Dirtwork Unlimited


Feb 21, 2012

Komatsu, Power Equipment a great combination

When Chris Herren decided to start an earthmoving company a little more than a year ago, he expected the obvious reaction to making such a commitment in what’s been a tough industry for several years.

“Of course, some people said I was crazy, but I’ve always believed in being diversified,” said Herren, who founded Dirtwork Unlimited in October of 2010. “I had the employees to do it, so I was confident that we could not only find work, but stay busy. For the most part, we’ve been able to do that.”

Most of Dirtwork Unlimited’s employees worked for Herren in his other ventures, including Herren Enterprises, a contract hauling company that moves such items as large equipment for other companies, including DMI. Among that staff was brother-in-law Daniel Wipf, who before working for Herren Enterprises had experience operating heavy equipment.

“In addition to Daniel, there were one or two other truck drivers who were trained operators, so finding the guys to move dirt wasn’t a big challenge,” noted Herren. “Finding jobs was, but that came rather quickly when Ryan Hallman came on board to do bidding and estimating, bringing with him about a decade of experience.”

Hallman’s experience helped Dirtwork Unlimited start bidding jobs right away, such as municipal road, utility and park projects, and it’s starting to bear fruit. Herren noted that’s another step toward diversity, as Dirtwork Unlimited’s early focus was providing several services to area landowners.

Anything involving earthmoving

Much of that work involved clearing, cleaning and constructing ditches, building ponds and digging basements within about a 100-mile radius of Dirtwork Unlimited’s home of Crooks, S.D. The first job the company did was cleaning up a pile of trees on an area farmstead.

“We’ve been back to that same farmstead to do a larger project that involved taking out about seven acres of trees to gain the farmer more farmland,” said Wipf. “That’s not the only repeat customer we’ve acquired in a little more than a year, so I believe that says we’re clearly doing something right. The key is to continue to provide that type of customer service, so the word gets out and we build the business through referral. That’s the ultimate goal.”

A recent project saw Dirtwork Unlimited construct a 120-foot by 80-foot building pad for a dairy barn extension. Using on-site material, Wipf built the pad up 10 feet. He also cleared the site and buried an old tank.

Komatsu gets the job done

The three-day project was the largest Dirtwork Unlimited has done to date, and the company used all three pieces of Komatsu equipment it owned at the time. Working with DMI Territory Sales Rep Mark Shievelbein, Herren purchased a PC200LC-8 excavator, a D51PX-22 dozer and a WA320-6 wheel loader not long after starting the business, and he recently added a PC360LC-10 excavator to the company’s fleet.

“We’ve worked with Mark and DMI for some time, buying Talbert trailers from them for the trucking company,” said Herren. He also purchased a TOPCON system from DMI for the new Komatsu excavator. “Service was a big factor for us, and Mark and DMI have always delivered. We’ve had them out a couple times, and they’ve responded quickly. In addition, because we’ve hauled Komatsu equipment, we knew its reputation for quality machinery. When we were looking for machines, that was a logical starting point.”

Wipf, who mainly runs the equipment, is impressed with Komatsu’s productivity. “There are several features I like, including the versatility we get from the excavator and loader. For example, I can move dirt or dig out small trees with the loader, then with the quick coupler, easily change to grapple forks to move the trees into a pile or load them. In addition, loading is easy with the hydrostatic transmission that allows me to inch close to the truck without worrying about hitting the brakes.

“The D51 dozer is fantastic as well,” he added. “For its size, there is plenty of room in the cab, and the slant-nose design gives me excellent visibility all around and to both sides of the blade. It’s quick and has good power.”

Staying small

Despite some growth in its first year, Herren is not looking for rapid or explosive expansion for Dirtwork Unlimited. In fact, the plan is to keep it small and manageable.

“We’re already seeing a good deal of repeat business, which bodes well for the company,” he pointed out. “We’re bidding a fair share of municipal work as a subcontractor. That’s really what I want for the business; to work in all sectors while offering a quality job done right and on time. We’ve been able to provide that. I envision us having about 10 employees within the next few years, then staying there.”