Episode #11: Richie “Boomer” Walsh
December 17, 2018
Welcome to the Precast podcast, Episode 11. Today we have with us Rich Walsh. We're back in the Wilmington, Massachusetts facility where it all began, and the conference room looks better than when I was here last time. Things continue to come along. Rich, as we get going, could I please ask you to, I guess I'll say formally introduce yourself, maybe things like how long you've been with the company, and your current day-to-day title. Current operations.
Sure. My name is Rich Walsh and I came to work here May 10, 1984, looking for a job, was hired by Ed Shea, who told me to go down to the backyard and find [Bob Flores 00:00:48], just to seal the deal. So Bob was pretty easy to find. In those days, there was no production building, everything was done outside underneath tarps and heated with kerosene heaters at night. Looked like something out of the Stone Age down here, compared to what it is today. Everyone's covered in soot and dirt and there was this guy standing out there, it looked like he just came out of a CS Robot ad and it was Bob Flores. Nice clean pants, clean boots, clean gloves.
But I hit it right off with Bobby, he's a good man and we talked and I was later told that I would hired and to come in the following day, and that started it for me here. This coming next May, I'll be here 35 years. Started out as a driver, and I'll tell you, one of the things that I'll never forget, I was living in Lynn at the time of my hire here and shortly after I had been put on the road by myself, I get up to come to work one morning and my car wouldn't start, so I called in. I knew how they looked at guys not showing up.
They had deliveries scheduled, and I couldn't get my car started. So no other than Ernie Shea drove from Wilmington down to Lynn and gave me a jump for my car. Got my car started. I mean, I was blown away by that. I came in, now I'm behind the 8-ball hurrying, and I get in my truck, I'm going down Route 38 over in Wouburn, and a guy stops short in front of me and I couldn't avoid him. I caught the front end of my truck on the back of his.
And right then I said, "Well, this was good while it lasted. This'll be a short-lived career." I called in the office and Debbie Olsen was dispatching at the time, and she got in touch with Ed. First thing Ed said to me was, "Are you all right?"
I said, "I'm all right. The truck's not doing too good." He said, "Stay there." Ed came down in his El Camino, looked at everything, made sure I was okay. Asked me ten times if I was all right. "Don't worry about the truck," he told me. I couldn't believe it, you know? And we got in his El Camino, we came back here to the office in Wilmington. I thought he was going to be giving me my walking papers. He said, "Here, take my car and go up to Portsmouth. They've got a new nose for your truck. Pick that up and bring it back." I did not see that coming.
I thought for sure I was gonna be in the wanted ads looking for a new job. Right then and there, I knew that this place, there was something special going on here. It's been like that ever since. It's a company that you know. It's family-oriented, family members have come in, and it's just been great. The thing has evolved into what you see here today. We spoke before we started about what this place looked like less than a year ago.
The transformation that's taken place here is just phenomenal.
Yeah, it's been a moral boost, for sure.
Yeah, that's basically how it got started for me here.
When I started as a driver, I would always come back and kiddingly tell Bob and Ed, "You got to get a salesman out there." At the time Ernie was going around on Sundays, I guess, looking at jobs I just was being a pest, kind of be a wise-guy, and one day I came back from a delivery and I was told to take uncle Johnny Mereshi's car and go look at a stair job up in Tewksberry. I started doing that, like a half-day, going up and just checking jobs, making sure that people could get in, making sure the customer knew what they were getting and that they were ordering the right thing, and that evolved into my position today as Sales Manager here.
Yeah, yeah. You know, you gotta do what you need to do here. That's the name of the game. You've got to do a safety meeting here or there, you do it. You gotta go remind someone that they're a little late on their payments, we do that.
Yeah, it's all part of the deal, and it seems to work just fine here.
It sure does for me, I can say that. You know, I think the length of employment of so many guys here speaks for itself. It speaks volumes.
For the way that Shea Concrete treats its employees, you know?
Yeah, no we've talked a lot about, on previous podcasts, the longevity of so many of the people that work here. That is, I would say, very uncommon, especially in today's world. You know, and the kind of work that's done here, because again, that family feel is very prominent here and with that... You know, this is manufacturing.
This can be challenging work at times and everyone walks around with their head up, smile on their face, and everyone's accountable for what they do and everyone keeps an eye out for everyone else, which is a really nice feel.
