Mike Lessiter: I’m Mike Lessiter with Farm Equipment magazine. I’m here with our friends, equipment manufacturers from Nebraska, Duo Lift, the Hellbuschs.

Jim Hellbusch: I’m Jim Hellbusch, Duo Lift Manufacturing, Columbus, Neb.

Ben Hellbusch: Ben Hellbusch.

David Hellbusch: David Hellbusch.

Mike Lessiter: So tell us about what Duo Lift does. If you were to encapsulate what your role is in this ag world, how would you describe that?

Jim Hellbusch: We have several divisions of our company, agriculture. It’s trims and running gears for the fertilizer industry for ammonia tanks, liquid fertilizer tanks, and some dry fertilizer equipment. Then we also manufacture head hauler trailers, fuel hauling trailers — jump in anytime. Machines to roll up the spent bags on the green bagging industry. We also have another part of our company where we manufacture a salt brine machine. It’s called a brine maker. It takes rock salt and turns it into saltwater, which is used by municipalities and state governments for anti-icing and deicing highways. We also make trailers that deliver that solution to the highways. We have another part of our company that we manufacture over-the-road trailers, all the way from small, 10,000-pound trailers up to 30-, 40-ton semitrailers and everything in-between.

Ben Hellbusch: I’d add to there that we think of ourselves as the industry leader as far as farm equipment, trailering equipment. We’ve had constant evolution inside our company. We started with fertilizer, as Jim had mentioned, with low boy anhydrous and liquid tender trailers, things like that. We were the ones that really refined that and took it from an old junky piece of farm equipment to something better, something that’s high quality, something that will last. We positioned ourselves as the high quality, the gold standard. In our world, people are constantly chasing us and we’re constantly trying to stay ahead of them. We always strive to stay in that position, to always be the one that has the next thing first.

Jim Hellbusch: We’re very proud of our equipment. We don’t take any shortcuts. We have a fuve-year warranty on our equipment. In our industry, we’re the only ones who do that; most of them are one-year warranty. We stand behind it. Depending on the year, we’ll build 3,000 to 4,000 trailers a year. That equates to 15,000 to 20,000 trailers at any one point in time subject to warranty. Our warranty is miniscule. We have very little warranty whatsoever.

We are most expensive and so that’s a drawback when it gets to the marketplace. And right now, the economy is down and the volume of buying is down. When they do buy, they want to buy the best price. We kind of lose both ways — the volume goes down and we are the most experience, so our market share drops. But when times are good, we have three shifts going, we can’t hire enough people, we can’t deliver fast enough.

Ben Hellbusch: We exponentially grow in the good times, but we feel it when it comes down. The other side of it too, is we’ve improved our facilities, we’ve added on numerous times over the last five, six years. We’ve got robotic equipment, lasers, CNC machinery. Our shop looks much different than it did five-plus years ago. Obviously, the automation has allowed us to push costs down. It’s allowed us to become more competitive with a higher quality product, which is a winning recipe when you can do it.

That’s kind of our goal right now in this downturn, is to keep pushing efficiencies and push getting better. When we have the slower times, we have opportunities to improve process —  improve fixtures, jigs, whatever — to make sure that when it turns around, we’re in a better position. That’s what we’re focused on. We’re diversified enough that we’re doing just fine. It’s not all ag like it used to be and we’re doing a lot of other things. But you’ve got to be nimble and you’ve got to move with what’s going. That’s what we do.

Jim Hellbusch: Our challenge is to be the most efficient we can at all times as a plant. Like Ben said, we had two major expansions in the last couple years. We’re right at about 102,000… 110,000 square feet. Along with that, we added a second paint booth, a second complete paint line to keep up with our demand. Like Ben said, we’ve got a laser cutting table. We’re on our second one now, second new one. We have three robotic welders and CNC equipment. We even designed and built our own conveyor for a part of our process at one of our product lines. Yeah, one of our paint lines. It goes from welding —

David Hellbusch: It goes from welding stations all the way through the final assembly stage. It always stays on the conveyor until it’s complete or going for shipping.

Ben Hellbusch: Dave is in charge of the plant so he’s the one that drives the efficiency side of it and pushing the costs down and all that.

