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By Mike Anderson
Errol, New Hampshire
JML Trucking & Excavating
Year started: 2001
Number of employees: 35
Annual volume: $5 to $7 million
Markets served: Site prep, road building, winter maintenance, forestry, underground utilities
Up in the North Woods of New Hampshire, a cool, crisp 25 degrees constitutes a nice winter’s day. Just imagine what it’s like at 4 o’clock in the morning.
It’s a sensation Jonathan Lane has been embracing most of his 33 years. As a pre-teen, he’d be up and out by 4 a.m., standing at the end of the family’s driveway, along lonely State Route 26, waiting for family friend and local contractor, Mike Kelly. Young Jon eagerly jumped in the truck, heading off to face whatever equipment challenge awaited. He’d pressure-wash, change oil, help pull an engine and, without hesitation, climb up and operate a dozer or loader – anything Kelly needed and more.
“Mike said he never had such an energy guy,” says Jon’s father, Butch Lane, himself a construction industry veteran.
Construction runs deep in the Lane family. Jon’s grandfather, Bucky Lane, built many of the logging roads Jon’s company, JML Trucking & Excavating, maintain today. When Jon was a toddler, Bucky even installed a car seat on his favorite piece of iron. “I’d fall asleep riding on my grandfather’s bulldozer,” says Jon. “I basically grew up on equipment.”
Even though JML is the largest single employer in the Errol, New Hampshire, area, Jon’s habits haven’t changed. He can still be found heading out into the frigid New Hampshire air before 4 a.m. “I’m here at the shop with the men, and that’s really the key,” he says. “They know I wouldn’t ask them to do something I wouldn’t do.”
Jon’s friends and admirers – scattered throughout the barren wilderness of the New Hampshire North Woods – are much less soft-spoken about the man who still finds it difficult to take even a day off work.
“Jon’s an extremely, extremely hard worker,” says Mike Turner, a regional sales for dealer Nortrax, which supplies JML with much of its in-woods equipment. “He would work seven days a week, 16 to 18 hours a day, if his wife Amy would let him. If she wants him to take a weekend off even now, she literally has to drag him away.”
The early-to-work routine is honest, says parts supplier Rod Goodrum of Colebrook, New Hampshire-based Ideal Auto. “Jon’s truly proud, I think, to get up in the morning and see all the different faces from all different walks of life come through the garage door, say ‘Good morning’, and then see them jump in their equipment.”
Drop by the shop, especially on a Saturday, and you’re most likely to find Jon lying underneath a truck, says Turner. “Jon is the boss, but if you walked in and looked around, you’d see he’s doing everything everyone else is,” says the equipment salesman. “You’d never know that Jon was the owner of the company when you look at him. He’s covered with as much dirt and grease as the rest of his men.”
Despite the deep family heritage in construction, JML Trucking & Excavating is Jon’s. His late grandfather’s equipment was sold off, in large part because Bucky always wanted Jon to go away to continue his education after high school. If the equipment was on hand, he knew Jon would be doing only one thing – working it.
Jon graduated from the University of New Hampshire with an associate’s degree in construction management, and went to work as an operator for large and small companies in southern New England, often with his dad Butch, a seasoned superintendent. In the spring of 2001, at age 22, Jon bought a 1986 Mack truck, a 20-ton trailer and a Caterpillar 416 backhoe loader, and formed his own company. He’d race back to the North Woods after working all week in Massachusetts, just to get on his own equipment to dig, load and haul all weekend, squeezing in every hour he could before he’d head back off to his weekday job. Now, like a number of people Jon grew up with, dad Butch is working for Jon back in Errol.
Starting out small, doing excavating for single residential foundations, JML had the first of what Jon terms “breaks” came when the City of Berlin, New Hampshire, found itself in a bind on an underground pipe project. Jon, with Butch’s guidance, quickly added equipment including his first excavator – a Caterpillar 315C L – and managed to reduce the project cost from $300 to $100 per foot.
Other breaks were to follow, including the day a representative of one of the land management companies owning huge tracts of the North Woods stopped along the side of the road and asked Jon to take on a logging road maintenance contract. Jon had bid on three old Austin-Western motor graders – costing $600 each – and what he now calls a “joke” bid gave him the essential equipment to perform this work.
Today, in addition to a dozen trucks, JML Trucking & Excavating owns about 30 pieces of heavy equipment ranging from excavators and dozers, to wheel skidders and delimbers, to chippers and grinders. Jon’s Morbark Wood Hog 4600 hammermill grinder allowed him to move into biomass production. About to return the demo grinder, he instead bought it. Two days later, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, and finding a grinder in the United States instantly became next to impossible.
In the woods
Today, JML clears and cuts right-of-ways, builds new logging roads and maintains existing roads for land management companies such as Wagner Forest Management. Wagner, says area manager Scott Rineer, owns more than 600,000 acres of woodlands in the Errol area, “and Jon does probably 75 percent of our dirt work.” Rineer, a longtime friend, says Jon is willing to take on whatever business challenges come his way.
“He’ll try to capture what nobody else has done, “says Mark Desrochers with Milton Cat, which supplies much of JML’s earthmoving equipment. “He’ll make a change and run with it. The biggest challenge is learning to adapt to the change, since we no longer have many paper mills in this area.” Many longtime contractors have since exited businesses based on servicing the traditional local pulp-and-paper industry.
It hasn’t been easy for Jon, though, says Nortrax’s Turner. “He literally has been through hell the last two years. To keep up his spirits and go through what’s he gone through, keep his head up high and keep on trucking, it says an awful lot. Most people would have given up.”
Getting paid, let alone on time, has been difficult, admits Jon. By contrast, “Jon’s been very up front with people like myself,” says Turner. “He’s worked with us, he’s done the very best he could . . . and he always smiles. Every time you see him, he’s got that great big smile on his face.”
Throughout the day, as he bumps his way along some of the roughest roads anywhere to deliver equipment fuel and grease to his men working in the woods, Jon greets everyone along the way, friend or competitor, with a huge smile. “He’s the first guy to lend a hand to anybody, even a competitor, if somebody is in dire need of help,” says Desrochers.
Communication for everyone
Jon used to stay up all night when he couldn’t reach his plow operators out working in the North Woods. He’d wonder: Were they safe? Do they have enough fuel? Did they run off the road? Cell-phone coverage is so spotty in his part of the country that it is virtually unreliable. So Jon had his own radio system built and then placed on a mountain top.
And, true to form, anyone who works up in the North Woods is more than welcome to use it.
To view a video of Jonathan Lane’s advice for contractors just starting out, go to equipmentworld.com/digital or use your smartphone to scan the tag.