It really is, it really is. I've seen a lot of friendships form here, because of what you just said. That atmosphere, a lot of places... I know a lot of guys, you know they go into work in the morning and they got their head down and they're saying, "Not this group again. Not this." That's so far from what it's like to work here. You form friendship with people. It's been just amazing, you know? Some guys, unfortunately, have left through various circumstances, but yeah the relationship is such a big part of this.
To watch these younger guys starting families and seeing that all come, and seeing the younger kids around here doing different things, it's great. I mean, I can't imagine how that must make Ed and Judy feel, to just see that all taking place. You know? What a gift to be able to see that.
You know, this thing that they've worked so hard to build, kind of different than wishing, it's pretty cool.
Yeah, no. For sure.
Yeah, and I'm just fortunate to be a part of it. I really am, I really feel that.
Nice. So was there anything in particular about how you actually heard about the company, almost thirty-five years ago? Was it an ad or word-of-mouth or-
No actually, it's funny. I was living down in Lynn at the time, out of work, and I had driven for a building supply companies with the similar loader type things, doing sheet rock and steel studding and stuff like that. I saw a Shea truck go by one day with a tank on it. I caught it, I said, "Jesus, I can run those things. I wonder what's going on there." Just a passing thought and I don't know how much later, I was on a list that... Lynn Sand & Stone to get on driving mixers and I had the Yellow Pages open at my house, this was how long ago, the Yellow Pages, we don't see that anymore.
They had be on hold, Sand & Stone had be on hold, and I'm just thumbing around and I see Shea Concrete's ad. I said, "Geez, I remember seeing that truck."
You know, they had be on hold a lot. I hung up and I called up here.
They said... I forget who it was I spoke with, but they asked me if I had any off-road experience and I had done that with logging trucks and stuff like that. "Yeah, I've done that." Come on up. And that led to that day that I met Ed, and Ed told me to go see Bob, and it started there.
Yeah, I just saw them out there on the road. They always took pride in the equipment. When I was driving it, Ed always encouraged us to... "If you're waiting, get out, wax the truck, clean it up. Keep them neat. They're our best advertising."
And that's true today, more so than ever.
And you know it's funny, I spend the majority of my time at the Amesbury office.
You know, as I'm in and out of the office, every evening as I'm leaving, you know, it gets darker and darker earlier now, but as the trucks come back from what would be their second or third deliveries, everyone is either polishing, pressure washing, waxing. It's unbelievable.
It really is unbelievable.
Yeah, same here. We've got the vacuum stations, the everything. The guys, they know. You know?
It's a great reflection on the company.
I've heard people say, "Geez, I've gotten stuff from these other companies. They show up, you're wondering if the thing's gonna make the delivery."
You know? "The trucks, the equipment they're running. I look at your stuff," people have comments all the time, you know, "I see you guys everywhere. Beautiful equipment." I said, "Yeah, they take pride in it."
Yeah. Last week, up in Amesbury, you know there's a brand new Peterbilt that I think was just recently delivered, so it's up in the yard waiting to have the bed put on and the crane.
Again, it's just a nice reminder of the constant ability for the company to invest back in and it's nice.
And again, all the folks that are out in the road or everyone I talk to is always just very passionate about their vehicle, making it the best they can, you know. They're always kind of, there's probably a little competition between themselves to see-
Right. Yeah. Who's gonna be looking best.
There's another thing I noticed, that when I started the company was growing and you say to yourself, "Dude, why don't they..." But very conservative. A new truck, maybe one every two years, maybe one came in. It was just so well planning, you know, not to get too far ahead of themselves. It's a great business model.
I mean, really. For that reason. Bringing in equipment as needed and it's just been so great to see. Everybody's like, "Oh, who's gonna get it? Who's gonna get it? Am I gonna get that one?" The Wolf always had the inside track. He always knew who was getting what truck when.
He knew it before Eddie did.
When you started in '84, was Bob Lopez, a.k.a. 'The Wolf' from Episode 8, was he driving at that time?
Was he driving? I had to go out with him. He was my teacher. I wasn't ready for that. I thought I got hired. I came down here and I thought, "Okay, they've got these big junks, these big pieces of concrete everywhere. They put them on the truck where I take them somewhere and I unload them." They hired me to deliver stairs and bulkheads.
