completely bio-degradable lubricant that allows hot asphalt to slide cleanly out of the beds of asphalt trucks.
It sounds simple enough, but Moffatt says his lubricant will save the road-construction industry millions in clean-up costs, as well as potential fines for violation of federal environmental laws should they be tempted to sneak back to the days when they sprayed their asphalt truck beds with diesel fuel to accomplish the same thing.
Moffatt, a native of Spokane, earned his living for several years as a salesman of high-tech urethane parts in the Los Angeles area. The parts were used in equipment in the health care, automotive and defense industries.
“I brought some of that technology back to Spokane, and I started producing the urethane parts and pump piece for the mining industry,” Moffatt says.
At its peak, Eagle Pump & Equipment was doing about $500,000 annually in sales in the Silver Valley. But then came the collapse of the mining industry there, and Moffatt had no one to sell to.
So Moffatt began talking to the operators of the few surviving underground mines, as well as the more active open pit mines, trying to determine what products they might need.
He learned that one of their biggest expenses was the wear and tear on expensive bits used in the drilling process. So Moffatt and a chemist he was acquainted with came up with an environmentally safe lubricant that could mix with the water used to keep the bits cool, and make them last longer.
Moffatt says that Gary Overman, foreman of Acme Materials asphalt plant in North Spokane, heard about the lubricant and asked Moffatt if he could come up with something similar to lubricate the beds of asphalt trucks.
Historically, the truck beds were sprayed with a thin film of diesel fuel to keep the hot asphalt from sticking to the beds. But a couple of years ago changes in federal environmental laws banned the use of diesel fuel. And every since, the asphalt industry has struggled with the problem.
Some trucks had to be scraped clean with backhoes two and three times a week, Moffatt said. The cost in wasted asphalt and the labor of cleanup was enormous, he said.
Moffatt experimented with dozens of formulas before coming up with three to test on Acme trucks. Each formula was to be tested in a truck for a two-week period. But the third test lasted only a couple of days, Moffatt said, before Overman had a mutiny of truck drivers on his hands.
“As it turned out, the drivers who had been using my material for the test period were down at the tavern having fun at the end of the day while all the other drivers were still cleaning out their trucks,” Moffatt said.
Moffatt says the sales potential for the product is vast.
Washington produces 8 million tons of asphalt a year, he says. Oregon produces 6.5 million tons, Idaho 3 million, Nevada 5 million, Arizona 8 million, California 35 million.
“Our infrastructure in this country is crumbling,” he says. “It all has to be rebuilt.”
Look at the figures, then estimate his charge of about 2 cents a ton for the treatment of a truck a couple of times a week, and the potential is evident.
“We’re just finalizing an agreement for the sale of the product exclusively in Canada,” Moffatt says, and we’re marketing it ourselves out of Spokane for the United States.
“We’ve already lined up the largest producers of asphalt in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Arizona.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo
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