Sellin Brothers

HAWLEY, MINN., CONTRACTOR’S VERSATILITY LEADS TO SUCCESS FOR TWO GENERATIONS

Nov 9, 2012

Komatsu equipment - proven reliability

Anyone who’s driven down Main Avenue in West Fargo during the past year knows it’s slow going. The reduced speeds and single lanes of traffic in each direction are due to a massive upgrade of the city’s infrastructure, including new water and storm-sewer lines that run directly underneath the new pavement.

Sellin Brothers is handling much of the multimillion-dollar underground work as a subcontractor, installing more than 30,000 feet of storm and water lines. In places, the inch-and-a-half to 72-inch polyethylene and concrete pipe, as well as a lift station, is at depths up to 27 feet. At times, Sellin Brothers has had as many as four crews working on the Main Avenue reconstruction, which began in April and is expected to be completed by November.

“A great deal of coordination has to take place,” said Joel Sellin, Vice President of the company’s Underground Division. “For the most part, we started with the deepest pipe first and worked our way up. It’s been a challenge, especially with the soil conditions. Typically, the Red River Valley is mostly clay, but at 15 feet, we hit water-bearing sand. We had to pump the water out and bed the pipe in rock to get a good base, then backfill with sand and dirt. That wasn’t part of the original plan, but that won’t stop us from being done on time.”

Sellin Brothers has a long history of completing such projects since it began doing underground work in 1978. It wasn’t long after that when Joel and his brothers Mark and Scott began working full time for the company that their father, Harold, and his twin brother, Roy (who was killed in a car accident in 1960), founded in 1947. Harold passed away in 2003, and now Mark is the President of the Hawley, Minn.-based business, and Scott is the Vice President of its Highway Division.

“We all started at the bottom and worked our way up,” stated Mark. “Dad did that to make sure we understood how the business worked and to give us a good foundation for being able to someday run operations. He instilled in us a good work ethic and a conservative fiscal approach to the business, and we’ve continued to live by those ideals.”

Diversification pays off

Harold and Roy founded Sellin Brothers as a small road-building company, mainly constructing township roads. The brothers, along with a small crew, would cut ditches and use the material to build the road. Eventually, they began doing county and highway work. “In the 1950s, construction of the Interstate system was going strong, so they got into that aspect of road work and built hundreds of miles of highway,” said Scott. “There was plenty of dirtwork available. That lasted until the late 1970s and it started drying up. To survive, Dad expanded the company into underground. That’s become an increasingly larger part of our business through the years.”

The Sellins estimate about 75 percent of their projects are underground, with highway work making up the balance. Sellin Brothers has four underground crews and one grading crew, which it splits into two crews, depending on work load.

“In a perfect world, we would have a 50/50 split between the highway and underground work,” observed Mark. “Fortunately, being a diversified company allows us to ramp up in one area when another is down. Ideally, we like projects that involve both aspects of the business.”

One such project was completed about eight years ago when Sellin Brothers worked as a sub on grading and underground storm-pipe installation for reconstruction of Hector Airport in Fargo. Crews moved about a half million yards of earth and put in 15,000 feet of pipe.

More recently, it completed a project that involved 20,000 cubic yards of common excavation and 10,000 feet of storm, sewer and water pipe in the city of Barnesville, Minn. “While we like doing both underground and grading, we’re flexible enough that we can break our services out and do one or the other, either as a general contractor or sub,” said Joel. “If we’re the general contractor, we’ll sub out the paving and other items to specialty contractors.”

A solid, experienced corp

During peak construction season (April to November) Sellin Brothers employs about 50 people. In winter months, it offers snow removal. The company also does some minor demolition, and generally works within a 200-mile radius of Hawley. Key personnel include Superintendents Scott Sorenson and Gary Fingalson, Office Manager Judy Berceau and Service Manager Mark Ecklund.

“We’re very fortunate to have an experienced group of people who know what it takes to get any job done,” acknowledged Mark. “Many have been with us 30 years or more, and, in some cases, we’ve employed more than one generation of a family. As an example, our second president, Carl Sahlberg, retired after 44 years and his son Gaylan has been here for more than 30 years. Another longtime employee, Lyle Hanson, retired after 43 years. That veteran leadership plays a big role in our success.”

Komatsu, KOMTRAX prove valuable

The Sellins also believe having late-model equipment is a valuable component in the company’s success. Several years ago, they purchased a Komatsu D61 dozer from General Equipment & Supplies and have continued to add Komatsu units since, including new Tier 4 Interim machines — a PC360LC-10 excavator and a WA380-7 wheel loader.

“That first dozer proved reliable, and that really made us look at Komatsu as we added machines,” said Mark. “Each one we’ve owned or rented has cemented that reliability. I admit, we had some apprehension with the new Tier 4 machines because of the new technology. But they’ve proven to be just as good as any piece of Komatsu equipment we’ve ever had.”

In addition to the Tier 4 Interim machines, Sellin Brothers has two PC450LC-8 excavators, as well as a PC300LC-8 and a PC400LC-8, a WA380-6 wheel loader, and seven dozers, including four D51PX-22 models.

“Our operators especially like the D51s,” reported Scott. “They have a good combination of balance and power, as well as excellent visibility all around. The operators can very easily see the blade and what they’re grading.”

Mark Sellin and Sellin Brothers Service Manager Mark Ecklund track the company’s Komatsu equipment with KOMTRAX, Komatsu’s remote machine-monitoring system. “It’s a very valuable tool that provides us with useful information,” said Mark Sellin. “I can see actual working hours versus idle time and fuel consumption. That allows me to address any productivity issues I see with operators, showing them ways to maximize fuel economy and production.”

General Equipment & Supplies also tracks the machines and provides complimentary scheduled service to the Tier 4 Interim units through Komatsu’s CARE program. “Value-added services, such as CARE, set Komatsu apart,” Mark Sellin asserted. “We’ve always been impressed with the way Komatsu and General stand behind the equipment. Our Sales Rep John Gromatka has been great about meeting our machinery needs, and General helps us with service as needed. We really appreciate all they do for us.”

Controlled, sustained growth

Like many contractors, Sellin Brothers was affected by the recent economic downturn, but the brothers say business is coming back, and they hope projects like the West Fargo Main Avenue job will be the norm going forward.

“We had our best year on record in 2006, then things started to turn,” said Mark. “Fortunately, the approach to business our father gave us, helped us weather it. Last year, we were back to where we wanted to be, and we’re seeing many positives this year and into the future. Our goal is controlled, sustained growth.

“Fortunately, in this area, our governmental leaders realize the importance of updating our infrastructure with projects like the Main Avenue job,” he added. “We hope to see that on a national level as our critical systems continue to deteriorate. As infrastructure improvement becomes a reality, we’re ready.”