Okay? So you get this triangular shaped thing on the back of a truck and, "You're going with Bobbie." You know? They tell me I'm going with Bobbie for the day, "He's gonna show you how this stuff is all done." So we had these four of these bulkhead setups on the back of his truck. We drive down to, I think it was Foxsborough. I had never been. I was a city guy from around Melworth and I'm involved in that area. I didn't even know where Tewksberry was and all this stuff, and then I went down Foxsborough, but 495 was new to me. We pull into this development with this foundations and he goes, "Come on, let's go." So I get out and I think... Now he opens these toolboxes on the side of the truck, the guy's taking out drills and levels and hammers. He goes, "Come on, here. Plug this cord in."
"What the heck is going on?" And he grabs this drill, like the size of a you know, a 50 pound drill with bit on it, three feet long. He starts restocking, making all these marks on the foundation. Levels and chalk and, "Give me that drill." I'm saying, "What the heck is going on?" Turns out, that we install these things. I thought we just dropped them on the ground and took off, but no.
It's a procedure. And I'm saying, "Whoa." And so he starts pointing it out. He goes, "You know, these pre-placed rods on the casting have to match up. You have to match up the holes on the wall." He taught me the whole deal, and oh my God. Trying to learn this stuff and then start laughing with the stuff he's coming up with was a challenge, but it was so fun. We're driving back and he's doing all the driving now, and we're coming into the old, it was the summer tunnel at the time, we're in stop and go traffic. All of a sudden he looks and goes, "So you've driven these before, right?" I go, "Yeah." He goes, "Well, drive this one." It's not [inaudible 00:14:54] a lie. He opens his door, gets out, now we're in traffic, rolling.
The truck's rolling and he walks around the bed, comes over and goes, "Get in the driver's seat." I climb over the dog house and I got to get in there and drive. I couldn't believe it. I mean, stuff like that, you know? It was great, it was great. Yeah, so Bobby was here.
I stayed with him a couple weeks and then they sent me out on my own.
Phil Cop, another great guy from town, he came in shortly after Bobby. Around the same time. He's since retired. Charlie Preston, you know. The four of us, Bobby Flores, Charlie, myself, Phil, and Bobby. Bobby Lopez. We'd get in here early in the morning. We'd have a cup of coffee and a smoke. Shoot the breeze, and then off we went, and the day started. Yeah, those were good days.
Good days, you know?
Sure. A couple past conversation, episodes, we've talked about the scheduling. Again, back with the Yellow Pages, right? Before smartphones and the internet and all that, and the ability for the company to have very tight schedules, from a delivery standpoint, and always stay on schedule. I've heard within fifteen minute increments, all day long. Trucks in and out. How did the company manage to do that?
It was amazing. It was a system that was put in place by... I never had the privilege to meet Ed's mother, Ernie's wife. She had passed shortly before I got here, but I guess they had put this system into place. As I said, I think Ernie and his wife would take Sundays and would go around and see these jobs and say, "Okay, these can be done. This is what we're gonna do."
Down the hall here, there was an office by a window that went down that was directly over the garage where the one mechanic would keep the trucks in operating condition. Drivers didn't come into this building unless they were asked to. We stood outside and the dispatcher has a string with a clipboard on it.
And she'd lower it down, "Here's your next order." You'd take your paperwork, you'd read it. You'd see the time on it, and you got going.
They had the two way radios in the trucks.
You say, "I'm leaving the yard." You get to your job, you do it, you say, "I'm on my way back." They know your coming back. They had that next one ready for you.
And you pull in, clipboard comes down, you put the one you did on there, send that up, and then your next one would... It was unbelievable.
Like I say, there was maybe five trucks doing deliveries. The next year, a new one came in. Now you got six. And just, in and out of the yard like clockwork.
But it all seemed to get done. That's a lot of the reason with the success, is the ability to be so punctual with the deliveries. These guys out there digging holes for septic tanks, they want to get that thing in, done, and on to the next one. They don't want to be waiting around for a half-day for an order. Yeah, and Shea Concrete, they provide. They do it, and they continue to do it.
So Rich, when you started, so there was bulkhead stairs.
Now, was it the decorative stairs or was it the broom finished, gray, precast stairs?
