July 2, 2007

They feel the earth move under their feet - it's all in a day's work

Gordy and Lenora Kubasch celebrate 70 years in business and their 50th wedding anniversary Sunday, July 15 at the Blue Note

By Linda Scherer
Staff Writer

Kubasch Excavating in Winsted has been known to make the earth move under your feet. And if the earth tremors don’t get your attention, the rigs they use certainly will.

Kubasches have been in the excavating business for three generations. They have come a long way from the first used International truck Herb Kubasch bought 70 years ago to haul potatoes from the Princeton area. It was during the Depression and Herb was hired to haul potatoes, which were plentiful up north, to Winsted area farmers, who were short of feed for their hogs.

One afternoon, after he had delivered his potatoes, he was on his way home to Hollywood, when he decided to stop in Winsted.

“Len Hermann of Pure Milk Company saw the truck and asked Herb if he would be interested in hauling canned milk from the Silver Lake area. Dad was thrilled at the opportunity,” said Gordy Kubasch, second generation Kubasch Excavating owner.

So in 1936, Herb moved his wife, Goldina, and his three children, Milo, Gordon, and Beverly, to Winsted.

It was the beginning of the Kubasch trucking business. Canned milk was picked up in the morning and delivered to Pure Milk. In the afternoon, Gordy, who was about 7 or 8 years old at the time, and his brother, Milo, would help their dad pick up scrap iron.

“We picked up scrap iron from the area farmers. Then we hauled the iron into town and put it on a pile. Friday, after we delivered the milk, we would load all the scrap iron up by hand again. We would take about four tons of iron down to the cities. We would try to get there before the union people quit, or otherwise we would have to unload it by hand again. We got $10 a ton, and $40 total was a lot of money. We worked all week for that. We always worked hard,” Gordy said.

Because Pure Milk was paying fair money for milk, farmers started dealing with them instead of the small little creameries in the different townships.

By 1940, Herb needed three trucks for the three routes he had. He went from picking up milk for 27 farmers to 92 farmers.

In 1943, Herb bought his first tractor, an old W-30 McCormick with a Swartz front-end loader. That was also the year Kubasch Excavating began digging basements. In 1945, he bought a larger W-9 McCormick.

“And a real dump truck. Man, we were in business,” Gordy said.

Gordy was the only full-time person working with Herb.

In July 1957, Gordy married Lenora Rolf from Mayer. He could not have picked a better partner.

From the time she was 12 or 13, Lenora drove tractor for her dad, grandparents, and uncles, who all farmed in Mayer. All of their land touched, and they shared equipment. Her dad had the biggest tractor.

“I used to haul the grain from the threshing machine to the granary. I did all of the chores except milking. This business fit right into my background,” Lenora said.

Shortly after Gordy and Lenora married, Lenora was introduced to the excavating business when she helped open a ditch for Ben Otto, a Winsted farmer. She drove single-axle trucks and got a class A license to help whenever the hired help didn’t come.

In 1966, Gordy and Lenora bought Kubasch Excavating from Herb which was then located at Main Avenue and Third Street South. Some of those buildings are still standing.

Herb retired in a home across from St. John’s Lutheran Church, and both Gordy and Lenora’s sons, Kendell and Aaron, remember him well.

“We have grandpa stories,” Kendell said, who was about seven years old when his grandpa retired.

He remembered a chicken his grandpa had named Tony who terrorized the grandchildren. He also remembers one time getting stuck in the back of a dump truck he was cleaning.

“I was shoveling out of the truck box and all of a sudden, I heard the door of the truck open up. I looked down and grandpa was getting into the truck. I thought he was going to get a paper or something he had left in there. All of a sudden the truck starts up and he starts driving away and the truck box is going up. I am hanging on to a shovel with one hand and the truck box with another,” Kendell said.

Aaron, who was about three when his parents bought the excavating business, remembers riding along with his mom in the dump trucks.

“We used to make up songs. I just remember being with her,” Aaron said.

“We hauled gravel for the township and Aaron was so small that he would stay in the truck with me. That was fun. I still like to drive truck, ” Lenora said.

“I don’t do much hauling anymore. I take care of all of the yard stuff when the guys are out working, and I do the loading and I still make deliveries,” Lenora said.

