“DMI has great customer service”
Change is both inevitable and necessary in the construction industry. Sometimes the shifts are subtle, but for companies like A-G-E Corporation, they can lead to significant modifications in focus.
“My grandfather, Allen Johnson; dad, Gerald Johnson; and uncle, Elden Garrett, started the company in 1964 and specialized in road-building contracts, which were plentiful at the time in South Dakota,” recalled third-generation A-G-E President Gary Johnson. “They started with townships and worked their way up to the big highway projects in the early 70s.”
Even as the company was enjoying a full ledger, it looked to the future. In the late 1970s, A-G-E expanded into the energy fields in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin, performing railroad and surface-mine construction. The growth was great for the company as it had as many as 100 employees and separate divisions in South Dakota and Wyoming, but change was coming again.
“Eventually, the highway jobs got smaller and increasing regulatory standards really took the appeal out of the energy-field projects,” said Gary. “We couldn’t rely on those anymore, so we had to diversify and go for a variety of other jobs.”
Precast box culvert work developed into a big part of what A-G-E does as skilled concrete labor workers have become sparse. Precast has answered the need to replace the loss of these skilled labor positions.
Fortunately for A-G-E, it already had the tools needed to thrive in the new market thanks to its fleet of cranes and centralized location in Fort Pierre.
“We’re one of the few crane services between Rapid City and Sioux Falls, and our cranes run from 30 to 110 tons,” explained Gary. “Today, we still do dirt work, but the cranes make up a significant portion of our business. We handle the erection of material plants and agricultural facilities, but we can do anything a customer needs. The bigger and the heavier the lift, the more we like it.”
Throughout the years, the Johnson family has remained a constant for A-G-E, which is a member of the AGC of South Dakota Highway Heavy Utilities chapter. Gary’s sons, Andy and Gerad, mark the fourth generation of Johnsons who have been involved with the firm. Their presence has also helped usher in the latest era of diversification as Andy is a Vice President and leads the crane division, and Gerad is also a Vice President who operates the marine division and dock sales.
A-G-E and the Johnsons have always liked a challenge. When projects come their way, many are large-scale and intricate. In 2014, the company performed dirt work at a new big-box store in Pierre. While that may sound routine, it is located on a 17.36-acre site and is currently the largest Menards in the world. A-G-E crews moved more than a half-million cubic yards of dirt and built frontage roads on the site.
In addition to sizable projects, A-G-E has developed a knack for attracting and completing distinctive jobs.
“We get a lot of calls for some off-the-wall things,” joked Andy. “With our crane fleet and background it seems like anytime someone needs to move something large and awkward, they come to us.”
Some of the highlights of A-G-E’s unusual picks include installing Chinook helicopter blades, placing a new vault into an active sewer main line and importing a boiler into an existing school building. This spring, A-G-E moved a 170,000-lb paddleboat, measuring 75 feet long and 22 feet wide, from Vermillion to Pierre – an eight-hour, low-speed journey.
“We had 90 days to prep for the move,” detailed Andy. “We used a specialized trailer and winched the boat onto it with a wheel loader, tractor and semi truck. We also planned the route so we didn’t have any tight lanes or low overhead areas. It was a challenge, but fun. The South Dakota Highway Patrol and Motor Carrier Division were great partners, too.”
Recently, A-G-E has expanded into waterfront improvement and dock installation. “We do things for homeowners, resorts and the federal government. The division has grown every year, and we are also authorized EZ Dock and Shore Master dealers. The market is really strong here,” said Gerad.
“Anytime we can get creative, it makes things fun,” noted Andy. “We’ve even fabricated a bucket for an excavator to load corn at an elevator. Things like that keep us fresh.”
The DMI difference
No matter what type of work A-G-E is involved in, it turns to Diesel Machinery, Inc. and Sales Rep Peggy Wolf for its equipment and service needs.
“We have a great relationship with Peggy and DMI,” shared Gary. “We go to them for our Komatsu and Terex equipment, and we also trust them to service our cranes and other equipment in our fleet. Pat Healy (DMI Chairman) and his son, Dan (President), know this industry and do a great job of working for their customers.”
A-G-E has four Komatsu excavators ranging from a PC27MR to its latest acquisition, a Komatsu PC360LC-10 excavator.
“We purchased the PC360 in 2014, and we’ve been very happy with it,” said Gary. “It outperforms other machines that are in the same size class. It is really fuel-efficient, and it’s a versatile machine, which is great for us. It holds its own in any application.”
The company also appreciates Komatsu CARE, which provides complimentary maintenance on Tier 4 machines for the first 2,000 hours or three years of operation. “The service has been great for us,” touted Andy. “DMI technicians come out at times that are convenient, and it really frees us up to do other things.”
The company also tested a Komatsu intelligent Machine Control D51PXi dozer in 2015 with impressive results.
“We were building a bunker with a bottom shaped like an egg that was cut in half and laid it on its side,” explained Andy. “We called DMI to try the D51PXi, and it performed well. It would have taken us forever to grid and cut the job with conventional methods.”
A-G-E also turns to Wolf and DMI for the staple of its fleet, Terex TS-14 and TS-24 motor scrapers.
“We have nearly 50 scrapers in our fleet,” estimated Gary. “They are great for moving dirt. We were very happy when DMI started carrying the line. To combine the dependability of the machines with the quality of DMI’s staff is a huge win for us.”
“DMI has great customer service,” said Gerad. “They come to the table to solve a problem. Any time we have needed something, Peggy and everyone at DMI have done whatever it takes to get us back up and running.”
Continuing to evolve
For more than five decades the Johnson family has been hard at work every day, completing projects throughout South Dakota. And, judging from the example set by 86-year-old Gerald – who is still punching the clock as an operator – they have no intention of slowing down.
“We plan on doing whatever it takes to remain successful,” stated Andy. “We think there are definitely some growth markets around us, but there is also competition. Just as in the past, we will evolve to offer some new services, and we’re ready to do that. If we continue to do quality work and deliver for our customers, I think we’ll be set up well.”
“We’ve been in this for 53 years,” noted Gary. “I’m proud to see that the company my dad, grandfather and uncle started is still going strong today. We’ve been successful because of our employees. We have people who have been here for more than 40 years. We wouldn’t be where we are now without them. Good people make a big difference.”