If moving mountains were easy, it wouldn’t be an expression. So, when Latona Trucking and Excavating, an excavation contractor based in Pittston, Pa., was awarded with a $7.2 million job that required scaling back a mountain on Route 309 between Mountain Top and Wilkes-Barre, Pa., they knew they were in for a steep challenge. To put it simply, it isn’t every day you blow up part of a mountain.

In April, Latona Trucking and Excavating began work on a project that required moving the existing toe of the slope of the mountain back 35 feet. The project – which is scheduled to be finished sometime in the late fall – involves the removal of a large section of the rock ledge along the northbound lanes of Route 309, a heavily trafficked highway. Penn-Dot had this in the plans for a number of years due to rocks and debris falling onto the highway. By scaling back the mountain, it will create a fall area, where rocks and debris will land away from the roadway, keeping motorists safe.


Scaling back a mountain is slow and tedious, offering new challenges each and every day. With dynamite at the forefront, Latona has been operating behind a five-step process, which has proved to be effective. The first two phases involve drilling and blasting the mountain, but dynamite powder, although powerful, can be rendered somewhat ineffective in certain areas, leaving oversized rock in its wake. When the dynamite fails to make much of a dent, the third step requires a hydraulic hammer to chip away at any oversized rock. After the Latona crew breaks up the oversize rock, the fourth phase continues to utilize the hydraulic hammer to scale back the mountain and straighten out the slope before the final step of loading up the rubble in trucks and hauling it away. Like clockwork, Latona repeats step-by-step, and slowly, but surely continues to chip away at the mountain.

Besides dynamite, the hydraulic hammer is one of the most crucial pieces of equipment on the job. With the project beginning in April, the Conexpo-Con/Agg show in Las Vegas came at a good time for Latona who was in the market for a new hydraulic hammer. Knowing full well that they were going into unfamiliar territory of drilling and blasting a mountain, Joe Latona, owner and president of Latona Trucking and Excavating for over 45 years, knew he needed something incredibly strong and durable to increase productivity.

It was around the time of Conexpo-Con/Agg where the stars quickly aligned, and he found his answer with the Chicago Pneumatic RX 46 hydraulic hammer before the mountain project started. David Skopek of Stephenson Equipment, Inc., also located in Pittston, and Latona have worked together for close to 20 years. Stephenson Equipment had recently become a distributor for the Chicago Pneumatic hydraulic hammer product line and Skopek highly recommended the RX 46.


“We have been in business for many years and have never done a job like this on that kind of a scale – it challenges us every day,” Latona said. “I’m very impressed by the hybrid technology of the CP hydraulic hammer. We looked at a few other manufacturers of hammers, but the RX 46 seemed to be the right one for the job.”

With a big opportunity and challenge on his plate, Latona knew he would need to weigh his options before diving into anything. Skopek arranged for Chicago Pneumatic manager Greg Petherbridge to drive to Pittston and meet with Latona at the Latona Trucking and Excavating headquarters.

“I was very impressed,” Latona said. “Internally, I don’t know a great deal about hydraulic hammers, but the way Greg Petherbridge—CP’s resident hydraulic hammer expert—presented it to me, I was convinced that the RX 46 hammer was top notch. It has performed well out on the job. Very well.”


By the time the job is completed, Latona Trucking and Excavating will have moved close to 150,000 tons of rock, covering 180,000 cubic yards. It’s no easy feat to push back a mountain and the Latona crew is still months away from finishing the job, but today’s modern technology mixed with the old school method of dynamite, makes for an explosive combination. Latona continues to move full steam ahead, making a molehill out of a mountain.