By the time Kendell was 11 years old, he was running the backhoe at different farms.

“If the farmer was willing to help, I would run the backhoe and they would lay water line in.

“That was in ‘69,” Kendell said. “I don’t think you would be able to have a kid do that in 2007. That was part of having a family business back then. It was kind of neat because I knew there were not very many of my classmates who were able to do that,” Kendell said.

In 1972, the present business site was purchased from the Albert Fasching farm, and the house and the shed were built.

“The property was zoned commercial. We didn’t want to have houses next to us because people complain about having a business next to their homes,” Lenora said.

Modern equipment saves hours of labor

Gordy is amazed at the changes in equipment over the years.

“We have purchased many machines throughout the years,” Gordy said. “There’s no comparison between 1937 and 2007. Modern equipment is just a marvel to me, as I have operated most every machine we ever had.”

The equipment has never given either of the Kubasch sons too much thought. They grew up around it, knew its purpose, and it was just part of their everyday job.

“Equipment was not a big deal,” Aaron said. “Getting them stuck is a big deal, breaking them is a big deal, but not the actual equipment. You kind of get used to it.”

They have lots of equipment: four dump trucks, two semi end dumps, excavator, trackscavator, two different backhoes, two 950 wheel loaders, two bulldozers, and a Bobcat.

Lenora reminded Kendell and Aaron, to not forget the shovel, which is still needed occasionally.

“We have way more equipment than we can ever run at one time. It is kind of like a mechanic’s tool box. You might not use a tool for months and months and then you need something for a particular job,” Kendell said.

Kendell explained some of the changes he has seen in the excavating business over the years.

“If you go back to Grandpa’s day, they had three-or four-yard dump trucks and when we got into the business, they had five-and six-yard dump trucks. Now, they are all 10-to 12-to 14-to 20-yard dump trucks, semis with end dumps that haul 20 to 25 yards at a time.

“When we bought the excavator, which is a backhoe on tracks, we never had one before. When dad decided to get it we said, ‘Are you sure you want to do this?’”

“Today, that piece of equipment is indispensable and some of the other equipment we have we hardly use anymore because it has kind of evolved,” Kendell said.

Before the excavator, a trackscavator, which is a bulldozer with a bucket on the end, would dig basements, but it was necessary to take every scoop out of the bottom of the hole. Then, drive the equipment out of the hole and dump it off. That meant it was necessary to go back and forth across the same area over and over again.

“You kind of wear out the ground, or you get stuck,” Kendell said.

“Now, with an excavator, the equipment is on the top and the dirt is scooped out and thrown. The equipment is dry and clean and high. It is never moved. You are just moving the bucket in and out of the hole,” Kendell said.

“Even with basements being larger, there is hardly a basement that takes more than a day now.”

Aaron remememberd the stave tanks used for septic systems. “Like a silo stave, and you would have to assemble them. Now, they just come solidly built. You just plunk them into the ground and that is it,” Aaron said.

“We used to have to assemble each piece. It was a family affair with Mom in the truck box. Aaron would help, too. They would throw the stave into the bucket and Dad would crane it down into the hole. I would lay out the septic tank,” Kendell said.

“Another big innovation was the advent of the laser,” Aaron said. “The first lasers that came out were $10,000. Now, you can buy one at the local hardware store. You can even buy a laser for a couple hundred dollars to use for elevations,” Aaron said. “It used to take two people to look through a transit to read a number stick and decide to go up or down an inch or two. With a laser, it takes one person to hold the laser, which sends a signal to tell the operator up or down. That saves an hour off an eight-hour day.”

The bigger and better equipment also increased prices. When Herb Kubasch retired in the mid-’60s, they were making only $1 an hour. They charged $86 to dig a basement. A farmer could buy two loads of gravel for $12.

Then, they started paying $10,000 for a dump truck and $50,000 for backhoes, and prices escalated.

Even today, Kendell commented that he cringes when he drives past the diesel fuel pumps.

“If diesel fuel reaches $4 a gallon this summer, that raises everybody’s costs for everything,” Kendell said. “All of our concrete products, all of our plastic products. Everything we do, every mile we put on the truck – the cost goes up and is passed on to the customer.”

