Newport Sand & Gravel Relies On Volvo Iron, ASCENDUM

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Joe Beretta (L) and his father, Brian Beretta, both of Newport Sand and Gravel.

Mon July 08, 2024

Any company in the business of mining stone, and then processing it for use by landscapers and homeowners, is going to need the toughest, most dependable heavy equipment on the market.

That is certainly true of Newport Sand and Gravel Inc. in eastern Tennessee, a producer of Smoky Mountain and Cumberland Mountain rustic and decorative stone products for landscape, hardscape and road-building projects.

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Located on the east bank of the Pigeon River in Newport, Tenn., approximately 60 mi. east of Knoxville, Newport's owners made the decision years ago to use several different Volvo Construction Equipment (CE) machines to both extract aggregate from the river and haul the load to where it can be processed and stacked.

In addition, when the company choose to go with Volvo CE's line of excavators, articulated trucks and loaders, it did so through the Knoxville branch of ASCENDUM Machinery.

Newport pulls its rounded river rock from the Pigeon River, which, for millions of years, has carried geologic deposits into the valley from the Appalachian Mountain range, one of the oldest on Earth.

"They likely came from an upheaval in the mountains when they were formed and deposited in this valley," said Brian Beretta, president of Newport Sand and Gravel. "We prospect the stone, but we cannot operate in the river itself. Instead, we work in the field bottoms adjacent to the Pigeon at our site. We can see what is in the river and decide as to whether there is enough depth and deposit of material in the acreage to make it viable."

Beretta's Mentor Helps Him Realize His Passion

Newport Sand and Gravel was started in 1988 after Beretta had previously worked for Ready-Mix Concrete in Knoxville.

Today, his wife, Jan, is Newport's secretary/treasurer. Their son, Joe, is in charge of the company's fleet operations, maintenance and purchasing of its plant equipment; while their daughter, Nicole Holt, handles payroll and billing duties.

In total, Newport employs approximately 48 people made up of folks working in the office, in the yards and driving trucks.

"This company could not be as successful if it were not for our employees," he said. "We manage, assist and listen to our employees while working side by side with them."

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As a young man, Beretta had been awarded a mining and reclamation degree from Lincoln Memorial University, a private college located deep in the Cumberland Mountain town of Harrogate, Tenn., an area with a long history of coal mining.

Although his degree was geared primarily to removing coal, Beretta said he preferred to apply it to natural stone extraction.

"You know, in your life you have people that you and your family have been associated with that help you go in a certain direction, and that happened to me," he said. "Frank Pittinger, who was president of the Ready-Mix Knoxville company, was a good friend to my father. After my dad passed away when I was in high school, Frank really became a mentor to me. I worked for his company when I was in college, and he wanted to help me get into something I would like.

"As it happened, I just have a passion for the natural stone profession, so he assisted me to get into this work. I was very blessed to have had that."

Newport Sand and Gravel began by crushing and sizing for surface aggregates for asphalt and natural sand for concrete.

In approximately 2000, federal government cutbacks in highway funding proved to be "devastating" to Beretta's business, he said, but a new and potentially lucrative direction for Newport soon opened up with the success of what was originally called the Home, Lawn and Garden Channel — later shortened to HGTV — on cable television.

"HGTV began promoting the hardscaping industry, about what homeowners can create in their backyards using stone and aggregates," he said. "So, I made a shift from crushing, sizing and washing. My wife and I hired salespeople and started attending landscape trade shows in Florida, Georgia, Alabama and the Carolinas where we would set up a booth to promote our landscape aggregate. The business sort of grew from that."

Newport was able to diversify its product offerings because it handled a lot of material not only for landscaping customers, such as river stone, sand, mountain and river boulders and flag stone, but for the aggregate industry as well with its menu of exposed aggregate for concrete and natural sand for concrete and asphalt.

"In addition, we make a specialty product for landfill applications, a non-reactive material that is fractured," he said. "For instance, limestone is a reactive, calcium-based material, meaning if you put it into acid, it will be eaten away, whereas the natural non-reactive aggregates won't be affected at all by acid."

