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Summer 2014

50 years on the job

After thousands of driveway installations and more than 20,000 hours of operation, a Bobcat skid-steer loader is still going strong for veteran asphalt contractor

Don (left) and Dennis Denkhaus

Don (left) and Dennis Denkhaus

Dennis Denkhaus’s five-decade career in the asphalt paving business has come full circle — from worker to foreman to owner and back to worker. Denkhaus is still on the job full-time, installing driveways and grading with a Bobcat® skid-steer loader — a machine he actually wasn’t too keen on operating at first. Today it’s his favorite loader and you can hardly get him out of it.

“I’ve put in thousands of driveways,” says Denkhaus, “and after the first couple of years on the job, I’ve always done the grading with a skid-steer loader. I wouldn’t leave home without it.”

When Denkhaus joined a Detroit-area paving company as an 18-year-old right out of high school, he had no idea what a skid-steer loader could accomplish. All he knew was how to grade with a bucket on the front of a tractor.

“One day in 1963, the boss arrived with a new type of machine, an M440,” he says, speaking of the newly introduced loader from Bobcat Company; Bobcat built the world’s first skid-steer loader in 1960.

Denkhaus admits the change took some getting used to. “I was not overly impressed with the loader, and after operating it for a few weeks, I wanted my tractor back but that wasn’t going to happen, the boss said, so I kept plugging away on the M440. After a while I got the hang of it and became a good operator. I’ve been in one ever since.”

Bobcat loader lineup

The M440 purchased in 1963 was followed by a long line of Bobcat loaders:

  • • M600
  • • M610
  • • M700
  • • 730
  • • 753
  • • 863
  • • S220
  • S630

This change in equipment was also followed by a change in Denkhaus’s role. Denkhaus and partner Barry Holmes purchased the company in 1965 and renamed it D & H Asphalt.

“That two-cylinder M440 made a big difference in how we did our jobs,” Denkhaus says. “We could grade a driveway much easier and faster, load trucks better and complete projects in significantly less time.”

Back in those days, that was important because the company was overwhelmed with work.

“At the beginning there were not many asphalt driveways, so we got in early,” Denkhaus says. “When people started moving out to the Detroit suburbs, the builders were putting up houses as fast as they could. About 50 percent of our work in those days was for builders.”

The owners were in their 20s when the building boom north of Detroit took off, a time Denkhaus calls the glory days. Due to their youth, they became known as the “boys’ asphalt company.”

“We were working six days a week and falling months behind,” Denkhaus recalls. “Half the people who called could not get an estimate from us because their jobs were too small or too far away. We sort of had the driveway market all to ourselves because we had a reputation for doing good work.”

About 15 years ago the second-generation owners took over — Don Denkhaus and Scott Holmes, sons of Dennis and Barry (who is deceased). That allowed the elder Denkhaus to “retire” to working only five days a week. “My wife says the only thing that’s retired about me is my paycheck.”

Builder work down, repair work up

In recent years as the Michigan economy suffered, so has the volume of work by D & H Asphalt, which is now based out of Hamburg Township, Michigan, approximately 50 miles outside of Detroit. Annual sales of $3 million declined to under $2 million as jobs from builders became scarce.

“We previously completed five or six builder jobs a day,” Denkhaus says. “Now, 75 percent of our driveway work is replacements — rip out, put down a couple inches of limestone and then 2 to 3 inches of asphalt. Removing existing 30-year-old driveways, both concrete and asphalt, is hard on our skid-steer loaders. Digging out concrete is especially tough. We get our buckets underneath the slabs, lift them out and dump them in our trucks. The Bobcat machines have stood up well to this demanding work.”

The company sends out three or four loaders a day. Two 863 loaders have more than 10,000 hours each; the S220 loader has around 6,000 hours; and the 20-year-old 753 loader that Denkhaus operates has 20,000 hours. As business picked up last fall, the company added a new M-Series S630 skid-steer loader.

“My 753 is working almost as good as when it was brand-new,” Denkhaus says. “I’ve never had to change a drive or lift pump. That’s remarkable for a machine that has been worked so hard for two decades. For many years after it was paid for, it kept generating income with little or no expense. It has made us a lot of money.”

He believes the durability of Bobcat loaders is superior because they are designed right and built right, with good components. “They are simply better than the others,” he says.

Son Don, who operates the S220, agrees. “That unit has been maintenance-free,” he says. “Zero repairs. I’ve never even looked at another brand of loaders.”

One thing he is not looking forward to is replacing his 70-year-old father. “It’s great to have someone with that amount of experience on your side,” Don says. “He makes my life a lot easier. I hope he never retires.”