Broom finished, gray, precast was all we had when I started.
And then I believe Ernie had the idea to do the veneer with the brick.
We had masons, you know stone masons came down, they had a little area where they experimented with different types of bricks and colors and texture and all that, and started to do that. That evolved into the full brick stairs, and then they started doing the limestone. Limestone treads and yeah, it all has come right to what we have now with the stone and the granite, the really nice high end stairs that are a big part of the business.
No, that's great.
Now, they're also septic tanks and d-boxes? Were there a lot of other products when you first started?
The eight inch wall material, all of the manholes. Like that. Yeah, it's just been slowly bringing in new product over the years. We sell so much stuff now, it's hard to keep track of.
You know? But it was basically dry walls, manholes, and the eight inch wall.
We had barrel block, we sold a lot of that. Guys were still doing them by hand back then. Like I said, I was mostly on stairs and bulkheads and geez, when you've got a chance to do a tank or something, that was like, "Oh, this is easy." You know? Back to stairs and bulkheads.
I've been on two installations with stairs, just standing in place, making sure I'm not gonna get in the way, right?
But it is really amazing, you know, both were for residential houses, so I'm sure if I put myself in the homeowners shoes, it's got to be a little bit of nervousness, right? This large truck is showing up, here come the stabilizer bars off the side, crane activates, and it's great to see how our drivers create the relationship with the homeowner. The second installation, there were existing concrete stairs that got pulling. It took less than two minutes.
Leveled everything out, prepped everything, new stairs come in. Bing, bang, boom. You know, the level came out, measurements.
Making sure everything's the way it's supposed to go, fill in the two holes. I mean, where the pick points were.
Walk it, handshake, gone. I think it was definitely less than an hour.
I was just really surprised. Again, I'm definitely a rookie at all this stuff.
It's a great process.
I always used to get it a lot. You'd here, "Are you alone?" You pull up, basement entrance. The bulkheads and stuff, and you see this massive load on a truck. "Where's all your help?" This is it. It is pretty amazing what these trucks can do. These cranes. How efficient. I mean, it's a skill.
It's definitely something you'd need to be sure that you know what you're doing and the setup and ground conditions and everything. Safety has always been a priority for deliveries. For wires, undergrounds, septic tanks, you got to really know where you're going, what you're driving over.
Yeah, but it's always funny, you know, pull up to a homeowner, like you just said. And they always say, "Are you by yourself?"
And then they're watching in awe, you know? 'Cause it is pretty amazing. You see a guy taking a whole set out, do his thing, and then there's that brand new set of stairs comes in and it transforms the whole house.
It sure does.
It's pretty neat, and pretty cost effective too.
So let's talk about... It seems like a natural transition into sales for you. You know, from what you said earlier, you always kind of talked about it and then eventually got your shot at it.
How did that process go?
It was... Really, I don't think there was any plan in place, that I know of. I mean, I was just a pest, probably. You know, probably wanted to get off the truck. That's half true. Seeing the company growing the way it was, you just sense the opportunity. I like people, I like going out and meeting new people. It's great, you go to someone's house and they got... You see every situation, but, "Hey, this is my father's house," or, "my mothers house and they're old. Look at these things. Help me out." And you tell them... "I had a mason here and he wanted X amount of dollars," and so you say, "Well gee, we can probably do something similar." And you show them what you have and then to see their reaction... "Oh you can do that?" "Yeah." "Really?" It's pretty nice, you know? That end of it. And of course, you get into a subdivision or something where there's gonna be some volume. That's good for the company, you know if we can get our foot in some place. And usually it's a lot to do with the way Shea Concrete presents itself like we said, with the equipment, the personnel. People like that.
Guys, builders, high end builders like to see nice equipment, people that know what they're doing, and good product. So yeah, like I said, I started doing it half-days, I'd do deliveries in the morning. I was using, uncle John Mereshi was the engineer here when I was hired, he was married to Ernie's sister.
Yep. Great guy, smart man. I'd take his car in the afternoon and go look at a couple of jobs. It just rolled on from there and pretty soon we were getting so busy, they said, "Keep doing this."
So, here we are. Doing a podcast.
There you go.
Who knew? You know what I mean?
It's been great. They've been so good to me and my family. Being a family-oriented business, you know, stuff comes up in life that we have to deal with. They've been so understanding and accommodating, it's just great. I can't say enough.
