When prime contractors in the Midwest need assistance with excavating, shearing, aggregates, heavy haul, demolition and other services, they know to call RTS Shearing LLC and Scherbenske Inc., both of Jamestown, North Dakota.
“We have a broad range of abilities to handle the needs of our customers,” says Jerry Szarkowski, CEO of both companies. “We have worked with a lot of larger demolition companies. And we do some stand alone demolition, but that’s not our strong suit.”
The companies do not bid against their prime contractor clients. Both firms would rather work as subcontractors rather than get into the prime-contracting realm.
“We have an attitude that the most important job we do for a customer will be the next one, and there won’t be a next one if we screw up on the first one,” says Jerry, who has more than 50 years of experience in construction, having started while a sophomore in high school. “We give up a lot of margin perhaps, because we are not being prime. But we avoid a lot of fixed costs, such as estimating, safety people and project managers.”
Tyler Szarkowski, President of RTS Shearing and Scherbenske, is Jerry’s son and the primary owner of RTS Shearing. The two are equal partners in Scherbenske.
“It’s very rewarding working with family most of the time but frustrating other times,” Tyler says. “I can leave work at work, but my mom and dad struggle with that.”
Tyler has three young children, and he says he is fine with whatever they choose to do with their lives, as long as they are happy.
“If they choose to follow myself or mom and dad, that would be a bonus,” Tyler says.
The companies perform about $16 million in annual revenue. The family places a great emphasis on taking care of its customers.
“We are only selling service,” Tyler says. “If you are not going to do a quality job at a fair price, you are not going to be in business for eight years, let alone 80 years.”
Together, the companies employ about 70 people. Many of their equipment operators have worked for the companies for many years. Jerry and Tyler Szarkowski say they want to keep the companies small enough that they can remain intimately involved throughout the companies and be able to provide great service.
“We try not to turn down any project,” Jerry says. “We listen and say no problem. But we sometimes have to pull equipment from other directions to make it happen. But we do. The good news is there’s not a lot of people who offer all of the services we do, and the bad news is there is a reason for that.”
The Right Equipment for the Job
Having the correct equipment and operators cross-trained on a number of machines, makes that flexibility easier to deliver.
RTS and Scherbenske operate an extensive fleet of equipment, much of it purchased from Butler Machinery Co. in Fargo, North Dakota. Butler was founded in 1955 as a Caterpillar dealer. It still sells and services Cat machines. Founder Francis J. Butler had a vision to offer the best equipment and product support, with well-trained associates able to use the most advanced tools. His family maintains that vision.
“We’ve been very well satisfied with Tom Silbernagel and the guys at Butler Machinery,” Tyler says. “Butler has done a very good job of taking care of our needs. The new equipment comes with a full warranty. If we have a machine go down, we get a loaner to keep going. That is critical with our short construction season in North Dakota. Up time is everything.”
The RTS and Scherbenske fleets include 349E, 320E and 336E Cat hydraulic excavators; a D6R crawler tractor; D6T dozer with full GPS, bases and rovers for more automated work; 289D, 272D2 and 236B skid steers; 980M and 950B wheel loaders; and 163H motor graders.
RTS has standardized its shears to Genesis products and are serviced out of the Genesis office in Superior, Wisconsin. Working with one company for shears minimizes training time to learn and maintain different products.
About RTS Shearing
In 1998, Tyler and his grandfather, Rueben Scherbenske, founded RTS Shearing to provide shearing support services in the scrap processing and salvage industry. It now has an office in Oklahoma and operates in 17 Midwest and Rocky Mountain states, from the Canadian border to Texas. RTS also provides excavating, demolition, and asphalt and concrete crushing services. The company has expanded to pursue new markets, many with longer construction seasons than North Dakota.
Last year, the company tore down the tower at the Peace Gardens, a 160-foot precast structure on the Canadian/United States border, crumbling due to the elements.
“I like to say, I could not build a birdhouse, but I can take down a skyscraper,” Tyler adds. “The coolest part of my job is the stuff I get to see that otherwise you would take for granted. I like seeing the history and like cleaning up lumber mills and coal mine shut downs. You get a backstage pass to see what it takes to make a sheet of plywood or a two-by-four. It puts life in perspective when you go to the local lumber store.”
Jerry explains that the companies have the capability of going anywhere from a 50,000-pound carrier to a 100,000-pound carrier.
“With our shear fleet being so mobile,” he adds, “it’s sometimes more important to send the equipment but not the operator.”
Currently, RTS is working on a $10 million environmental restoration project in Appleton, Minnesota, for the U.S. Corps of Engineers. The company is realigning a river, adding a fish ladder and a flood control structure.
In 2014, the Szarkowskis purchased Scherbenske, a sand and gravel company founded 80 years ago.
“I’m the fourth generation Scherbenske owner,” Tyler says with pride, recalling how his great grandfather started the business.
The firm primarily works in North and South Dakota and Minnesota but also offers cranes services, heavy hauling, aggregates, hydrovac services, grading, crushing, and local water and sewer services, including emergency repairs.
Scherbenske is currently working on a $1.5 million water main lining project in Jamestown, North Dakota, and also a similar water distribution project in Mercer, North Dakota.
“Of particular satisfaction to the owners is that we have superintendents, foremen and key personnel in the age range of mid-twenties to mid-thirties and feel well positioned for the future,” says Pam Szarkowski at RTS Shearing. “We enjoy going to work each day with the variety and challenges that it brings. The construction industry has been our lifeline, and it is a journey that has brought us a lot of satisfaction.”
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