Harders Wetland Development

AGRICULTURAL WORK AND WETLAND DEVELOPMENT ARE SPECIALTIES OF THIS NEBRASKA FIRM

Oct 5, 2010

Reliable Komatsu equipment and dealer support

For Shawn and Todd Harders, nothing is better than a good day of bird hunting — but a day at work isn’t bad either. That’s because the brothers, who own and operate Harders Dozer & Scraper Work, also own and operate a sister company, Harders Wetland Development. As Harders Wetland Development, Shawn and Todd do channel restoration and build bird habitat, much of it for endangered species, on Nebraska’s Platte River system.

“You’ve probably seen those, ‘I’d Rather Be Hunting’ T-shirts,” said Todd. “That phrase summarizes our attitude pretty well. But if we can’t be hunting, just being out on the river creating habitat is probably the next best thing.”

“We’re very fortunate because what we do for a living is so closely tied to our passion,” said Shawn. “During the hunting season, it’s not unusual for us to spend the first two hours of the day in a duck blind, then go to work. I also get to eat lunch in the cab of my dozer with a view of the river, and I really enjoy that view.”

Much of Harders Wetland Development’s work consists of restoring the Platte River and its tributaries, like the Loup River, to their original state.

“Through the years, many of the streams have become overgrown and today are little more than swampland,” said Shawn. “We do a lot of tree removal and channel work to improve flow. Often, we have aerial maps from as far back as 1939 to work from. We’ll overlay those on present-day photos and try to recreate the ecosystem as it was back then.”

Based in Cairo, Neb., near Grand Island, Harders Wetland Development is in the perfect place to create habitat. They are located within a 100-mile strip of land in the center of the U.S. where many endangered species, such as the whooping crane, least tern and piping plover, stage each spring and fall. The company works for numerous government agencies such as U.S. Fish & Wildlife, Natural Resources Conservation Service and Nebraska Game & Parks. Other clients include the Audubon Society, Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants Forever and many private landowners.

“There’s a lot of gratification in building habitat,” said Shawn. “We finish a project and come back a year later and see the wildlife using it — that’s a good feeling. For example, we’ve built many gravel islands for the piping plover because that’s where they like to nest. We may be the only contractor to build an island that has successfully had piping plovers nest, hatch and fly off from it. That kind of experience makes us feel very proud about what we do.”

Center-pivot site work

While wetland development is what the Harders enjoy the most about their jobs, it’s not the only thing they do. As Harders Dozer & Scraper Work, the brothers do a large amount of agricultural work, primarily site prep for center-pivot irrigation systems.

“We knock down hills to enable the center pivot system to work more effectively,” said Todd. “We also do a lot of tree removal for farmers.”

“Although we’re hiring out and doing other peoples’ land, just as we do with our wetland work, we take a great deal of pride and treat the job just as if we were doing it for ourselves on our own property,” said Shawn. “For example, when we smooth out the hills, we retain as much topsoil as possible and put it back on the farm ground after we’re finished. When we leave, we want the field to look good and deliver maximum productivity.”

Business spawned by tornadoes

The pride in their work probably stems from the fact that Harders Dozer & Scraper Work is a family-owned business and that the brothers are hands-on in its operation. Both operate equipment, with Shawn typically on a dozer and Todd in an excavator. They learned from their father, Richard Harders, who had a land-leveling business from 1958 to 1976.

“In June of 1980, a series of tornadoes devastated the Grand Island area,” Shawn recalled. “Dad had been out of the land-clearing business for several years, but he still had some equipment so we went around doing cleanup work for friends and neighbors. We didn’t charge anything. It was just a case of wanting to help wherever we could. Later that summer, the farmers started calling, wanting us to come back out and do more work for them. That’s when we started Harders Dozer & Scraper Work as a business.”

Shawn’s wife, Nancy, does the company books. The Harders also have two full-time employee operators, Nathan Knuth (Shawn’s son-in-law) and Kevin Jensen. Both share the brothers’ values and work ethic.

“Our guys are like us,” confirmed Shawn. “We all like to hunt. We all have high standards in regard to the quality of work we do. We all do volunteer work for church and community. We have complete faith in our guys to be able to do anything required on any job we do, and to represent us well at all times. I don’t believe any contractor has better help than we have.”

“The hunting aspect of working here is basically mandatory,” observed Todd. “We buy the guys hunting licenses each year. We like them to hunt, not just because we like to be around fellow hunters, but because it makes them better at their job. If they’re out in the blinds or in the field with us, we can talk about work and point things out to each other. They can literally see what we want to develop and understand it from the perspective of a hunter.”

Reliable equipment and dealer support

The fleet of mobile equipment that Harders Dozer & Scraper Work uses to do its agricultural and wetland work consists primarily of two Komatsu dozers (D65WX and D65EX) and two Komatsu hydraulic excavators (PC200s) from RoadBuilders Machinery & Supply in Grand Island.

“The D65EX was our first Komatsu dozer and I was very impressed with it,” said Shawn. “It was productive, reliable and comfortable. When I needed a second dozer, I knew I wanted another Komatsu. We got the D65WX, which has wider track pads for better flotation, because it’s helpful in our wetland work. We’ve found the WX is ideal because it allows us to go back and forth from wetland to agricultural work without missing a beat.”

“We’ve always felt Komatsu excavators were top-of-the-line,” added Todd. “We use our PC200s to remove trees or stack trees that the dozers push up. We also use them to dig channels. Working in water up to two feet deep, which we often do, is tough on equipment. We have 10,000 hours on a Dash-6 excavator that’s more than 10 years old, and it still looks and runs great. That’s a good testament to how well our Komatsu equipment works and lasts.”

Beyond the equipment, the Harders are pleased with the service they get from RoadBuilders. “Everybody at RoadBuilders is great to work with,” acknowledged Shawn. “Parts, service, management — they all go out of their way to keep us up and running, and we appreciate it.”

“We also really enjoy working with our RoadBuilders Sales Rep, Tony Randone,” Todd pointed out. “Honesty, integrity, fairness — all those things are important to us. With Tony, we know we can trust him. Whatever he says, he sticks to it. Through the years, he’s become more than our salesman, he’s also our friend, and that means a lot to us.”

Found their niche

In recent years, the Harders have expanded their wetland development service into western Nebraska, doing projects in Hershey, Paxton, Broadwater and Scottsbluff. “We’ll go anywhere in Nebraska,” said Todd. “We haven’t gone out-of-state, but for the right job, we would consider it.”

“We may well add another full-time employee in the not-too-distant future, but we will never be a large company because we don’t want to be one,” said Shawn. “We’ve found our niche. We’re a Christian company. We try to follow the Golden Rule and treat everybody as we like to be treated.

“What’s most important to us is our reputation as a company that does quality work and stands behind it,” he added. “We’re very particular about our jobs. We want them to be just right and we have many repeat customers, both on the agricultural side and the wetland side, who come to us because they feel the same way. They know we’re not the cheapest contractor around, but they also know they can always count on us to do what we say we’re going to do. As long as we maintain that reputation, we’ll feel good about who we are and our prospects for the future.”