By Linda Scherer
WINSTED, MN Harlan Hecksel and his employees at H H Fabrication of Winsted are as busy as Santa’s elves trying to keep up with the orders for their skid-steer snow bucket attachment, made more popular this year because of the significant snowfall.
“You know the old saying, ‘make hay when the sun shines,’ Hecksel asks. “Well, we have to make snow buckets when the snow flies.”
Semi trucks, arriving every other day at H H Fabrication, deliver steel from five different vendors, including one in Chicago and another in Indiana.
“We are running through about 35,000 pounds of steel a week,” Hecksel said.
Last winter the company sold a total of 300 snow buckets. Hecksel said he has already sold that many this winter.
“I might as well duct tape the phone to my ear. We are averaging between 40 to 60 calls a day,” he commented.
The work day at H H Fabrication begins at 4 a.m. and runs until 4 p.m. To keep up with the demand, Hecksel has plans to start an evening shift beginning this week. This will keep his four welding stations operating 24 hours a day.
Although the company is pushed to its limit right now, Hecksel said he has a good bunch of guys working for him, and keeping busy beats the alternative.
“We are kind of a secret out here. Nobody thinks we do this much work,” he said.
There are 10 employees who work for H H Fabrication, which began operations many years ago, when Hecksel made his first round bale spear and pallet fork to use on his farm.
And, although he admits his original products were a lot cruder than the ones made today, his neighbors took interest and asked him to duplicate the products. He used the extra money to supplement his farm income.
He doesn’t recall the year he began making attachments for the skid-steer, but in 1998, the company became officially incorporated.
Today, the company makes between 35 and 40 different attachments for the skid-steer, and custom-made attachments and parts for tractors. It also does work for other local companies. Next year, the company has plans to make its own snowblower.
“If you are not moving forward, you are going backward. You have to keep up with the industry and keep on improving the product line. That is how we stay busy,” Hecksel said.
The company has nearly 45 dealers nationwide but most of H H Fabrication’s business is within the five-state area. It has shipped skid-steer attachments to every state in the US, to Canada and England, and has even made the world news.
When Hurricane Katrina hit five years ago, FEMA bought 86 root grapple skid-steer attachments to help clean up New Orleans. H H Fabrication worked around the clock for two weeks to get the products out on time.
“I was watching the world news, and there we were. I could see those red stickers (company logo),” Hecksel said.
The designs for his skid-steer attachments are done on paper mostly, because Hecksel has no interest in using a computer. He and his shop foreman, Brad Hoese, each come up with a plan. Sometimes Hoese’s plan is better and sometimes Heckel’s plan is better. Sometimes they combine them.
H H Fabrication’s biggest problem, according to Hecksel, is keeping up with inventory.
“Because we do so many types of product lines, the efficient way would be to build 15 or 20 of one kind of attachment at a time so it can be done faster, but we just don’t have that luxury,” he explained.
Custom projects are part of the business at H H Fabrication something that other companies don’t do, according to Hecksel. It’s what makes the company unique and something he is proud to offer.
Last year H H Fabrication sold a total of 1,147 attachments. This year, with two weeks left to go in the fiscal year, it has already sold 1,356 attachments.
Owning a manufacturing business has made Hecksel aware of what an industrial area Winsted has become.
“I have vendors and dealers that come from all over and they know where Winsted is because of all of the manufacturing here,” he said. “We are truly blessed to have this much industry in such a small town.”
“I go down the road and see a building built by Ram, or meet a Littfin truck, and wherever I go in the US I can pick out a Millerbernd light pole. If I am with other people, I will point out, ‘this comes from our hometown.’ It makes you proud to be associated with so many good businesses.”
When Hecksel isn’t busy, he is farming. Seven years ago, he and his wife, Pauline, sold their livestock, which included 2,000 hogs and 700 beef cattle, to concentrate on the business. Some of the livestock buildings have been turned into manufacturing space for H H Fabrication.
Although the livestock is gone, both Harlan and Pauline love to crop farm.
“I consider that better than a vacation,” Harlan said.
“Pauline does the tillage work and I am on the planter in the spring. In the fall, I am in the combine. We won’t give that up. I don’t take my cell phone along, either.”
Pauline works in the home office at H H Fabrication.
The Hecksels have three children:
• Tricia is married to Jeremy Hirsch and they live in Winsted. Tricia also works for H H Fabrication.
• Troy is married to Kris and they live in Watertown.
• Amy lives in Winsted.
The Hecksels also have five grandchildren.
For more information on H H Fabrication products, go to www.hhfab.com, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (320) 485-2341.