“Our Komatsu excavators are bulletproof”
Bridge construction is in the Herberger family’s DNA. Third-generation owners and twin brothers, Dean and Dennis Herberger, operate the same company that their grandfather started in the 1940s and their father led for more than 30 years. With the family’s nearly eight decades of experience in completing bridge projects, the brothers plan to forge ahead along the same path.
“It’s what we grew up with,” said Dean, who is President of the company. “We don’t really know a nything different.”
“It’s nice to realize that what we build will be around for generations,” explained Dennis, who is Secretary/Treasurer. “We’ve been doing this for so long that we’ve replaced some bridges our grandfather and father built. That’s a neat experience.”
Today, the Indianola-based company has 42 employees and specializes in bridge construction and tear down, completing roughly a dozen projects across the state of Iowa annually.
“We’ve grown pretty conservatively throughout the years,” explained Dennis. “We have six crews operating right now, which is nearly double the number we had 20 years ago. We have added people when the company was ready and able to maintain it. It’s worked out for us.”
The brothers credit the growth and success of the firm to a staff of dedicated employees, a group that also includes the next generation of Herbergers, Dean’s twin sons, Jerry and Jack.
“We’ve been fortunate to have great people on our team,” noted Dean. “We have very little turnover, which helps us build and maintain experience.”
Herberger Construction often has as many as six jobs going at a given time. Contracts range from smaller county bridges spanning 100 feet, to large structures over major interstates and waterways that can be as long as 1,000 feet. While the company does handle some minor road construction and dirt work, its activities typically focus on the bridge itself.
“We’ll do some bridge approaches and light grading, but we usually only focus on bridges,” explained Dennis. “If we get a bridge project as a general contractor, we will sub out the dirt and road work, and companies will hire us as a subcontractor if there is bridge work on a larger job.”
Last year, Herberger Construction completed one of its largest undertakings in the company’s long history, the $7.5 million, 900-foot Beaver Avenue bridge north of Des Moines. The company removed the existing bridge and constructed a new one that crossed both Beaver Creek and Interstate 80/35.
“We had some unique challenges on this assignment,” said Dean. “We had to account for the creek as well as one of the busiest stretches of interstate in Iowa, within an extremely tight time frame. Fortunately, the weather cooperated, and our crews did an excellent job to get everything done.”
Herberger Construction built a temporary bridge over the creek so crews could access the jobsite. Then the company began the process of removing the existing structure, building substructures and setting the new bridge’s 155-foot, 70-ton concrete beams. This phase required a complete closure of the highway at night.
“We closed some lanes during the day, but from midnight to 6:00 a.m. we were able to re-route traffic and close both directions of the road,” detailed Dennis. “Fortunately, we completed all of this in eight shifts, so the interstate was completely closed for only 48 hours in total.”
In order to finish the massive project, Herberger Construction used nearly all of its crews at some point and worked around the clock when night shifts were required. Dean called it a true team effort.
“Without our crews working like they did, we wouldn’t have met our target,” reported Dennis. “We had a deadline of 160 days, with no option to add time for weather. We finished in 145 days and earned a nice bonus.”
Komatsu excavators improve efficiency
When it comes to equipment, Herberger Construction’s most important pieces are its Komatsu excavators from Road Machinery & Supplies Co. and Sales Rep Bob Newman. The company has eight excavators, including five PC228USLCs, two PC200LCs and a PC290LC.
“Our Komatsu excavators are bulletproof,” shared Dean. “They are solid machines and very fuel-efficient – and we really love their versatility. Cranes were our dominant pieces of equipment, but now we are able to use our excavators in so many more applications because they have evolved. Instead of using drag and clam buckets on a crane, we use excavators and switch attachments. It has made us a lot more efficient, and now we only use cranes for lifting.”
Herberger Construction’s most popular machines are its tight-tail-swing PC228USLC excavators.
“Bridge projects are always tight,” explained Dennis. “Typically, our operators are working in medians or near a structure. The PC228s are very powerful machines, but without a large counterweight, so the operators don’t have to worry about hitting anything.”
The performance of the excavators – in addition to the service and support from Newman and RMS – prompted the brothers to add a pair of Komatsu D39PX dozers to their fleet.
“We were looking for a new dozer in 2015, and we had great success with our Komatsu excavators, so we decided to demo the Komatsu dozers,” recalled Dennis. “Our operators really liked them. The visibility is amazing, and they are solid machines. Our jobsites don’t always have the best dirt – we call it ‘bridge mud’ – so we need machines that can handle anything. The D39s have been awesome.”
“The relationship with RMS and Bob through the years has been terrific,” continued Dean. “Bob does a great job of meeting our needs, and we have RMS service all of our construction equipment. We trust them, and they have been a great partner for us.”
In addition to Komatsu equipment, Herberger Construction relies on RMS for services such as Komatsu CARE and KOMTRAX, Komatsu’s telematics system. It also turns to RMS for NPK attachments.
Prepping the next generation
Dean and Dennis take pride in operating the same company their father and grandfather led before them. As they look to the future, they want to ensure that the next generation is as successful as the previous three.
The brothers – who will turn 63 this year – know that retirement is coming sooner rather than later, and that is why they have started grooming Jerry and Jack for their turns at the helm. Sharing nearly 80 years and three generations worth of experience will take some time.
“We want to make sure they have a good grasp of everything before we are finished,” said Dennis. “We believe that it’s always good to have the previous generation around. Regardless of how smart and sharp someone is, there will always be a need for advice. We started in the company when we were 27, and we worked with our dad for about eight years. We envision a similar time line, but if the boys are ready sooner, we’ll let them go for it.”
“We’re confident in them,” added Dean. “They will do a great job, but Dennis and I aren’t ready to retire just yet. We have a few more years left in us.”