Touring cement mixer locations in the east

I spent the past week traveling in Pennsylvania and Maryland to visit companies that sell ready-mixed concrete in the region. Many of these locations have been providing small batches of concrete to local contractors and homeowners for over 30-years. Some of these portable concrete providers also rent equipment and others sell building materials along with the ready-mix. Regardless, this trip was a history lesson for a concrete geek like myself.

Portable concrete mixer history

Using small trailers in the delivery of ready-mixed concrete started in the 1960’s, and some of the locations that I visited near Baltimore started selling concrete nearly that long ago. The delivery trailers were very different from the modern portable concrete mixers of today. The interesting part of my trip is that most of the locations that I visited are still using very old single axle trailers to make the deliveries.

Even though they are still nursing along the antique trailers, some have upgraded their concrete mixing and batching equipment over the years. But most are still relying on ready-mix technology that was developed during the 1980’s! These old auger mixers replaced the original paddle-style mixer of the 60’s but were still extremely slow and very messy during clean-up. NOTE: These images were taken at a location that was shut down by the local government due to the environmental impacts from cleaning-out the auger over many years of operation. It cost the owner a huge fine, site remediation work and the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales.

The West leads the way…

Coming from the West, I was shocked to see so many of these old systems still working. It was like going back in time as I witnessed fleets of old tub trailers and rusting auger batch plants. By comparison, I could count on one hand the number of locations in California that would still have a single axle tub trailer rusting away in their bone yard. Today the portable ready-mix suppliers of the West use dry-batch loading systems and portable concrete mixing trailers that are considerably more environmentally friendly and very efficient. What is also eye-opening is that the sales volumes per location have grown faster in the West than in many of these other locations that still rely on the old technology.

To be fair to the Eastern ready-mix operators, there are some who have upgraded and use the modern technology, but they are still in the minority. What many of these operators do not realize is what great competitive risk that they face from others who would enter their markets with more efficient and desirable portable mixer systems. We have seen this happen many times in western communities.

Interesting history lesson

My tour was very enlightening… I was in the “Cradle of the Constitution” where the history of America’s freedom started. So, it seems fitting that I witnessed portable concrete mixer operators attempting to keep the past alive in Maryland and Pennsylvania.