The minute Brandon Johnson stepped foot inside of a skid steer loader at the age of 13, he knew exactly what he wanted to do with his life: push dirt around. In the years since, he’s worked hard to prepare himself to run his own business.
Through high school, Johnson mowed yards with his own equipment before his parents decided to start a mowing and landscaping company—Weed Whackers—in his hometown of Joplin, Missouri. He went to work for Weed Whackers for a few years before ultimately running the dirt side of their landscaping business.
“I always wanted to be in business for myself, so it was good to do some real work and test out the waters before I went out on my own. Initially, the dirt side just wasn’t anywhere near as successful as I pictured it to be. That was a little deflating at first,” says Johnson. “I toughed it out, though, and spent the next six years making contacts and completing more dirt and excavation jobs.”
Pushing Through Adversity
On May 22, 2011, devastation set in for Johnson and his community when an EF5-rated tornado tore through Joplin. The area was decimated and left in ruins. Johnson lost both his home and his mowers. A state of emergency was declared, and it remains the costliest single tornado in U.S. history at $2.8 billion.
Despite not having a house or equipment, Johnson stayed determined to get back to doing what he loved. His search for a new machine led to a major purchase, one that not only would position him as a serious dirt and excavating contractor around town, but would also bring him one step closer to running his own business.
“I replaced my mowers with a Takeuchi TL250 track loader. After all my years of landscaping and building yards, the TL250 helped me find my niche in finish grading,” says Johnson. “I really didn’t care for the landscaping and mowing side. I wanted to run machines.”
A few years after buying the TL250, Johnson purchased a Takeuchi TB153FR excavator. With two machines in his arsenal, business started ramping up. More importantly, builders were calling him directly. His patience was paying off.
There is always risk in establishing a new business, but experience and owning the right machines made it clear; it was time for Johnson to leave his parents’ company behind and take the leap.
In 2017, Elite Earthworks LLC officially became an established business in Joplin. The one-man operation is a custom site preparation company, specializing in all forms of dirt work including rough grading, finish grading, yard installation and storm water correction.
Johnson now works alongside Weed Whackers. “It is the best of both worlds. My dad and I are both our own bosses and are doing the parts we enjoy most. For him the landscaping and mowing side, and for me site prep,” says Johnson.
Following the wake of the tornado eight years ago, Joplin remains a work in progress. On the grounds where the F5 destroyed a middle school, Elite Earthworks recently wrapped up the biggest project in the young company’s history, helping a builder put up 14 houses on a city block that had been left empty.
Elite Earthworks performed all the site work, including building all of the house pads as well as digging the footings and the 16-foot sewer main. Additionally, Johnson dug all of the water and sewer lines from the houses to the main, rough graded the entire site, built all 14 yards, and cut and built an alley down the center of the property.
In total, the scope included:
- 90 loads of dirt spread across yards
- 25 loads of clean rock over the sewer main
- 15 loads of base rock spread throughout the alley
While the project was mostly smooth, it did come with challenges. “Part of the basement of the school was left on the site, so I had to dig down 16 feet deep,” says Johnson. “I used my TB153FR for this and I had to dig myself down just to even get the reach I needed. We also have very rocky soil here, but fortunately my excavator was able to dig right through it.”
“The houses are also fairly close together, but it was just enough room for the TL250 track loader to make short work of the grading around them,” he added.
Putting his two Takeuchi machines to the test, the project was finished in June. Overall, the job encompassed a period of seven months. Johnson was able to do his part in stages and his total time onsite was finished in seven weeks total.
“The size and power of my Takeuchi machines definitely helped speed up productivity,” says Johnson. “A normal track loader would not have moved that much material that fast. My TL250 is a beast.”
For Johnson, his site preparation company is taking off without a hitch as the hours on his machines continue to increase. The TL250 he purchased eight years ago with 900 hours on it has now amassed 7,200 hours.
Following the project that wrapped up in June, Johnson replaced his TB153FR with a bigger Takeuchi TB260 hydraulic excavator.
“I love the power and the amount of space Takeuchi machines have inside of the cab. I’m 6’2” and in the cab for a better part of each day, so having the leg room and ability to move around is really nice, especially when you don’t have to sacrifice power,” says Johnson. “I genuinely look forward to running my Takeuchi machines when I get to the jobsite.”
With two years under the company’s belt, Elite Earthworks has found its groove right in the middle between landscapers and heavy equipment contractors.
Moving forward, Johnson plans to upgrade his TL250 in 2020 to a TL12V2 (vertical lift) or TL12R2 (radial lift), the largest track loaders in the Takeuchi lineup. Eventually he would also love to purchase a TB2150 excavator, the largest excavator in the Takeuchi lineup, to take on even larger projects. When that day comes, he will add his first employees.
They say when you love what you do, you never work a day in your life. For Johnson, he’s not currently concerned about what the future holds. “As long as I can keep myself busy and be able to run my Takeuchi machines, I will be very happy,” says Johnson. “That’s where I want to be.”