The really good jugglers know that the more you put in the air, and keep it there, the better. That's especially true of the spinning plates trick — where you start one plate after another spinning on a rod, so that when the last one is spinning smoothly, the first is beginning to wobble. The audience is meant to believe that it's just about to fall, but the master juggler knows better: that his skill and quickness can keep them all up for as long as he wants.
It is much the same with an independent contractor with lots of irons in the fire. Hamilton Ready Mix is a case in point. This family-owned and operated Jefferson, Iowa, business thrives because the Hamiltons and their employees work harder, and smarter, than most companies.
Johnny Hamilton, senior, started Hamilton Ready Mix (originally known as Greene County Ready Mix) back in 1976. Back then, work consisted mainly of a concrete crew doing residential work and small jobs. He had a simple philosophy for success: work hard and know your trade. Thirty-one years later, Hamilton has grown from one ready mix plant to three, a quarry, and a fleet of haulers, concrete trucks and other equipment.
Today, Johnny Hamilton, junior, mostly runs the company. His dad, now 64, keeps working on their excavation business: digging basements, building pads, etc., using a JCB backhoe, a CAT dozer and a Hyundai excavator. The younger Johnny's brother drives for the company. His wife, Connie, manages the office, and his own son, Johnny Dennis, handles metal fabrication and welding. Johnny hopes that his teenage daughter, Kayla, and youngest son, Dylan, will join the family business someday.
Of course, all of the Hamiltons, and their employees, would agree that Johnny works harder than all of them. He'll start his day before 6 a.m. and is often not home until after 10 p.m. ("Mostly daylight till dark," he says.) During the day, he'll drive haulers and concrete trucks, run crews and whatever else needs doing. Because he works so hard, his employees give it their all too. Counting family, Hamilton employs about 30 people. Nearly all of them can do everything — learning new skills as they go along.
Hamilton Ready Mix stays at full force year 'round, for the most part. As Johnny would say, "If they're willing to work, we'll find them something to do." For example, they build all their own buildings over the slower winter months. With three ready mix plants in three Iowa towns — Jefferson, Boone and Ft. Dodge — and the Jefferson quarry (Hamilton Pit), it's easy to see how there is always plenty to do. They own 14 ready mix trucks, nine haulers and a handful of other equipment.
Part of Hamilton's success is because "everyone does everything." A Sidump'r driver can pull into the quarry, jump into a loader to load sand or gravel, then deliver the load to a site. Once there, he might just grab a shovel and help the concrete crew there, unless there's another order, and another customer, waiting for him somewhere else. That's the thing Hamilton likes most about his work — his customers.
"Without good customers," he believes, "it wouldn't be much fun. My customers keep me going. When someone calls, take care of them, no matter the size. That's how we've been building up a good clientele for years, now."
It's hard to say how many "customers" or jobs Hamilton has at any given time. A call could come in for a few yards of concrete or a couple of tons of aggregate and someone, maybe Johnny himself, will be dispatched. Few of their machines, or workers, stay in one place very long. With a schedule like that, it's no surprise that Hamilton puts plenty of miles on their haulers and ready mix trucks. With their side dumpers constantly delivering loads and heading back to the quarry for more, it's not unusual to rack up 400,000 to 500,000 miles on a hauler in a few years before they trade it in for a new model. Hamilton believes in keeping his haulers in good shape and taking advantage of new technologies every few years. That's what led the senior Hamilton to side-dumping haulers years ago. In his son's experience, the best of these haulers are Sidump'r and Smithco. Knowing your equipment, and your business, is crucial.
"When you're in it everyday," he'll say, "you better know what you're doing, or else you're in trouble."
Knowing who to buy from, and being loyal to them, is also important, he says. He has two dealers that get most of his equipment business: Mid Country Machinery in Fort Dodge, Iowa, and Rueter's, with operations in Iowa (Ames, Carroll, Council bluffs, Grand Junction, and Johnston), Denver and Neligh, Neb. Hamilton knows these dealers will take care of him, and he takes care of them. After years of doing business with both, a strong bond has developed.
For example, Mark Swedlund of Mid Country sold Johnny Hamilton Sr. his first side dumper 15 years ago. Since then, he's kept the Hamilton's business by handling good equipment, giving reliable service and, of course, offering good prices on trade-ins.
"Hamilton puts a lot of miles on their haulers — running them constantly — so they trade them in pretty regularly," he observes. "They maintain their equipment well, including a good washing. One advantage of trading out old haulers for new every few years is that you can take advantage of basic technological improvements."
Swedlund is one of four co-owners of Mid Country Machinery, Inc. He's partnered with Bud DeCoy, Lucas Peed and Bob Conaway (the paving equipment expert). They started the company about 11 years ago and now export equipment throughout the U.S., along with Canada and Mexico. They handle rock washers (Hamilton has one of their washers at their Jefferson quarry), haulers, pavers, and other equipment.
They have a thriving used-paver business. Conaway is often on the road buying pavers, including fleets. They are authorized dealers of Kobelco, Sky Trak, Genie, Sidump'r, Stihl, and Ground Heaters, Inc.
Mid Country services all makes and models of equipment, and can handle mechanical and structural repair as well as truck and trailer repair. In addition, their factory-trained technicians can provide complete field service.
Swedlund says that when he gets a call from Hamilton, he pulls the specs sheets from their last purchase, because they usually want pretty much the same hauler.
He believes the success of Sidump'r, and other side-dumping haulers, is due to their versatility. Old belly dumpers often got mired in the material they just dropped. Side dumpers, on the other hand, aren't driving through their load. They also operate better in fields and over rough ground, he said.
"They can haul anything: limestone, sand, rock and demo debris," he sums up. "Side dumpers haul more material, you can dump on either side, and get on with your next load — dump it and be gone."
Swedlund works with Gary "Shep" Schoef of Sidump'r Trailer Company, Inc., based in Plainview, Neb. Shep started as a marketing consultant for Sidump'r in March 2007 and was hired full time in June. He enjoys working for the company.
"I like the everyday challenges," he remarks, "getting out to the industry and the end users." He notes that side-dumping haulers have only been out in the field about 12 years. "They've just begun being recognized by the contractors and material handlers."
He's sure that as the industry realizes that side dumping haulers can move a lot of material — off road or on, and dump on the move — all side-dumping trucks will gain more acceptance.
"They're safer, deliver material faster, move more product with every load," he ticks off the advantages of Sidump'r trailers, then sums it up. "They affect the bottom line of contractors."
Bob Mckinley, CEO of Sidump'r, couldn't agree more.
"We have a product here that is unique," he states. "We're doing things that nobody else is, innovation that could change the whole market."
Johnny Hamilton will probably be getting one of those advanced haulers the next time he trades up again. For him, it's all about getting the work done, quickly and professionally, while taking care of his customers, his workers and his family.
"We do it all together," he says. Then adds, "All any of us have is family."
So tomorrow, he'll be up early, doing what he enjoys with folks he loves, without checking the clock.