Mark Karolewicz, Birkey’s photo
Owner Larry Holt is a champion backhoe operator, having competed in the Case Backhoe Rodeo Series, held in 2008, and finishing first.
Holt Backhoe Service of Robinson, Ill., will celebrate 25 years of business this year. While some companies have ordinary beginnings, Holt Backhoe could well be considered the business equivalent of “making lemonade when life hands you lemons.”
The company was founded in the late 1980s. Owner Larry Holt had lost his job with a major oil company in a mass layoff — anyone with less than 10 years with the company was let go, and Holt was just a few months shy of the 10-year mark. He took his severance check and used it to lease a backhoe for six months after associates told him they’d give him work if he had the equipment.
Things worked out well enough that Holt purchased his first Case backhoe at the end of 1989. Today, he owns two Case 580 Super M+ backhoes, a 850L dozer, two Case excavators (a 210 and a 130), a Case DV201 roller, several dump trucks and a semi.
Holt Backhoe Service, based in Robinson, Ill., works mostly within Crawford County. The company does many oil field jobs — cleanup work after a rig is moved in or out, cleaning and digging pits, and cleaning up oil spills, including scraping up oil-saturated soil and taking it to the landfill. The company also does septic work, drainage for farmers, and concrete work such as driveways and parking lots. With that variety, “every day is different,” Holt said.
Holt relies on repeat customers and word-of-mouth for most of his business. “Our focus is on doing the job right … the first time,” he said. “Including ’the little extras’ such as making an effort to clean up around the worksite at the end of a job. “It’s better to put forth that kind of effort than to advertise for work,” he added.
Holt works alongside his son, Trent Holt, and nephew, Mark Holt. Larry’s wife, and co-owner of the business, Toni, is also very much a part of day-to-day operations, handling all administrative responsibilities so Larry, Trent and Mark are free to run the equipment.
A Case customer for more than 20 years, Holt attributes his loyalty both to the machinery and to the support offered by Birkey’s Farm Store Inc. in Mattoon, Ill. “The equipment is suited to the kind of work we do,” Holt said. For example, he likes the Super M+ because the wide track and pulling power help when he’s pulling a rig out of mud. The wide-track 850K dozer is also well-suited for working in muddy oilfields.
Mark does the company’s mechanical work, handling maintenance and minor repairs. When the company calls on Birkey’s for anything Mark can’t manage, Larry knows the dealership will do “a super job.” “One call to Clay, and Judd or Kim will come by to fix it,” Holt said. “They know we’ve got a business to run, and if we’re broke down they get us help.” He also has a good relationship with his sales representative, Steve Karolewicz.
With Trent, who is 25, working for the company, Larry said he can foresee branching out and buying different equipment. “Every year we pick up new customers and we try to figure out which piece of equipment would help us on the job.” He purchased the excavator, for instance, after renting one and realizing he’d have plenty of use for one.
While the company might add equipment, the backhoe will always remain in the name. After all, Larry and Trent Holt are champion backhoe operators. Both competed in the Case Backhoe Rodeo Series, held in 2008, with Larry finishing first and Trent fourth in the local competition. Larry went on to the finals in Las Vegas, where he ranked in the top 20 out of some 75 competitors.
Founded in 1954 in Fisher, Ill., Birkey’s Farm Store Inc., has been providing a wide range of construction and agricultural equipment for 60 years. Today it serves the Illinois communities of Annawan, Bloomington, Galesburg, Gibson City, Henry, Hoopeston, Macomb, Mattoon, Oakland, Polo, Prophetstown, and Urbana, as well as Williamsport, Ind.