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The former province of Béarn in southwestern France is tucked away on the eastern side of the Pyrénées-Atlantiques, and is steeped in history. Its strategic location controls access to easy passage into the Pyrénées Mountains. It is said that during the Napoleonic wars, Wellington’s army passed through “the Béarn,” where they won an important battle at Orthez and set up a garrison at Pau on their way to Spain. It is also said that the capital city of Pau is the site of Europe’s first continental golf course (laid out in the mid-1850s). Even now, you can still play a round of golf on its historic links.

Today, the area supports a rich combination of industry, agriculture, and tourism, and is home to some of the finest trout and salmon fishing “gaves” (local term for rivers) in all of Europe. For nearly 80 years the region has hosted a stage of the Tour de France cycling race, and as a result, has a well-developed infrastructure.

Keeping that infrastructure up-to-date is, in part, the job of Laffitte, a family-owned enterprise employing 40 and specializing in utility and public works. With the help of French dealer Bergerat Monnoyeur, Laffitte recently took delivery of a new Cat® AP655D Large Asphalt Paver with AS4251C Screed with electric heat option. The contractor selected the versatile Mobil-Trac™ System (MTS) rubber track undercarriage to handle a variety of paving projects and the area’s unique jobsite environments (from its demanding municipality and regional roads, to simple city parking lots). The geography of the region is as rich as its history, and includes rolling hills, valleys, gorges and spectacular mountainous terrain. The capabilities of the AP655D’s MTS undercarriage were tailor made to fit the geographic variety of the region.

The Cat Paving machine commissioning crew, led by Bergerat Monnoyeur technical expert Jean-François Lahargou and three additional dealer technicians, delivered the paver and immediately set it to work for a two-day period. Its maiden challenge was to complete a parking lot project and its entry passage in the town of Lac, on a blistering hot summer day this past July.

“Despite the heat, crews and dealer technicians completed hands-on, on-site training in all machine functions, operation and maintenance. They worked together to lay down a 6 cm asphalt mat for a width of 5 m, learning machine function along the way,” says Lahargou. On day two, crews moved on to a second site where they laid down a 5 cm thick mat of a light cement mixture (for a width of 5 m) for entry roads to an artificial basin that would soon serve as a popular canöe/kayak slalom course. Lahargou, who first attended a machine presentation in Minerbio back in June 2006, had since accompanied the AP655D on many field follows and was, therefore, well versed in its innovative features and operation.

Prior to adding the AP655D to its paving fleet, Laffitte had experienced the reliability and productivity of Caterpillar® equipment first hand. They currently own and operate both Cat compactors and hydraulic excavators. It was noted that the customer had enough confidence in Caterpillar and Bergerat Monnoyeur to purchase the paver sight unseen…“straight out of the catalog!” exclaims Lahargou. The customer, who was on-site during the two-day commissioning, was said to be “very impressed by the performance of the AP655D in action.”