Jason Patenaude Excavating Inc. crews replace 10 ft. (3 m) culverts after devastation of Hurricane Irene in 2011.
March and April are the months of expectation and patience in the northernmost small town of Derby, Vt., on the Canadian border.
Jason Patenaude — who learned to turn a backhoe, dig the earth and cut and move timber at the tender age of 11 by his father’s side — and his wife and partner Alison, are expectant and expecting.
Jason and Alison, owners of Jason Patenaude Excavating Inc., are expecting their first son. They also are expecting sweet syrup and success from the more than 9,000 maple trees they are tapping with Jason’s father, the founder of his firm and are anticipating the completion of a brand new shop.
Besides the Patenaudes and just two other employees, Jason Patenaude Excavating has the reputation in this very tiny, rural town of Derby of a Derby winner.
It’s been that way for some 27 years.
Tapping the Maples
"My dad, Albert Patenaude, started the business in 1987. While farming, my father always had a dozer and was always doing side work. After selling the farm, he bought a backhoe and 6-wheel dump truck and decided to go into business," said Jason Patenaude. "I started working for my dad when I was 11, and full time after high school. I took the business over in 1996 and my dad worked for me up until about five years ago, getting done at the age of 73."
The teacher and student, father and son, also became collaborators in other ways.
"My father began sugaring in 1962 and started Valley View Maple Products with 3,000 maple tree taps. I have always played a large role in helping him continue with sugaring," said Patenaude. "In 2010, after my father had two knee replacements, we built a brand-new sugar house with a 4X14 CDL oil fire arch and a new 1800-gallon per hour RO [reverse osmosis]. The arch is what you boil the syrup on. There’s a back pan and a front pan, the syrup gets thicker and then it goes from the back to the front and then you bake the water off. The RO separates the water from the sugar.
"Between my father’s sugar bush and mine, we now tap 9,000 trees while also purchasing sap from other sugar bushes. This is a business, yes, but it is still a hobby to both my father and I. We are lucky to be able to share this interest together."
In March and April, when the daytime temperatures rise into the 40s, and then dip below freezing at night, the raw sap inside the maple trees pushes upward to be tapped.
But the trees aren’t the only things that continually grow.
"When I started working for him, we had a Case 850 dozer, Case 580 E backhoe and an International dump truck. My role in the business now, is, well, everything. I take care of all the bids, the layouts and I also run an excavator and do 90 percent of all the dozer work. I am always looking for new opportunities for us as a business," said Patenaude.
And that would be in two countries, side by side.
"We are located in Derby, Vt., directly on the Canadian border. I still am currently using my father’s shop, where I run my business from now. We are currently building my new shop this summer. The shop will be built on 10 acres of land next to my father’s sugar house," said Patenaude. "My wife and I live up the road on 47 acres, where we also have 3,000 maples currently tapped.
"We currently have three full-time employees, not including myself, with the possibility of hiring one more this summer. We currently operate our business with a Volvo 160B, Volvo 145D, Cat 312C, Cat D5K, Volvo L90, Kubota M95S, two 10-wheel dump trucks and two Denis-Cimaf mulching heads for excavators."
Jason Patenaude Excavating Inc. is versatile. Its services include, but are not limited to:
• Residential and commercial construction
• Digging foundations and site work
• Digging and installing septic systems
• Building roads and driveways
• Excavation for utilities, including electric, telephone.
For land, roads and demolition, the company performs:
• Land clearing
• Road assembly
• Roadside drain and ditch assembly
• Brush hogging (rigs made to grind brush)
• Brontosaurus work (brush heads made by Denis-Cimaf for land clearing)
• Building demolition
• Debris removal
Hard Wood and Hurricanes
"In 2005, I purchased that Denis-Cimaf mulching head. This is a machine that goes on the head of the excavator and mulches trees up to 10-to-12-inch soft wood and 5-to-6-inch hard wood," said Patenaude. "This was a large purchase and big step for the small business to take, but it soon became a bigger hit than expected. We now operate with the brush head full-time on one excavator; doing everything from residential clearing to government and state projects."
One of those state projects was to help the towns of Vermont clear the devastation caused by Hurricane Irene, which was the biggest natural disaster the state has seen in a century.
"In 2011, when Hurricane Irene hit, we traveled down to Ludlow, Vt., where Vermonters were stranded in a township that lost its roads and homes," said Patenaude. "We worked down there for eight weeks to help repair what we could. It was the most devastation that I had ever experienced. We worked with people from all over, who came to help rebuild their community and became great friends with many other contractors."
Other notable Patenaude Excavating clients include:
• Plum Creek: Road building.
• U.S. Department of Forestry: Land clearing for natural habitats
• Silvio O. Conte National Fish & Wildlife Refuge: Land clearing for habitats and road maintenance
• U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife: Land clearing for habitats
• Various Townships and municipalities in northern Vermont.
"We take safety seriously and always make sure that we are taking the correct steps to ensure the safety of our employees and the people around us," said Patenaude.
This helps to ensure return business.
"Living in such a small town, word of mouth and reputation is how we grow and do business. We take pride in our ability to complete the job given, while making sure the job is done correctly and the customer is happy with the end product," said Patenaude. "We will always do our best to advise you in the correct way to complete your project, even if we are not the ones for the job. We do not do any advertising, so we depend on word of mouth for our business."
That word of mouth can echo over the mountains and through the valleys of the challenging earth and land he moves.
"The most challenging part about our job is the terrain that we work on," said Patenaude. But it is also the source of his happiness. "The best part about having my own business and doing what we do is we are always outside and the scenery is always changing."
That happiness will increase tenfold when newborn Aden Jason Patenaude arrives; rattle in one hand, Tonka truck in the other. In addition to impending motherhood, Alison is the head of accounts receivable at Poulin Lumber, a fourth-generation business with a store in Derby and four nearby Vermont locations.
"We hope to continue this family business," said Patenaude.
Jason Patenaude Excavating is located at 311 Fortin Road, Derby, Vt. 05829. For more information, call 802/766-4567 or 802/274-0162, or visit jasonpatenaudeexcavating.com.