Gerke Excavating


Dec 21, 2012

Komatsu equipment is “reliable and will hold up over time in a tough environment“

When it comes to doing earthwork in and around Tomah, Wis., probably nobody’s done more of it, or been doing it longer, than Gerke Excavating. Allan Gerke started the company shortly after World War II. His sons, Richard and Paul, who today are co-owners, joined their dad in the early 1960s.

“We were still a fairly small company when Paul and I came on board full time,” Richard recalled. “Originally, Dad did a lot of trucking, but in the ’60s, we started doing more excavation. One job that caused us to grow was digging house basements and doing site work for two Indian reservations. Since then, we’ve just continued to add services and capabilities. Today, there’s almost nothing site-related that we can’t or won’t do.”

Gerke Excavating prides itself on quality work and finishing projects on time or early. “We give our customers the job they want and we have the resources to get it done quickly,” said Paul. “We also work hard to keep our prices reasonable.”

“For an owner or a developer, we’re a ‘one-stop shop’ that can handle all aspects of a project,” added Jay Gerke, who manages job staffing and personnel. “Excavation, pipe, finish grading, even some landscape and seeding — we do it all ourselves, which helps ensure quality and on-time completion.”

The company’s reputation for top-quality work has earned it a long list of repeat customers, including WisDOT, Fort McCoy, Volk Field and Wal-Mart. The company also builds landfill cells and cranberry marshes, has aggregate pits and does crushing, and recently added municipal sewer and water work to its list of services. In addition to its site and pipe work, Gerke Excavating also does frac-sand mining.

“A few years ago, a company came in and located high-quality frac sand (which is used in oil and gas exploration) in Valley Junction and Augusta,” explained Chad Gerke, who runs the frac-sand and gravel-pit operations. “They hired us to mine the sites for them and it’s become a significant part of our business.”

Today, Gerke Excavating and Allan Gerke & Sons, a family-owned trucking company that works almost exclusively for Gerke Excavating, employ more than 150 people. With half a dozen grading crews, three sewer-and-water crews and about 40 people working in the frac-sand operations, the company is a major player in the construction industry in west-central Wisconsin.

Komatsu machines and Roland support

To do all that work, Gerke Excavating has a large equipment fleet, including numerous Komatsu units purchased recently to handle much of the frac-sand mining. Those units consist of six WA500 wheel loaders, two PC650 hydraulic excavators and a D275 dozer.

“We run 24/7 in the frac sand so we’re putting as many as 6,000 hours a year on our WA500s,” said Richard. “We need equipment that’s productive every day, is reliable and will hold up over time in a tough environment. We’re confident our Komatsus will do that.”

“In the frac sand, we need steady production, which means the equipment has to run consistently,” added Chad. “To minimize downtime, we plan to keep new machines in here and switch them to quarry work once they reach 8,000 hours (about a year and half). We’re working with Roland Machinery to ensure that we get the uptime we need.”

“Roland Sales Rep Andy Brocker and Division Manager Larry Gindville have been very helpful,” acknowledged Paul. “Roland also does a good job of helping us service and maintain the Komatsu units. They have a technician in De Forest (Madison), Josh Pattee, who’s really good and very conscientious whenever we call.”

Family business with a solid future

With Richard, Paul, Jay and Chad leading the way, Gerke Excavating is very much a family business. Paul’s daughter Kim and son-in-law Greg Voigt also work for Gerke Excavating, as do Kirk Arity, who is Richard and Paul’s nephew and head estimator for pipe jobs, and niece Erin Dawley, company controller.

“But we rely on much more than family to run the business,” said Richard. “Our head Estimator/Engineer Steve Dougherty is very talented and has been with us a long time. Same with Maintenance Foreman Ryan Storkel, who’s out wherever he needs to be, day or night, taking care of our machines as if they were his own. Our foremen and managers are also topnotch guys who help us keep things running smoothly.”

With the frac-sand business, as well as its new sewer-and-water division, Gerke Excavating has grown rapidly in the last three or four years.

“We know that’s unusual compared to what most contractors have experienced, but that’s just the way it’s happened here,” said Paul. “We hope the work load continues, but we don’t want to have to keep adding people at the pace we have been. We prefer slower growth, although we’d been growing 10 percent to 15 percent a year just with our grading team.”

“We’re not planning to add any more new services in the immediate future,” said Richard. “But we didn’t know the frac sand was coming either, so, ‘never say never.’ We’ll keep our eyes open to opportunities, but our main focus will be the same as it’s always been, to give our customers a quality job at a fair price. If we continue to do that consistently, we’re confident we’ll be around for many years to come.”