In 1974, Bob Russell joined his father, Edward, in running what was then called the Russell Tractor Company. Several years later, his father retired and Bob, after purchasing the assets of his father’s business, renamed the operation the Bob Russell Equipment Company.
“I worked with my father ever since I was a teenager,” recalled Bob Russell. “After graduation from high school, I went on to the University of Virginia for a civil engineering degree. But, it seemed I always wanted to be in the business. I began in the shop helping mechanics. I started from the ground up. I fell in love with the business. It’s in my blood.”
The Rockville, MD-based company specializes in Cat equipment and has established a niche as one of the region’s leading dealers in used Cat equipment — buy, rent, sell, resell, or purchase.
He recalled one customer who came from several states away because of Bob Russell’s reputation.
“Raymond Woodburn, a gentleman from Pikesville, KY, called us through a contact — another coal mining friend — looking for equipment,” said Russell. “We first sold him a D8K and a couple of other machines. Soon, several of his friends were calling us, wanting do business with us. They wanted used equipment and they knew all our machines ran good and are fixed up properly. The word spread and continues to spread.”
Russell stressed that he doesn’t sell just any old piece of used equipment.
“We specialize in Cat used equipment because all our service people are very familiar with Cat machinery. They can prepare a machine to leave here in great condition. Each of our mechanics has been with us for more than 20 years. That’s a lot of experience. That gives our customers confidence in the used and refurbished Cat they are buying,” Russell said.
“Our goal is to find quality equipment. Our mechanics inspect everything and fix it so it can run properly for our customers. We do not buy price or serial number. We buy good machines and fix them up so they stay good,” he added. “We have had extremely minimal comebacks in all these years.”
He said that approximately 60 percent of the equipment is purchased in the Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania areas.
“We are known nationwide for our expertise in Cat track loaders — 943s, 53s and 63s. About half of what we sell retail are those machines. That is our calling card,” said Russell.
“We had a gentleman —Ron Parks from near Leesburg, VA — come in. We sold him a Cat 953B. Last fall he came back and purchased a Cat 963B with a canopy. Then, winter came along and he needed a cab. We assembled that for him, too. That is one of the advantages of working with a used equipment dealer with experienced mechanics. We are able to assemble these various options and additions for him,” Russell explained.
Bob Russell Equipment Company has six employees and three mechanics. One of the key employees is George Mitchell, said Russell.
“One of our great additions is George Mitchell. He worked for a local Cat dealer here for a long time and has been with us for about eight years,” he said. “George was formerly employed with McLean Construction, south of Baltimore. Between George and myself we have 75 years experience in the industry.”
Mitchell, like Bob, grew up in the business.
“Like Bob I grew up in the business and learned contracting from McLean from the time I was a boy so I know equipment very well. After that I worked for a Cat dealer for about 10 years and have been with Bob for many years,” said Mitchell.
“I remember one guy just starting out who just couldn’t afford any machines but late model used,” said Mitchell. “That was all right. We were able to help him. He didn’t forget. He came back for more equipment because the machines we find and service and resell are a reflection of the type of people that we have in our service department and the people that operate the machines — they both work hard.”
He remembered another customer, Tom Pank, who started a business called Accubid in the Rockville area. Pank does mostly site work and a lot of it.
“We sold him Terex, Cat, and Volvo trucks as well as many other machines because he trusts us to find him the equipment he needs at the right price. He knows our mechanics inspect everything that goes out of here. He can count on us … and he does,” said Mitchell.
Russell said the focus of the business would always be on used, quality machinery, but that the niche may evolve.
“The industry has been evolving and that is just as true for used equipment dealer as it is for anyone else. We have a good supply of track loaders and plan to stay with them. We have always been specialized and we will continue to do so. We need to find more niche markets, like switching from motorgraders to articulated in trucks, for instance,” said Russell.