Newport's material is very popular with road-building firms in East Tennessee because its surface aggregate for asphalt is a non-reactive and non-polishing material, stays porous and prevents skidding.

"Because it will not polish, there is no slipping if used in asphalt," he said. "That is why we use sand with it."

Newport Mines, Processes, Stores Its Stone All in One Place

Around six years ago, Beretta said, he realized that the company had a tremendous amount of oversize stone that it had collected over the years, leading him to purchase a portable primary jaw and a screen.

"We had retained all of our other crushing equipment from the early days, so we started crushing our excess and selling it for landscaping and as regular driveway rock," he said. "Now, the biggest part of our market is the landscaping industry."

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While Beretta estimates that about 20 percent of Newport's operation is selling its natural sand to contractors for asphalt and concrete applications, the vast majority of his business — roughly 80 percent — is devoted to supplying product to landscaping and hardscaping professionals and homeowners looking to create design elements at a business or a home that incorporate rocks, bricks, pavers, stone and/or concrete.

After the company extracts the aggregate from the Pigeon River basin, it then screens and sizes most of its products using regular three-deck wash screens, he said.

When asked if the process is very laborious, Beretta said that "two of our product sizes are a bit labor intensive because a small percentage is now hand stacked, due to customer requests."

Primarily, though, the materials are mechanically put into wire baskets, which are then stacked or arranged onto pallets in Newport's yard for convenient, high-volume storage or bulk transport.

"Of course, we make up the wire baskets ourselves," Beretta said. "The wire comes to us in bulk rolls, and we cut and form the wire tubes. Following that, we fill the baskets with materials using a hopper/feeder."

Joe Beretta added that for those Newport customers wanting to pick up their stone themselves, like a retail landscape yard or a homeowner, "it is easier for them to have materials stacked on a pallet because they can load it onto their truck rather than having it dumped in their yard."

As Newport Sand and Gravel's fleet operations chief, the younger Beretta enjoys a close relationship with the experts at the Knoxville branch of ASCENDUM Machinery to not only select the right equipment for the aggregates supplier but enlist their help if mechanical issues arise.

Newport's most critical machines are Volvo CE's articulated trucks, loaders and excavators, without which the Berettas could not mine, haul or store their products.

"Way back at the beginning, we had gotten a couple of older Volvo A35C models that we used to strip overburden with," Joe Beretta said. "We had only done a little work with ASCENDUM by that point, but I was having an issue one day and called the ASCENDUM service manager at the time. I was not able to speak with him directly, but he was very helpful in getting me the literature I needed because we do a lot of our own maintenance. From then on, he became a helping hand for us and someone we would turn to for advice.

"Later, we bought a loader from ASCENDUM, and they have continued to do everything they have promised us," he said. "Any time I have called, if they are unable to come up here, they will say, ‘Well, let's look it up and see if we can give you the right direction to get you going again.' They have always given us their best support."

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Currently, Newport uses nine Volvo CE machines, including a pair of A35 articulated trucks, an EC480 excavator and six different wheel loader models: an L45G, L45H, L180E, L180G, L220F and L220G, according to Beretta.

"The big Volvo EC480 excavator is used to dig out our aggregate pit for the loaders to haul into the yard," he said. "We use the L180E and the L180G to load customer trucks, while the L220F and L250F primarily feed the raw material into our wash plant. The L250F also loads material into the crushing plant."

Newport's Volvo L220F wheel loader was completely refurbished in 2023 after having accumulated 32,000 hours of use. The work included upgrades to the interior cab, engine, transmission and differentials.

Beforehand, according to Brian Beretta, "We were trying to decide whether we should buy a new or a reconditioned machine. In the end, we decided on the reconditioning through Volvo and ASCENDUM and, as a result, have been very pleased with the success we have had with it. Overall, it has performed flawlessly, and the price point was approximately half of what a new one would cost."

Beretta appreciates how well Volvo CE's machines run, he added, as well as the room they give their operators.

"The confidence that we have had in both Volvo and ASCENDUM and what they have done for us in terms of service and parts and being our backup is what keeps us coming back."

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