Mike Lessiter: Maybe real quick, have each of you starting with David, the year that you joined the family company officially and what your current roles are. Why don’t we start with that, David?

David Hellbusch: I started in 2007. I started in the sales department and then I moved into manufacturing in 2010, on the plant side of it. My official title is Vice President of Plant Operations.

Ben Hellbusch: I started in August of 2006. I came back and worked in the sales department, inside sales, fielding calls on that stuff. Gradually moved through the process. I believe it was 2012, I became Vice President of Sales and Marketing. We kind of restructured the way our sales department looks and all that. We’ve got two guys that take care of both halves of the company. I do mostly sales and general administration type stuff.

Ben Hellbusch: There’s two directors of sales. We just split our company into fertilizer equipment and then ag and commercial equipment. So fertilizer would be like anhydrous ammonia stuff, liquid fertilizer stuff, things of that nature. That’s put through distributors in certain territories. Usually, one to three states is what a territory is. It’s an exclusive deal, so that’s the only guy that can sell in that area. That’s kind of a dying thing. Everybody is just selling to everybody. We are holding true to our roots. That’s what helps keep us going too, is that we have loyalty on both sides so we’re getting as much as we can out of those people. Then on the commercial side, that stuff goes through John Deere, Case dealers, implement dealers, short liners, things of that nature. The commercial side is all over the board. We have some dealers, we have direct sales, we hold state contracts.

Mike Lessiter: Jim, tell me about the history of Duo Lift.

Jim Hellbusch: I’ll make a very long story short. In 1943, my dad was a young man and he was scooping corn off of a wagon and he hurt his back. The doctor said, “Lay on the living room floor until your back gets better.” You know? So he thought there should be some way to get that corn off of that wagon without scooping it. We think he was the first guy to invent the idea of taking cables and pulleys and a crank and lift the wagon box up off the running gear and let it run off it the back end. He took the box off, put a complete scissors-lift type thing in there, and put it back on. He did it in the back of our milk barn. Every milk barn had a little mechanical area and he did that. He sold it to a neighbor and the neighbor’s neighbor and the neighbor’s-neighbor’s neighbor and that kind of thing.

But he was a farmer at heart. I remember going to bed as a little kid in the farmhouse. It was pitch black outside but I could see the weld glowing across our farmyard there in the back of the milk barn, where the welding flash was going and so on.

So in 1946, the wagon lifts were doing pretty decent. The State of Nebraska came out and said, “You know, you’re not a farmer. You’re a manufacturer. You have to have a name and stuff. Well, okay.

Ben Hellbusch: Tax ID, right? That’s why they came out.

Jim Hellbusch: The tax ID. The story goes that mom and dad are around the kitchen table. Well, should it be Columbus Manufacturing or Hellbusch Manufacturing? What should we do? What should we be? In 1946, tractors came out with hydraulics. So Dad took off the cables and the pulleys and the crank, put on two hydraulic cylinders. That was in ’46. So my mom says, “Well, you used two cylinders, you lifted it a bunch. Call yourself Duo Lift Manufacturing.” So that’s how we got our name. We don’t make any lifts today, of course, but that’s how we got our name in the first place.

In 1952, he brought on an irrigation pipe trailer. Because the irrigation pipe was very strong at the time. My sisters and I would sit on the four corners of a hay rack to hold the irrigation pipe on the hay rack to move it around. We’d fall off and the worst thing is the irrigation pipe got ruined, you know?

So he went in a grove on our farm and kind of started all over and made a pipe trailer. We were the first people in our county to irrigate our crops. We had a very good crop that year. Then same story … The neighbor bought a pipe trailer and the neighbor’s neighbor and so on. It was all just… I don’t want to belittle it but kind of like a hobby for my dad.

1969, I graduated from University of Nebraska. I told my then wife-to-be, which is Connie, that I’m going to see if I can’t turn dad’s hobby into a business. I gave myself three years. If I can’t do it in three years, I’ll go back on my degree, which is teaching drafting. The rest is history. The good Lord has blessed us tremendously. I’m not an engineer by education but I did all our own designing to begin with in the early years. Now, we’ve got five people that are engineering in our engineering department. As we’ve added on, we’ve added on a conference room and larger office space and the engineering department and so on. So now I’m still heavily involved in the design work, but those guys carry the load. I get the easy part; I get to tell them what to do and then they have to go do it.

