When Rock Miller designs commercial and residential swimming pools for his family business, Pool Crafters in West Palm Beach, Florida, he wants control. For him, the design work is an artistic undertaking, so creating one-of-a-kind settings is a must.
When Miller’s father, Charles D. Miller, founded Pool Crafters in 1962, 12-year-old Rock spent summers learning the tricks of the trade. Back then, the Millers hand-packed the concrete to build the pool walls. Later, they added concrete piston pumps to speed up the process, but Rock questioned his ability to control the fine details.
“I had to run my piston ball pump at full throttle to pump a 2- or 3-inch slump and would end up giving myself too much concrete to work with when doing detailed work,” Rock says. “Not only that, but I’m turning 60 this year, so I need a machine that slows down the process.”
While searching YouTube for ideas, Rock stumbled upon Blastcrete Equipment Company, a 60-year-old Alabama-based manufacturer of concrete pumping equipment. He reached out to the company and, after a few phone conversations with Tripp Farrell, Blastcrete president, and Scott Knighton, vice president, he had to decide whether or not to try using the squeeze pump model they proposed.
“I remember Tripp saying, ‘Rock, you need to trust me on this,'” he says. “It’s a big investment, but it ended up working out great.”
The Blastcrete D6528 concrete pump attaches to Rock’s T550 Bobcat, which powers the pump. This has cut down on operation costs, and it’s less expensive than purchasing a stand-alone pumping unit, according to Rock and the company. Blastcrete even customized the machine’s size for Pool Crafters, making the unit smaller. But more importantly to Rock, the D6528 slows down his work to 5 or 6 yards of concrete pumped per hour, allowing more time for detailed shaping.
Rock’s process starts by setting rebar up to extend every 6 inches from the pool’s beam. He then ties and shapes the rebar into rock waterfalls, rounding any sharp edges before spraying the concrete.
“We try to make the rocks with a bit more rounded edges,” he says. “You don’t really notice when you look at them, but they’re safer for pools, and safety is our No. 1 priority.”
The rocks are then waterproofed, colored and texturized. Rock combines sand and seashells from the beach with a cement product to form his specialty: artificial Palm Beach Cap Rock. It’s a popular item for Pool Crafters, as sandstone found in authentic Palm Beach Cap Rock absorbs water – a problem owners of older pools are now experiencing.
“As far as I know, I’m the only guy in South Florida making rocks like this,” he says. “We developed a niche market because of it, and it’s a process I knew I had to preserve.”
Maintenance and cleaning advantages are another benefit beyond the operational savings the squeeze pump offers. Unlike swing tube piston pumps that contain several wear parts, the company says squeeze pumps only contain one: the rubber pumping tube. Maintenance costs average less than $1 per cubic yard of pumped material.
“There’s never going to be a guessing game on why the pump isn’t working,” Rock says. “If something happens with the squeeze pump, we know the issue has to be the hose. That’s a good insurance policy for me.”