Heartland

See how a Kansas trenching contractor builds retaining walls — and its reputation — using Deere skid steers and compact track loaders.

Wheel loader, excavators and compact track loaders work on a retaining wall by a pond.

The "amber waves of grain" described in the song "America the Beautiful" could have been inspired by central Kansas. Waving fields of golden wheat extend as far as the eye can see. These croplands sustain the rural economy and, combined with wetlands, salt marshes, and prairie land, provide a variety of game, attracting hunters from across county and state lines.

"Farming drives everything here," says Lynn Miller, owner, Miller Trenching, Partridge, Kansas. "When farmers are doing well, everyone does well — from excavation firms like ours to local restaurants. When they are not doing well, it’s tough. But hunting has helped keep us busy when farming slows down."

MAKING THE RIGHT FIRST IMPRESSION

Miller's crew recently built a retaining wall for hunter John Niemann. Niemann owns 800 acres in the area and is building a 3,000-sq.-ft. weekend hunting lodge overlooking the pond where the wall is being built. Miller Trenching also built the pond. "Lynn is really good at what he does," says Niemann. "He always does all the little things that are necessary, and he has strong character. I really trust him."

A visit to Miller's expansive, meticulous shop provides a glimpse of his character. Everything is tidy and in its place. The machines are so clean, they look brand-new. And his employees are dressed in crisp company polo shirts that exude professionalism.

But the mood at the morning meeting isn't overly serious. On display is a jocular esprit de corps that lets you know Miller's employees like working together. Amidst constantly needling each other, they razz the local John Deere dealer rep about not bringing enough donuts.

"We have a lot of fun," says Miller. "I'm really proud of my guys. They work hard every day, then get up the next morning and do it again. And they treat my equipment like it is their own. That’s worth a lot to me."

Compact track loaders haul large landscaping rocks

GET IN, GET IT DONE, GET IT RIGHT

After the morning meeting, Miller leads a parade of John Deere machines out to the jobsite. Dump trucks and one-ton trucks tow trailers with Deere 333E and 333G Compact Track Loaders (CTLs) and a 35G Compact Excavator as well as a larger Deere excavator and a front-end loader. It’s an impressive sight.

"We want to create a positive impression that we're confident and knowledgeable — that we can do the job better than anybody else. And when we show up with nice, newer John Deere equipment and clean work uniforms, that’s the impression we make."

After unloading, the machines begin working as if tightly choreographed. The 333G feeds blocks of limestone to the larger Deere excavator, which puts it in place. The 333E backfills around the wall and finish grades, while the 35G Compact Excavator follows along with a John Deere Worksite Pro™ PC7 Plate Compactor to tamp down the soil.

The 150-ft.-long retaining wall goes up so quickly, the jobsite could be mistaken for a timelapse video. "When we all work together, we can make things happen quickly because we know what each other needs and is thinking. Our customers appreciate that we get in, get it done quickly, and get it right."

Miller continued adding John Deere equipment to his fleet in 2015 after landing the company’s biggest job — a railway-siding project that took over a year to complete. The massive siding, a low-speed section of track off the main line, can accommodate 267 railcars.

"I've fallen in love with Deere compact equipment," says Miller. "The CTL is extremely powerful — like a mini-dozer that can get into compact spaces. It's very versatile — we run several different attachments, including a bucket, forks, a grapple, an auger, and a power rake. And we can’t get over how quiet the machine is, which really helps beat fatigue over a long day."

Miller also appreciates the size and versatility of the 35G Compact Excavator. "We can load it on a trailer on our one-ton trucks and get to a job easily and quickly. Like our CTL, it’s user-friendly to run and comfortable for a small machine. And like all Deere machines, it’s just bulletproof. Uptime is where it’s at."

When I started out, they [Miller’s John Deere Dealer] didn’t care that I was a ‘little guy,’ unlike so many other equipment manufacturers.

Lynn Miller
Owner, Miller Trenching

BORED TO (HAPPY) TEARS

Kansas is boring. Or so say Miller’s out-of-state friends. "I tell them I like it that way. I love the lack of traffic — you wave to your neighbors as you pass them on the road. I love the big sky. We don’t have the Rocky Mountains or a sandy beach, but we have good, hardworking people. That’s what’s important to me. It’s the best place on earth."

Miller was born and raised in the area, growing up on the family farm. He started driving a tractor at an early age. "I grew up pushing levers and shifting gears," he recalls.

Not long after Miller got married in 1995, his uncle bought a plumbing business that came with a trencher. Whenever he wasn’t helping out around the farm, Miller would take out the trencher. "My dad really encouraged me. He thought it was better money and wanted me to have a steady income, so unless we were harvesting, he’d tell me to go. My wife was also a huge support when I was trying to get a new business off the ground. Without both, it wouldn’t have happened."

The early days were tough. Customers always seemed to want the one piece of equipment Miller didn’t have. But he scrimped and saved, slowly accumulating a larger fleet that could handle a variety of jobs. He bought his first piece of John Deere equipment in 2002 and now is almost exclusively Deere.

"One of the main reasons I’m with John Deere is the experience with our local dealer," says Miller. "When I started out, they didn’t care that I was a 'little guy,' unlike so many other equipment manufacturers. They'd still jump through hoops for me and treated me like their only child. If I need a part after hours, they'll get it. And that means the world to me.

"John Deere builds quality products I know I can depend on, backed by a dealer network that will take care of me. That has really helped me build my company. And my future."

Miller Trenching is serviced by PrairieLand Partners, McPherson, Kansas, and Murphy Tractor, Park City, Kansas.