Lien Transportation


Jan 26, 2012

Productive, versatile Komatsu equipment

Very few companies survive through four generations, especially considering economic ups and downs during the course of 95 years in business. Even fewer continue to grow and thrive through challenging times, but such is the case for Lien Transportation.

“Our success is the direct result of understanding the markets and having the versatility to be both proactive and reactive to them,” said Trevor Lien. “We’ve always believed in being diversified so we can work in several sectors. It also helps that we provide a wide range of services that fit into residential, commercial, industrial and governmental markets. We can fill about any need.”

Part of the fourth generation of the Lien family business, Trevor is President of Lien Transportation. His brother Jason is Vice President and Operations Superintendent of the Aberdeen company that traces its roots back to 1916, when the boys’ great-grandparents Martin and Julia Lien founded M.E. Lien Construction as a grading and road-graveling contractor working in the Dakotas and Minnesota.

“Believe it or not, we still do much of that type of work for county and municipal roads,” said Jason. “But our offerings go far beyond that. We do full-service excavation and site work. We also do all types of paving, from residential driveways to major highways. Working in this area, you have to be willing to work with all types of customers. It’s the nature of the business.”

Working together, apart

It’s a tradition that’s been passed down through the generations, which included Trevor and Jason’s parents, Joe and Edith. They formed Lien Transportation in 1977. Today, the company mainly works in about a 100-mile radius of its home base.

“The second generation, which included our grandfather and his brothers, started doing everything from grading and graveling to asphalt and concrete paving in order to take on a more full-service approach,” explained Trevor, noting that generation moved operations to Aberdeen in 1968. “We’re carrying that on. Even though the name of the business is Lien Transportation, we’re geared toward being able to offer a full package of excavation and asphalt services. At the same time, we’re set up to break out those services individually.”

From an excavation standpoint, Lien Transportation’s offerings are exhaustive, including site work, bulk excavation, backfilling, trenching, dewatering, dam and dike work, engineered fill, road building and hauling. Asphalt projects include parking lots, city streets, basketball courts, bike trails, patching, seal coating and crack sealing.

“Many of our projects involve both elements of the business working together,” Jason noted. “For example, we may bid a street or parking lot project as a package that includes one or more of our excavation crews doing site prep. Then, the paving side takes over and does the subbase work and paving. Having that ability makes us more competitive, and our customers like dealing with one company.”

Nearly 100 percent of Lien Transportation’s subbase materials, as well as other sand and gravel products, are hauled in company trucks. The Liens offer crushed granite, dirt, clay, riprap, boulders, landscape rock and crushed concrete base course. Crushed concrete base products come from the company’s demolition and recycling of old roadways, building foundations and other concrete sources. Lien Transportation recycles about 100,000 tons of materials each year.

Trusted employees complete multiple projects

Lien Transportation’s main construction season runs from the spring through late fall, usually around Thanksgiving time. During that time it has anywhere from a dozen to as many as 20 projects in various stages of development. Operations Manager Steve Salwei estimates the company does about 75 percent of its work as a general contractor.

Occasionally, Lien Transportation projects run longer than the typical construction season and beyond its usual working radius. One such project was completed during a two-year period for the TransCanada Pipeline. On that job, the company installed booster pump stations from the U.S.-Canada border in North Dakota to the South Dakota-Nebraska border. About every 50 miles, Lien Transportation crews worked on quarter-mile-square sites where they would bring the stations’ building pads to grade and put down gravel materials.

Closer to home, the company recently completed site work and paving for the new Sanford Hospital in Aberdeen, where Lien Transportation overexcavated poor soils and brought in fill materials. It also graded, laid subbase and paved the parking lot.

“That’s just one of the hundreds of local projects we’ve done through the years,” said Salwei, who oversees day-to-day field operations. “I really enjoy driving around town and being able to point out all the things we’ve accomplished, whether it’s a small driveway or the $5 million project we did at Wal-Mart. It’s very gratifying.”

In addition to Steve Salwei, key individuals include Construction Superintendents Joe Huffman and Zach Carlson, Paving Superintendent Loren Olson, Materials Superintendent Brad Hochalter and Administrative Assistant Peggy Salwei.

“With as many jobs as we have going, we can’t be everywhere,” stated Jason. “We place a great deal of trust in our guys, and they take ownership of what they do. It also pays to have employees who have been here 20 years or more, in some cases. They know we’ll back them. They deserve much of the credit for our success.” “Our people work very hard and are very conscientious,” added Trevor. “Our customers know they are getting an experienced and dedicated crew on their jobs and they appreciate that. We also appreciate the great job they do, and that’s more important to us than anything.”

Productive equipment from DMI

Jason noted that supporting those valuable workers includes providing them with equipment that allows projects to be completed on time and on budget, a hallmark of Lien Transportation. Like their father did, the Liens use a variety of Komatsu equipment, including 53,000-pound PC200LC-8 Thumb Specification excavators.

“We need equipment that can match our diverse offerings, and the PC200s allow us to do that because we can dig, load, trench, demolish and place materials with those machines,” said Jason, who oversees equipment maintenance. “We’re able to get around any jobsite with those excavators, even if it’s restrictive, so their size plays an important role. No matter the situation, machines have to produce without costing us significant downtime. The Komatsu excavators do that.”

Lien Transportation uses Komatsu wheel loaders for a variety of tasks. “The loaders are easy to operate and our guys really like the smoothness of the hydrostatic transmission on the WA320,” said Jason. “Because I take care of service, one of my primary concerns when buying equipment is maintenance. The loaders, as well as our Komatsu excavators, are very easy to work on. We do the PM work ourselves with parts from DMI, and if we need additional help, I’ll call in DMI.”

In addition to Komatsu equipment, Lien Transportation worked with DMI Sales Representative Chad Casanova to purchase Cedarapids crushing equipment, SDI side-dump trailers, Hypac and Dynapac compaction machines, a Superior broom and a Talbert 50-ton lowboy. “Chad and the staff at DMI take excellent care of us,” confirmed Jason. “The equipment is great, but we have to have a dealer that backs it up. I know I can always call Chad or DMI and get a quick response.”

Geared up

The Liens believe in being responsive to their customers’ needs as well. They say that’s a direct reason for nearly a century of success.

“We’ve always worked to develop solid relationships with our customers,” said Trevor. “The direct result of that is that they continue to call us back, whether it’s for a small job or to bid on a larger, multifaceted project.”

“We acknowledge our past,” Jason concluded. “Our ancestors modeled a good work ethic and the value of customer service to every client. We’re geared to handle just about anything, and that’s a reason we’ve had long-term success and will continue to be why we experience success going forward.”