We’ve evolved in that regard. But what really helped is that, as a kid, working on our own farm equipment, I would say, “Why did that designer put that brace in the way so I’ve got to take that brace off to get off this to fix that?” So we tried to design our stuff to make it user friendly as you can, and by the way, don’t ever break down in the first place. That’s where we have our roots of being a very high quality product.

It’s been a fun ride. We had to elbow our way into the industry. We were the only kids in town… The brand new kid in town with a brand new toy, most expensive, and no track record. Why should I buy from you guys? Well, we had to prove ourselves. That went through farm equipment shows and just having our equipment prove itself in the field. There’s lots of stories about that.

David Hellbusch: It wasn’t until ’89 or ’88 when we got into fertilizer.

Jim Hellbusch: 1980. We built a lot of pipe trailers, is our main thing. We build 4,000 or 5,000 a year. We had depots in Stuttgart, Ark. and Pocatello, Idaho. We delivered to those depots plus everything in between. It was really good.

In the meantime, the Lord has blessed me with designing abilities. A guy would come on our yard and say, “I’ve got to have a trailer to carry that widget over there.” Well, I could just see the trailer already built, just build it. That’s kind of how our commercial side got evolved into this farm equipment.

Our name got to be known as a very high-quality product. 1977, a guy from Wichita came in and said, “You guys make really good equipment. Would you want to make ammonia wagons for the fertilizer trailer business?” I said, “I don’t have a clue what it is. What are you talking about? Bring me something.” Well, he brought me one that was built in Hereford, Texas. It was, quite frankly, not very well built.

I said, “Why is this pushing?” He said, “Well, about two or three times every year, someone is killed on a highway because the trailer in some fashion or another breaks down, this ammonia tank is a bullet. It’s a bullet going 40 miles an hour. It will hit an oncoming car and it kills people.” He said, “There’s so many competitors out there that all copy each other so much, they make them so cheap. We need somebody that builds a high-quality product.”

And so I said okay. I took that unit that he brought me and I got rid of the bad stuff, I enhanced the good stuff, and came out with that product. It was about 25% more expensive in the marketplace than what they were. But this guy in Wichita said he thought he could make it go. That’s how we got into the fertilizer trailer business in that regard. It was tough at first…

David Hellbusch: When you talk about elbowing your way in —

Ben Hellbusch: The dirty 80s to begin with and you’ve got to ask for 25% more on something. The only way to do it was, “You buy 10 of my competitor. Well, instead, buy nine from him, buy one from us. Find 25% more somewhere for one trailer and put them out there and see which one breaks down and see which one still runs at the end of the day.” It was the product that proved itself. That’s what really gained traction.

Mike Lessiter: Would you say that’s the defining moment in your history, getting into that?

Jim Hellbusch: Yeah. Getting in the fertilizer trailer business, yeah, that moved us in that direction. That became our flagship product line. It still is today. It still is one our main products that we make.

Ben Hellbusch: I would say that is one of the defining moments. It took Duo Lift from somewhat of a production and somewhat of a job shop to making consistent product with a dealer network and taking it to the next level. Without that step, we’re still a job shop in little Columbus, Neb., doing whatever somebody asked us to do.

Jim Hellbusch: I’ve got several stories but I’ll just tell you one about how did we get where we are. You know? It was in the mid-80s and we were trying to break into Kansas. We just couldn’t get in there. There was a couple of big co-ops there. Back in those days, if you had 10 co-ops, that was big. Now it’s 30 or 40 or 50 even. But we couldn’t get in there. I finally got this co-op to buy one for each store. Our color is dark blue and our competitors were all red; all of them, they were all red. So we did that.

