“Nobody builds a better (dozer) than Komatsu”
At times the best way to get something done is to take care of it yourself. For Kimball Wetherington, that meant learning how to operate heavy equipment with no prior experience and little help. Wetherington quickly caught on to operating machinery when he established Wetherington Tractor Service in Plant City, Fla., in the mid-80s.
“Back in ‘85, I was working for an air conditioner company and on the side helped my mother maintain her groves using a tractor,” recalled Wetherington. “One day I decided I could make a living running the tractor and started box blading, mowing and bushhogging for realtors and people around town. Every time an opportunity presented itself I’d take it; I learned it all on the fly.”
Today, Wetherington’s company has 70 full-time employees on the roster and serves an area within a 100-mile radius of eastern Tampa. It specializes in commercial site work and completes several government-bid projects and small residential jobs as well. Wetherington Tractor Service offers a full suite of services, ranging from demolition and roll-off trucking through land clearing and utility installation to concrete and asphalt work. The firm handles approximately 60 projects annually, with 35 in progress at any given time.
“A lot of our work comes from customers we’ve served for years,” noted Wetherington. “We went through some hard times during the 2008 recession, although we never gave up. We’ve finished every job for 35 years. I think customers appreciate our dedication to getting things done right the first time.”
Wetherington attributes much of the company’s success to surrounding himself with the right people. He relies on son-in-law and Superintendent Kyle McPherson, General Manager Rich Bolesta and General Site Superintendent Tom Stroud in the field. In the office, Clerk Susan Keniroff; Accounting and Human Resources Manager Deidre Mercer; and Administrative Assistant Brandi Alanis keep the organization on track. Wetherington also notes that his wife, Robin, has played a key role in supporting and encouraging him.
Hillsborough County, Fla., is recognized as America’s winter strawberry capital and, as such, hosts the annual Florida Strawberry Festival in Plant City. Every year, the company helps ensure the 11-day event runs smoothly so that visitors can fully enjoy the festival.
“Whenever they give us a call that they need something done, we’re there,” said Wetherington. “We’ve fixed a problematic sewer line in the middle of the night. More often, they have us fix their grass parking lots overnight after heavy rainfall.”
Two years ago, the Strawberry Festival, which is ranked as one of the top 40 fairs in North America, decided to upgrade its facilities. It turned to Wetherington Tractor Service to help with the process.
“They decided to build a new amphitheater on the same site as the existing structure,” explained Wetherington. “We started by tearing down the 50s-style concrete stadium. Then we did all the earthwork, utilities and concrete surfacing before the new facility went up.”
Currently, Wetherington Tractor Service is working on a 15-acre campus for Wish Farms, a local produce supplier. The project includes a multistory cooling facility and office complex near Interstate 4 in Plant City.
“The family who owns this business has been a part of the berry-growing industry since 1900,” noted Wetherington. “We’re doing the clearing, bulk earthmoving, storm drain and storm-water retention, underground utilities and grading as well as asphalt and concrete paving for the project. Once the facility is finished it will consolidate several different cooling locations into one central area.”
Other notable assignments include the Regency Shopping Center in Brandon, Fla.; a new campus for First Baptist Church and the Suncoast Health Center, both in Plant City; and multiple sites for a popular fast-food chain. Typical projects range from $700,000 to $1 million.
For Wetherington, no project is too small. “When I started, a $10,000 job was a monumental achievement,” he recalled. “Now, people are surprised that we agree to take on something of that size. Small jobs like that are how I got my start, and if one of our customers needs something, we’re going do it.”
Uptime and ease of service are two important factors for Wetherington when looking for heavy equipment and a dealership to partner with. That’s why he turns to Komatsu distributor Linder Industrial Machinery and Sales Rep Matt Riggs-Stites for a host of needs.
“Matt’s always been accommodating whenever we need anything, whether it’s about maintenance, service or a miscellaneous question,” stated Wetherington. “He always makes sure I get whatever I need.”
The firm uses dozers ranging from a Komatsu D39PX to a D61PXi-24, four WA380 wheel loaders and two Hamm rollers. Wetherington especially appreciates having KOMTRAX, a remote monitoring system, for his Komatsu equipment.
“KOMTRAX notifies the operator if a code comes up, and we can call Linder to find out what’s going on,” explained Wetherington. “Someone there will tell the operator how to fix whatever caused the code or send a technician to do it. Linder also uses KOMTRAX to monitor service and make sure our machines are properly maintained.”
When it comes to operating equipment, Komatsu has always been his first choice.
“I love running a dozer, and nobody builds a better one than Komatsu,” he noted. “If it’s been a long day and I want to step away for a while, I’ll get on a dozer and do some blading.
“Overall, Komatsu equipment is smooth, easy to operate, comfortable and powerful,” he continued. “It’s very easy to take green operators and train, mold and make them efficient. One of the biggest factors in that is the integrated intelligent Machine Control technology on the D61 dozer. The GPS system has really expedited our progress on jobs with operators of any skill level.”
The addition of his son-in-law Kyle to the staff is exciting for Wetherington. He is teaching him the ropes of the business and hopes that Kyle will eventually take over Wetherington Tractor Service as a second-generation owner.
“He’s been coming along really well and shown an aptitude for what it takes to be successful,” said Wetherington. “Running a business is a team effort, and he has been a strong addition helping move us forward. I’m at the age where it’s time to start slowing down and passing off some responsibilities. I think Kyle is ready to step up to the challenge.”