Getting part-time help from the local farmers in between crops and seasons has changed too, Kendell noted.

He went on to explain that when they first began their business, there were 38 farmers just west of their business.

“Now, there is only one in the same area. It is hard to get part-time help. Eveybody wants a full-time job and benefits,” Kendell said.

“It would be a lot more difficult if we didn’t have Mom and Dad,” Kendell said. “Dad will take a piece of equipment out to us or pick us up and give us a ride home. He does some mechanical work for us. Mom does the books and handles the office.

Kendell has been working full time for Kubasch Excavating since he graduated from Howard Lake in 1976.

He is married to Susan, and they live in Howard Lake. They have two children, Lindsey (21) who is a senior at Gustavus Adolphus with a double major in criminal justice and psychology. She will graduate in January, of next year. Daniel graduated from Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted this spring. He is interested in going into the military.

Aaron graduated from Howard Lake in 1980. He then attended college at Concordia in St. Paul. He graduated with a major in social science. He started to work full-time with his family when he graduated in 1984.

Aaron is married to Patricia, and they live in Winsted. They have two children, Amanda is 16 and a sophomore at Mayer Lutheran. Brooke will be a freshman at Mayer Lutheran next year.

Both Kendell and Aaron have never regretted staying with the family business, although they still have not gotten used to getting those calls at 2 a.m. for emergency excavating.

Kendell recalls a woman calling him because her horse had died. He tried to calm her and let her know they would handle everything.

Aaron remembers a call that wasn’t quite as interesting. His call was because a sewer was blocked.

Just as the equipment has changed, so have the jobs that the family has done.

Lenora remembers during the 1960s when the city had sanitary sewer lines installed, and Kubasch Excavating did one to three hookups a day to homes. In one season, they had done 168 lines that ran from houses to the main system.

“That was a big change for the city and the lake. Since the 1960s country sewer lines have been removed from waterways and drainfields and mound treatment systems are now in place. Less pollution!” Lenora said.

The entire Kubasch family agrees they have great customers. “We don’t advertise a lot,” Kendell said. “We owe our customers a lot of gratitude because it is through word of mouth that we get most of our jobs. We try to do a good job so they remember us the next time they have a job or if they know someone who has a job to do.”

“We have worked with some of the same families for three and four generations,” Kendell said.

Their excavating business keeps the family very busy, but all four of them feel it is very important to give back to the community.

“If a community supports a business, then the business should give back to the community,” Lenora said.

Gordy and Lenora have been very involved in many organizations over the years. In 1997, they were awarded the outstanding service award by the Winsted Civic and Commerce Association. Some of the things they have been part of are the Winsted Jaycees, the American Legion Post, the Winsted Centennial Committee, Winsted Civic and Commerce, and Lenora served as a volunteer EMT on the ambulance squad for 10 years.

As Gordy and Lenora get ready to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary, it hasn’t been all work and no play for the Kubasches.

They have been on numerous trips/vacations including 14 cruises. They have been through the Panama Canal, the western and eastern Carribean a couple of times, and on the Mexican Riviera. They took a month off to go to Australia and New Zealand.

“Lenora and I have had a good life together in Winsted all of these years. God bless all of the wonderful people of this community!” Gordy said.

Ending on a musical note

Gordy, a member of the American Legion, took up the trumpet three years ago because it was getting harder and harder to find anyone to play taps for different events and funerals.

“I put an ad on the Hutchinson KDUZ Radio and said I wanted a trumpet or coronet.”

Lester Schuft, KDUZ account executive, was the one to call Gordy. Schuft has hosted the Lester Schuft and the Country Dutchman Polka Show on Sundays and he has his own seven-piece polka band with over 400 numbers on numerous recordings.

“I told him I want to learn how to play taps. And Schuft told me, ‘I have a horn up here. A kid had it for three weeks and decided it isn’t the instrument for him. It is brand new, and it is just beautiful. I have a deal for you. I will teach you how to play taps in a half hour.’”

“In a half hour, they had me playing taps. It’s all in the lips,” Gordy said.

Since his initial lessons, he has played taps for a funeral and echo taps with Jeff Campbell.

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