Bob Flores, come on in. You've got to come in.
Your name has come up a couple times so far. Bob, we're currently doing podcast 11 here.
Don't forget to tell him about the time you drove down 62 with the boom up in the air.
That never happened, Bobby. That's all heresy.
We haven't gotten to that one yet. Thanks, Bob.
Oh, yeah. Wow, okay. Guilty as charged. These boom trucks, you know, we have a lot going on. In the old days, we had the old Prentice loaders and the crane's mouthing on the back, and the boom sits over the cab. So you come back from one delivery and you come in and you're gettin' four sets of stairs. We used to have stairs stacked up here on 62, like five sets high.
Right to the edge of the embankment, and you'd have to climb up on them and hook them up. If [inaudible 00:26:43] ever saw us today, we'd have been shut down, but we made it work. Yeah, anyways. In the hurrying to get jobs done, I forgot to put... My boom was sitting about three feet out of the cradle. I took off, I got down into North Wilmington square, there's a railroad crossing and the gates were down.
And I was waiting for the train and I look in my mirror and there's this guy walking up the side of the truck. "Hey buddy, is that thing supposed to be like that?" "What are you talking about?"
"Oh no, I just thought it looks a little high." I got out, and yeah, the boom was up about five feet higher than it should have been. I guess he got word of that. I didn't come back and tell anybody. He must have known someone here, 'cause Mr. Flores just reminded me. Yeah, there's a lot of stuff like that.
But no one ever got hurt, thank God.
All kinds of things like that.
Now, this past summer, because there's a lot of good feedback, and set of stairs went out to Nantucket or Martha's Vineyard?
It was one of the islands.
Yeah. We've gone to both. I think the one on the Vineyard was a kind of a long... The distance makes it a little more complication, you know? You don't want to be going back and forth out there to take measurements.
So a lot of stuff we did on the phone, I forget their names, but I dealt with the wife and the husband. They're building a new house out there. And that can get expensive, because the added cost of the ferry.
And the mileage. And they wanted the stone and granite stairs. When you're doing things like that, you want to be sure. You get to know how to read people and you say, "Oh boy, do we really want to do this?" So you got to weigh your options. That turned out great.
I was hesitant. She made a few phone calls to the office and it was all kinds of questions, "What if she doesn't like one little thing?" Yeah, like you said, it was a home run. They loved it, they loved it.
Well, I'm sure the Wolf put her at ease. After a couple conversations back and forth as well, right?
When all else fails, we put them on the phone with Bobby. The Wolf. The Wolf can cure whatever ails you, I tell you. Yeah, that was a good one.
Bobby was instrumental in making that happen.
Yeah, and I'll be in Western Mass., New Hampshire, typically Portland, Maine, or South, is what I'm doing. You know, trucks are everywhere.
I also now get a lot of photos from friends of mine. One of them was a big convoy that we had, going to Bangor, Maine, of all places.
You know, all our trucks will pull over on one of the rest stops off the turnpike in Maine. My buddy lives in York, works in Portland for Cianbro.
And he must have been getting a coffee or something, and he came out of the rest stops and said, "What is going on up here?"
It's pretty impressive.
Yeah, you guys are pretty far from home, and I think we had five or six trucks loaded.
The radius of influences-
Yeah, sure is.
Yeah, I mean I love the picture of trucks going up the auto road up in Mount Washington.
Yeah, to Mount Washington, yeah.
That's the statement. You know, stuff like that. Yeah, the phone calls come in. People go on our website, they don't even read where we are. It's so impressive. They just dial, just call you up. I'm getting calls from California for stairs and everywhere in between. It's pretty neat.
Nice, awesome. Awesome. Well Rich, like with the episode with Bob Flores, we may do a followup, but in the effort of trying to keep these about a half hour or so, we're gonna start to wrap it up, but I want to thank you very much. I'm gonna say this is the earliest podcast to date, It's been great getting my buns out of bed and getting here, a lot of stuff going on this morning and it was great catching up with Bob Flores here as well.
I want to thank you very much for a great episode. I'm looking forward to getting this posted, and we're gonna continue the process of introducing and talking with our long terms employees. So all of our listeners and subscribers, I want to thank you again. This is episode 11 and we are over and out.