ConSite’s unique approach to removing frozen dirt

The Calgary-based ConSite Construction is using milling machines to tackle frozen topsoil

By Bill Tremblay

ConSite Construction is breaking new ground with its fleet of milling machines. 

While milling machines are typically used for removing asphalt in warmer months, the Calgary, Alberta-based ConSite is using the machines to tackle frozen dirt in the winter. 

For the last couple of years, ConSite has been fine-tuning the machines as well as the process to ensure the desired result. 

“I heard rumours that this was tried a while back, but now the technology has really become better on the machines,” said David Herman, milling division manager for ConSite Construction.  

Typically, frozen dirt is removed using dozers with rippers, pulverizers or an Iron Wolf. 

“That’s kind of our main competition,” Herman said. “But the benefit of our service is the environmental aspect, and that’s mainly the reason it’s catching on more.”   

Real-time measurements

When using conventional methods, Herman explained determining the depth of the topsoil is generally based on a prediction. As a milling machine throws the material out of the way, ConSite is able to see in real-time if they’re too deep, or too shallow. 

“With all of those options you get a little bit of soil mixture no matter what. Your topsoil and your clays is going to get mixed up,” Herman said. 

“Due to the way the milling machine operates, we adjust by the millimetre in real time. So, there’s operators that are on the top that steer the machine and there are operators that walk beside the machine that adjust the grade.” 

Learning curve

Using the milling machines to strip frozen dirt came with a steep learning curve. 

“It was probably a whole winter before we got it dialled in the way we wanted to,” Herman said. “Even with that being said, we’re still modifying and learning new ways to be more efficient.”

And although they had the idea, at first, they didn’t have anywhere to test the method. However, a customer looking for new options to topsoil stripping contacted ConSite, and they were able to test the milling machines on frozen ground.

Their first test was run against the conventional methods of stripping frozen dirt, and Herman explained the milling machines outperformed the usual go-to options. 

“Now, just getting people to change the way they look at it has been quite difficult. If anyone wanted to try it out, I would give them a demo,” Herman said. “I’m so confident in the process that as soon as they try it, I’ll know they enjoy it.”

Now, the milling machine has successfully completed projects throughout Alberta, including a 50 km road near Drayton Valley. 

Modifications

Fine-tuning the process has also required modifications to the machines to transform the machines from their usual summertime duties.  For the process, ConSite is using milling machines from Caterpillar, as well as Wirtgen

However, Caterpillar assisted with some of the modifications to tackle the task.  

“Some of the modifications are as easy as taking the rubber tracks off and putting on corked tracks. And there’s some stuff for the underbody of the machine,” Herman said. “Some of it I don’t want to say because it’s kind of a trade secret.”

Limitations 

The use of milling machines for removing topsoil is only viable in the winter. Once the ground thaws, the machines just get clogged. 

“The depth of the frost has to be through the topsoil. The more frozen, the better,” Herman said. 

“We do have our limitations, but in the right application, it’s interesting.”

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As well, ConSite will still use an Iron Wolf or pulverizer on site for certain tasks. 

“We’re fine at doing main-fall, but cross slopes are really tough for the machine because it’s quite top heavy,” Herman said.  

ConSite has been in business for more than 25 years. 

The company began as a commercial and civil concrete contractor. In the last five years, ConSite has branched out, creating a paving division, a site works division, a gravel base division and a milling division. While the bulk of the company’s work takes place in Calgary, the milling division now works across Western Canada. 

“We’re pretty much a full road construction company,” Herman said.

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