Jim Rogers and Glenn Huey both grew up on farms near State College, Pennsylvania, working hard and learning how to operate all types of farm and construction equipment. They met working as laborers for a construction company in the late ’70s and became fast friends, even helping one another build family homes after they married their wives.
Banking on their work ethic and individual talents, the two friends quickly carved out specialized roles for themselves in the site development company. Huey ran track loader clearing residential sites and digging foundations for new homes while Rogers ran a backhoe loader.
By 1984, they’d become fairly independent, scheduling their own work and dealing with primary contractors on a daily basis. The two began to think about going into business for themselves. Wondering if they could make a go of it, they decided to talk with two general contractors they worked with in the area. “They told us they’d work with us whatever we decided,” Rogers recalls. “In fact, they both told us the main reason they worked with our company was because of Glenn and me. That was a huge boost and made the decision easier.”
And so a deal was struck on a handshake: Huey and Rogers would found their own construction company and continue to do subcontract site work for the two developers. “We didn’t have much,” Rogers says. “But we did have our houses because we’d built them ourselves. And by that time they were worth a lot more than what we had in them.” So Rogers and Huey put up everything they had to start Nittany Mountain Excavating.
Whatever it takes
But could they handle the workload they were taking on? “That was our biggest fear,” Rogers concedes. “We were doing 70 or 80 houses a year for our old boss – but we had 18 or 20 workers out there with us. And suddenly it was just us. Glenn looked at me and said, ‘This is going to mean seven days a week, whatever it takes to make this business a success.’ And that’s what we did.”
They had help, of course. Their wives Kathy and Sandy drove pickup truck loads of supplies to their jobsites. And Huey’s brother would show up after his regular job to run equipment and help out in the evenings. But at the center of it all were Rogers and Huey working 14- and 15-hour days.
The work paid off. In their first year of business, Nittany Mountain did $365,000 worth of work with five employees. In 2003, it grossed more than $1.8 million, and has grown to 14 employees – but it’s still a small company by design. Several Nittany Mountain employees have been with Huey and Rogers for 15 years or longer and their wives now handle all the company’s bookkeeping chores.
“We try to pay our employees a better wage than they’d get elsewhere and we have good benefits,” Huey says. “And we don’t tell our guys to go to work and then spend the day riding around in a pickup truck. If they’re working 12 or 14 hours, Jim and I are working right there with them.”
Both Huey (left) and Rogers live on farms in the Pennsylvania mountains. Rogers raises beef cattle and Huey restores antique construction and farm equipment like the International dozer seen here.
No shop, no downtime
Rogers says if an outsider were to look at Nittany Mountain’s volume today, they’d think the company was running 25 or 30 pieces of equipment. But in fact, their fleet consists of two track loaders, two backhoe loaders, a skid-steer loader, a new compact track loader, two tri-axle dump trucks, one single-axle dump truck and two semi-lowboy combos to transport the yellow iron.
Rogers and Huey buy all their primary equipment new. “We put between 2,500 and 3,000 hours a year on our equipment,” Rogers notes. “And we don’t keep any piece of equipment longer than four years. We don’t have a big fancy shop. We let the dealers handle all repair work. But we push our equipment so hard, we run out of the warranties pretty quickly.” That’s why Nittany Mountain requires the dealers it works with to provide a replacement machine if one goes down under warranty. “We’ve insisted on that from the beginning,” Huey says. “Downtime simply isn’t an option for us, and the dealers have to understand that if they want our business.”
The other aspect to their equipment philosophy is maintenance. “We stress that,” Rogers says. “Our operators run the same machine every day, because if it’s their pride and joy, they’ll take care of it.” All operators are totally responsible for the maintenance on their respective machines. “Our guys are great about following policy,” Rogers says. And that’s why we’re convinced we can get 10,000 or 8,000 hours out of a machine – we’ve proven it time and time again. I’ve never traded in a backhoe with less than 10,000 hours on it, and I’ve never rebuilt an engine on one. Glenn’s last track loader had 11,000 hours on it and he never tore it down once.”
Looking back now, 20 years into their run with Nittany Mountain, Rogers and Huey have a quiet sense of satisfaction about their accomplishments. “We never say ‘no,'” Rogers says. “We’re not the smartest or most educated guys in the world. But we approach any problems with a practical sense of purpose, get a plan together and then get the job done as efficiently as possible.”
“We think the world of them and the work they do,” says Chris Schoonmaker, regional manager, S&A Homes. “They’ve been doing work for us for more than 20 years. The quality of the work they do is unmatched. Their dedication to servicing our customers is tremendous. They’re there seven days a week if we need them.”
“We’ve been very lucky with the employees we’ve hired,” Rogers adds. “And our wives and families have supported us when – frankly – there were a lot of Sundays Glenn and I should have been at home instead of on the jobsite. But we both love what we do for a living, and I don’t think either one of us will ever retire, as long as we’re able to climb up on a machine and go to work.”