Chris James, co-owner of Crestline Paving & Excavating Company in Toledo, credits the company’s 45 years of success to two key components: “good, honest, hardworking employees who give us their all every day … and dependable equipment.” You don’t have to look far to see either of those around a Crestline job site.
The company has about 70 employees in peak season, including five sets of brothers, and it operates with a family atmosphere where “we want to share our success with the employees,” James said. But the poster child for dedicated employees has to be Jim Macrae, who helped start the company with Chris James’ father, Jerry James. Macrae retired in 1998 but returned after six months because he realized—unlike other retirees who enjoy fishing or golf—that running equipment was what he enjoyed the most. Now 82, Macrae is the on the job daily, as he has been for 69 years, with 45 of those at Crestline.
As for dependable equipment, Crestline owns a Komatsu dozer it purchased in 1984 (one of the first two Komatsu pieces the company purchased), and Macrae still runs it. The company owns Komatsu dozers, excavators and wheel loaders.
Crestline has a 35-year relationship with Komatsu and Columbus Equipment Company, and the reliability of the equipment is just part of the story. Local support is the other part. “You could have the best piece of equipment there is, but it boils down to when you have issues and downtime and how quickly your dealer responds,” James said. “It’s been our experience that Komatsu and Columbus Equipment have played a huge role in keeping our projects moving, keeping our equipment going so our downtime is kept to a minimum.”
Crestline offers a broad range of services, but its primary businesses include underground utilities, asphalt paving and milling, and projects where it combines those two specialties. “We concentrate on total road reconstruction or new construction, and we self-perform the excavation, all types of underground utilities, asphalt milling and paving,” James said. Concrete work is subcontracted out.
Many of the company’s projects are for ODOT, Lucas County, or Toledo and contracts are usually in the $750,000 to $2.5 million range. Recently, however, Crestline had a $7.5 million contract for site utilities and realigning the main roads around ProMedica Toledo Hospital as part of a $350 million Generations of Care Project where Turner/Lathrop was the GC. Crestline is also closing out a nearly $11 million project in central Toledo that involves running new storm sewers—up to 25 feet deep in some areas—and rebuilding roads and other infrastructure.
James gives plenty of credit for the company’s success to its Komatsu equipment. “We did a very successful waterline project—a $19 million contract with Toledo where the company was installing 72-inch concrete pipe, which weighed 36,000 pounds each. “We purchased a PC800 for that project and it was a key component in our success. It handled the pipe and the weight of the trench boxes needed on that project.”
James refers to the company’s Komatsu PC308 as “one of our prized possessions” because the excavator was taken out of production but Columbus Equipment Company was able to get one for him. The tight-tail-swing excavator is “perfect for us because of its size, which fits in a small footprint, and capabilities.”
The relationship between Crestline, Komatsu and Columbus Equipment Company started in 1984 when the paving company branched into underground utilities. “I’m not sure my father was real familiar with Komatsu at the time,” James said, but Gary Norman, his Columbus Equipment sales rep, was persistent enough that Jerry James gave in and tried a Komatsu dozer. The company bought two, a D65P and a D65E. The D65E is still being used at the company’s dumpsites.
“In our 35-year relationship with Columbus Equipment we’ve dealt primarily with two really good salespeople,” he noted. The current sales rep, Luke Matheson, is really responsive to our needs. He’s very hands-on. When we ask questions, he gets us answers, and he’s directly involved in trying to solve problems at hand or to find solutions or the right machine for our situation at any time.”
Along with power and reliability, another big benefit of Komatsu equipment is the KOMTRAX system, James said. “Our in-house service department runs a real stringent maintenance program that helps us to have very little downtime. KOMTRAX helps us stay on top of the equipment.” The system also makes it easy for Columbus Equipment Company to help Crestline technicians diagnose problems.
“KOMTRAX is a great tool for many reasons—keeping track of hours, knowing when a piece of equipment is idling too much on the job. It provides useful information on what’s happening in the field and helps our technicians stay on top of preventative maintenance,” James added.
Jerry James and Jim Macrae started Crestline as a side hustle in 1974 while working for a local paving contractor. Their employer helped them out by sending small jobs like driveways their way, and they’d do those projects in the evenings or weekends, sometimes putting in 18-hour days, Macrae recalled. “We pooled our money to buy three pieces of equipment and worked like that for a couple of years.”
Later, another contractor they knew helped them secure a city contract and rented them equipment. They were able to grow and bid on bigger contracts. “It was a tough row to hoe” working long hours for several years before quitting their day jobs, Macrae said.
Chris James and his wife Rachel purchased the company in 2012. He serves as president and she is CEO.
“What my father and Jim did—going out on a limb and putting in those long hour —was a risky thing to do,” James said. “I’m very proud of what the two of them did, laying the groundwork for the successful company Crestline is today.”
Like many family businesses, Crestline stands as a testament to how hard work, prudent decision making and good equipment can combine to create a lasting legacy.
Visit columbusequipment.com/news/videos for additional video coverage on Crestline’s iMC experience.