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Dozer Operator Henry Schinske Has No Plans to Retire

Tue February 28, 2023 - Midwest Edition #5

Henry Schinske, owner of Henry’s Custom Dozer Service in Berrien Center, Mich.
(Tim Eising photo)
Henry Schinske, owner of Henry’s Custom Dozer Service in Berrien Center, Mich. (Tim Eising photo)

It is not at all unusual for people who enjoy working in the operator's seat of a piece of construction equipment to do so for 15 or 20 years. Those that run bulldozers, excavators or wheel loaders tend to love their work and are often reluctant to leave them behind.

And then you have those rare individuals that sit atop a construction piece for many, many more years than expected.

But for 65 years? How can that be?

Meet Henry Schinske, the owner of Henry's Custom Dozer Service in Berrien Center, Mich. Last fall, the 87-year-old Schinske celebrated six-and-a-half decades working at the controls of a bulldozer, the only machine he has ever cared to run.

Not only does Schinske continue to run one of several Caterpillar-built dozers, but he also said he has no intention of retiring until he is physically unable to drive one.

So, just why does he do it?

"Well, I get bored awfully easy," Schinske explained. "My wife passed away a year ago this past Christmas and I am alone now, so the best thing I can do is get up and go to work. But I thoroughly enjoy it and I like the feeling of accomplishment from the work. If I could die in a bulldozer seat, I would be very pleased."

Clearing Land for Farms Is His Specialty

Schinske's part of southwest Michigan, just north of South Bend, Ind., is a largely rural area of the state, meaning that most of the contracts he gets through his bulldozer service are for sitework and clearing woodlands and fencerows to make new farmland, many acres in size.

"This spring I have three- to four-acre plots of woodlands to take out as well as some large fencerows," he said. "In all, I would say 90 percent of my work is farm work."

Clearing trees and scrubs for new roads is not something Schinske generally does, although he explained that he has helped build private roads and cleared land for a few subdivisions during his lengthy career, including on his own property.

He also does not dig basements like he did in the beginning, Schinske said, particularly after the use of excavators became more prevalent in the early 1980s. His men, though, one of whom is his son-in-law, will take on two or three of those jobs a week.

Of course, he also has used his equipment to tackle snow removal in the region on the east side of Lake Michigan for many winters.

"I plowed a Sears parking lot in South Bend for many years with a Cat 966 wheel loader with an 18-foot Snow Pro plow on it, but I retired from doing that three years ago when the Sears closed down," Schinske said. "It was a big lot and had several roads coming into the mall where the store was located."

Faith Guided Schinske Along His Long Career

Shortly before turning 22 years old, Schinske began working in the construction trade on Sept. 30, 1957 — a date he remembers clearly — and continued to work for his first boss for the next 11 years.

"I was running a bulldozer by the end of the first week, but I did not do that daily," he recalled. "I was also at the gravel plant handling crushed gravel, and I worked as a handyman, only running a dozer as needed to level a stockpile. In 1964, I began working on a bulldozer full time, and since then I have done nothing else."

Five years later, Schinske left his original employer to open Henry's Custom Dozer Service, a risky venture when you realize he and his wife had six daughters to raise. Luckily, he is a man with a strong faith.

"I believe that I have always had a guardian angel watching over me." he said.

In the early days of his business, it was common during the spring months for Schinske to log more than 100 hours in the seat of a dozer over the course of a single week. These days, he has understandably cut back on that grueling schedule, although he still works more than 1,500 machine hours annually.

Schinske Has Stayed True to Cat Equipment

To keep up with the company's demanding schedule, Schinske knew he needed to own the toughest, most reliable dozers on the market. He found the manufacturer of those machines to be Cat.

"Oh, Cat dozers are definitely my preference," he said. "I once had a Cat D6D with 19,000 hours that needed to be overhauled, as water got into the oil. After taking it in for service, I ran it another 20,000 hours, so it ended up lasting 39,000 hours on a single overhaul."

As a result, he currently has five Cat D6s, with his latest model being a 1998 D6R — all with thousands of hours on them.

When he buys or services his prized machines, Schinske turns to the Kalamazoo branch of Michigan CAT, the state's exclusive dealer of the premier equipment brand. The location is the closest of the company's nine branches to Henry's Custom Dozer Service, about 50 mi. northeast of Berrien Center.

There, he relies on Kurt Checkley, his service man at the Michigan CAT location.

"In March 1969, when I started my company, I got my first Cat D5 in Grand Rapids," he said. "I had the D5 for three years before trading it in, and by 1980, I owned two D5s and had hired an employee to help me. Later, I got a D6D to go with the D5s for several years, then two more D6Ds, before finally adding a D6H and a D6R."

Schinske explained that his loyalty to the Cat brand, and to Michigan Cat, is due to their wonderful treatment of him over the years.

"I have had no reason to look to any other bulldozer manufacturer or dealer," he said.

Schinske Now Sculpting His Own Beautiful Farm

He and his employees are using their Cat equipment to finish sculpting a 94-acre piece of property that Schinske hopes to one day leave to his daughters and 12 grandchildren.

"It is picturesque with a lake and lots of wooded areas," he said. "Although I lease it out to some local farmers now, it is a piece of property that would make someone a nice estate one day."

That day is not here yet, though, as Henry Schinske is still not ready to get down from his bulldozer. CEG

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