By Harry Keaney
Anthony McMahon, a Clareman in Chicago, has invented a blockbuster. And if his dreams come true, his invention may soon be coming to a construction site near you.
While technology has done much to ease the monotony and drudgery of building work, when it comes to blocklaying, it’s still very much a case of one brick at a time. And the continuous lifting, mortaring and placing often take a heavy toll on backs, wrists and hands.
Now comes McMahon’s invention, which he believes will revolutionize the block-laying industry. Called the EZ-BLOK Block Laying System, it can hoist up to 11 blocks at once onto an already mortared base. Using the system, mortar may be pumped several hundred feet from a mixer pump and is operated by remote control. According to McMahon, it takes about a minute to prepare a 40-foot wall for a new layer of blocks.
"The heart of the system is a block hoist, which clamps blocks together and lifts them with ease," McMahon said.
McMahon also believes that with shortages of skilled blocklayers, both in Ireland and the U.S., his invention is now more timely than ever. He also says his new method will enable contractors to increase productivity and profits, complete jobs faster, reduce insurance costs and create a healthier work environment.
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"The cost of a block structure is immense," McMahon said, "and the lack of labor is a constant strain."
McMahon’s own life is a microcosm of the Irish immigrant experience in construction. Fed up with the economic depression of the mid-1980s, he decided to leave Ireland. Although he and his two brothers operated a precast concrete plant in Kilcolumb, Co. Clare, called Clare Concrete Products, he couldn’t see any future in Ireland at the time.
"We were doing a lot of work in Munster, but we were finding we couldn’t collect any money," he recalled. "We needed cash flow. I decided to come to the U.S. for the short term, hoping the economy would pick up."
After three months, he returned to Ireland and took his wife and three children, Bernadette, Michael and Patrick, then aged about 12 to 15, back to the U.S. with him, having rented out their house in Clare.
"It was a big decision, but people were very depressed in Ireland at the time," he said. "Even when you went out to socialize, there was nothing but doom and gloom."
The family moved to Freehold, N.J., but, because they were illegal immigrants, keeping ahead of the authorities necessitated leaving the U.S. on three occasions, the last for London, where they spent three years. Then, McMahon’s two sons, who were also working in construction, returned to Chicago. Within six months, the rest of the family followed, eventually settling in Palos Hills.
"We came to Chicago and we loved it," McMahon said. "There was a different atmosphere here. The majority of people were from the west of Ireland. There was a great community. At that time a lot of people had immigrated to Chicago. It was a new injection in life."
He established a construction business, Munster Stone and Steel, and, with an eye toward developing his new system for laying blocks, set up Rapid Masonry Equipment, Inc. His two sons, Michael and Patrick, now run their own construction businesses while his daughter, Bernadette, works with him in Rapid Masonry Equipment.
McMahon, who’s 53, said that his own years as a blocklayer had shown him firsthand what was required.
"When I went to live in New Jersey, we were lifting 12-inch blocks and I used to come home with my two arms in agony," McMahon said. "I had the idea that there must be an easier way."
The result was the EZ-BLOK Block Laying System.
At present, the system comes in a number of variations, but McMahon has developed different adaptations, from about $50,000 upward, to cater for the particular needs of different builders and contractors.
Details of McMahon’s block-laying system may be seen by logging onto http://www.ezblok.com.