Christening a Komatsu PC1250
When Tracy Hazelton started H&S Contracting in 2004, he intended to have a small, yet successful company that focused on dirt projects in the Moorhead, Minnesota, and Fargo, North Dakota, areas. He believed the company would eventually grow and expand a bit, but the amount of growth that has occurred has surprised him.
“This is way beyond anything I expected,” said Hazelton, who is President. “Ten years ago, I wouldn’t have guessed we would have 70 people working here and offer as many services as we do today. We’ve been fortunate to grow like we have.”
The company has handled the growth very well. Expansion began in 2008, when H&S Contracting started performing the underground components on its dirt projects. By 2010, the company had a dedicated underground division. Growth came again in 2015, when H&S Contracting opened an aggregate division and began recycling concrete. Today, the company handles projects ranging from $50,000 to $5 million. In addition to its other divisions, it owns two gravel pits and offers demolition, trucking/ hauling, crushing and flood-control services. Every time H&S Contracting grew, the company became stronger.
“We started adding services because it was getting hard to find subcontractors,” Hazelton explained. “The Fargo-Moorhead area has been booming for a while, and everyone was busy, so we took matters into our own hands. We thought that if we could handle more areas of a project, we could control the quality better. That mentality stuck with us and has been the reason we’ve continued to grow. Now, we can perform most projects from beginning to end.”
Many companies grow and add services in order to compete, but few can do that as successfully as H&S Contracting and continue to thrive in all areas of their business. For Hazelton, it all comes down to one thing.
“Quality is our top priority, and that carries over to every division,” he stated. “If it’s a dirt, pipe, trucking or crushing job, we are going to provide the service that everyone expects. Every division is playing for the same team, so we expect the same commitment to quality from everyone.
“We carry that mentality to everything we do,” he added. “We want our machines to look good, and we spend the money to have them cleaned regularly. We also keep our jobsites clean and organized. It’s a reflection on how we do business. Some people don’t think it’s a big deal, but it matters to me.”
Crushing it with General Equipment
H&S Contracting’s most aggressive expansion occurred when it opened its aggregate division. The company began with gravel crushing to provide material for its road-construction jobs. The focus quickly grew.
“We had the equipment, so we thought we might as well get the most out of it,” said Hazelton. “We started with custom crushing for customers, and then we began recycling. The market is very aggressive right now, and I love this side of it. Superintendent Harold Klug runs the aggregate side for us, and he does a great job.”
Hazelton made the decision to go all-in on the aggregate side in June 2015 when he purchased a new crushing and screening plant. The direct-drive spread – one of the few of its kind in the country – includes Superior stackers and a KPI-JCI K200 cone plant. H&S Contracting purchased the pieces from General Equipment & Supplies, Inc. with the help of Sales Rep John Gromatka and Aggregate Sales Manager Don Kern, a decision that was a no-brainer for Hazelton.
“When we decided to get into aggregates, we sat down with General Equipment and came up with a plan,” Hazelton recalled. “If you are going to do aggregates, you need to go through General Equipment; they know this industry better than anyone – it’s that simple. We were just getting into the industry, but they treated us like a big-time customer and designed this awesome plant for us. Don, John and everyone there is great. That’s why they are the best.”
Hazelton also added a recycling component to the company’s crushing side. H&S Contracting uses a JCI impact crushing and screen plant for recycling jobs. Both the recycling and crushing plants are transported between jobs by H&S Contracting’s trucking division via lowboy Trail King TK110 trailers, which H&S acquired from General Equipment.
H&S crushes material ranging in size from 3/8-inch pea gravel to riprap. It typically does recycling jobs that are less than 15,000 tons of material and can handle 100,000- to 150,000-ton gravel projects. H&S Contracting typically crushes 40,000 to 50,000 tons of gravel at a time when crushing for itself.
For customers, it crushes material and leaves it onsite. H&S Contracting also creates specific road base for Minnesota and North Dakota road projects, in addition to fill material for its underground projects. It has gravel pits in Rollag, Minnesota, and Hankinson, North Dakota.
As with the rest of the company’s expansions, the jump to aggregates helps the whole business.
“We can do a road project and handle everything but the asphalt – and we can control the quality of the material,” said Hazelton. “This is the perfect example of one division making the other better. It’s helped us out a lot.”
Komatsu on the horizon
When it comes to heavy equipment, more Komatsu machines are joining the H&S fleet. In 2015 when Hazelton purchased the crushing plant from General Equipment, he also added a Komatsu WA500 wheel loader to feed it.
“The WA500 is a great two-pass loader,” said Hazelton. “Our operators like running it, and all of our aggregate people love it. It’s the perfect fit for us, and downtime has been minimal. When we’re shooting for high tonnage goals at our plant, the WA500 delivers.”
Hazelton says the WA500’s added features – specifically KOMTRAX, Komatsu’s remote machine-monitoring system – have come in handy.
“We had a couple of minor issues with the steering and air conditioning on the WA500, but with KOMTRAX, Komatsu was able to pull up our machine on its computer and diagnose the problems. General Equipment sent out a technician right away and fixed them.”
H&S Contracting also rented a Komatsu PC210LCi – the world’s first intelligent Machine Control (iMC) excavator – for a project at North Dakota’s Upper Maple River Dam in 2015. The results were eye-opening for Hazelton.
“We dug a 700-foot trench that was 8-feet deep and 3-feet wide in a very short time,” Hazelton said. “It was phenomenal. The trench was perfectly straight, and no worker ever had to set foot in it. The crew members who ran the PC210LCi bragged it up; they loved the grade it kept and how smooth it ran. In fact, that same crew tested another brand’s attempt at integrated control this winter and was not impressed. Crew members said it wasn’t even close to the Komatsu PC210LCi. I think we are now in the market for an iMC excavator after our experience.
“Since we’ve been working with General Equipment, we have been looking at Komatsu machines a lot more,” he added. “We want the best available equipment, and Komatsu has proven that it makes a great machine.”
More growth ahead?
Considering that the amount of growth and diversification has surpassed Hazelton’s plans when he started the company 12 years ago, it makes sense that he doesn’t envision much additional growth in the near future.
“I think we are at a good size,” he said. “We aren’t the smallest, but we aren’t the biggest either, and we have the ability to do a lot of projects because of that. Plus, at our current size, if we were to grow, it would have to be a serious expansion – maybe double in size – for it to work financially. I am not ready to do that.”
The company is, however, anticipating continued success. It recently began construction on a new office and shop in Moorhead.
“We’re planning on being around for a while,” said Hazelton. “I think we can focus on what we’re doing now and find ways to get better and be more efficient. As long as we continue to deliver a quality product for our customers, I think we’ll be in demand.”