So we go to the Wichita show, Connie and I do. I think it was ’85 or ’86. I’m talking to people. We’ve got our equipment staking here. I’m talking to about four or five potential customers. This guy comes up and I turn to him, he taps me on the shoulder. He’s a huge, seven-foot tall Texan, big old hat. He said, “Pardon me. Are you the so-and-so that makes these …” I won’t say... I said, “Yeah.” He wouldn’t even talk. He said, “Do you know what you did to me? I’ve got a whole wall full of red parts. Now I have one blue trailer to have parts for.” And he just went ranting on. I said, “Are you done?” “No, I’m not done yet.” And he just kept ripping me. These guys were laughing because they knew who this guy was. If I tell you his name, you would… That’s kind of who the guy was, why he would do that.

So anyway, I said, “Are you done ripping me now?” He said, “I’m done.” I said, “I’ll tell you what I’ll do. You paid about 25% more than all the red ones didn’t you, for that one?” He said, “Yeah, I did.” I said, “Okay. I’ll make you a deal. You go down to the courthouse, you get a marriage license, and you marry my one blue one with any one of those brand new red ones. You make them do the same thing all year. You come back here at this year. If that wasn’t the best, say $300 more it cost you, I’ll give you your money back and you can keep the trailer.” “You’d do that?” I said, “I sure will.” And then we went on with the show.

So we’re at the Des Moines show and the Fargo show because we’re trying to build our business. Here comes Wichita. I totally forgot about this guy. So same story, I’m sitting there, talking to potential customers. This guy taps me on the shoulder and I thought, “Oh, no.” He said, “Son, I’m here to say one thing and one thing only.” I said, “What’s that?” He said, “Crow tastes like…” And you can fill in that last four-letter word, starts with an S. And so he became my best advocate. It was out of Johnson, Kansas, down there. We won that company over that I sold one to each store. They were our best customer for many, many years.

We go to a show two, three years later. He walked up and he said, “Don’t listen to a blank and blank thing this young man says. Just buy his stuff. Because it’s good and he stands behind it.” That’s the best thing you can have, you know?

I think that’s part of the movement. Then since we became known in the fertilizer trailer. That’s spilled over into other product lines. When we started getting the farm equipment line, the farm equipment dealer.

Ben Hellbusch: I was going to say… The whole reason we got into the farm equipment line was because of our reputation and in everything else. It was independent reps in Iowa and Nebraska that came… Known Jim for many, many years, having problems with a certain trailer that they were repping for. Strolled into the office one day, asked … This was before Dave was back yet. Asked if Jim and I could sit down in the conference room and just have a quick chat about something. That’s our header hauler line was born, header trailers. It was kind of a commodity and a simple thing but we put our flavor on it, we changed it to the way we wanted to do it, and made it a step above everybody else as far as quality and options and functionality and all those things. That spearheaded a whole new division of our company. That was back in 2007.

Ben Hellbusch: So that’s when we started and that’s when we divided the company. At that time, it was just one person doing it all. It was small enough to do that. As we grew, that was a whole ‘nother… It was running a second business. I mean, it just put us into markets we’d never seen before. It was great timing. I mean, 2007, right at the beginning of things that were going to… If we knew how good the years were going to be, we would have done even more. You know? Just kind of how it evolved.

Jim Hellbusch: What I think was surprising to me what that our customer base were the fertilizer dealers, the co-ops. That’s kind of an island by themselves. Then the implement dealers; it’s a different way of marketing. As we grew the farm equipment line, the implement dealers had heard our name. They knew who we were. They had no reason to know.

Ben Hellbusch: Which surprised the crap out of us. Because we’re over fertilizer co-op stuff over there. Didn’t even think about John Deere dealers and Case dealers. Oh, you guys make that blue stuff that we see everywhere. The co-ops got 100 of them sitting over there. I know who you guys are. That stuff never sits. It’s always moving.

Jim Hellbusch: Yeah. That opened a lot of doors that we thought we were going to have to open ourselves.

Ben Hellbusch: Surprised us.

Jim Hellbusch: That’s when we contracted with independent reps. And guess where they came from? FEMA. At that time, it was AIMRA. We did a good job. We had two or three really, really good ones. Say okay, now we want to go into Indiana. Who is a good rep in Indiana? Well, they would recommend a guy. We could go searching, bird dogging, but —

Ben Hellbusch: They gave you the top three.

Mike Lessiter: Vetted out guys.

Jim Hellbusch: Yeah, yeah.

Ben Hellbusch: And wouldn’t you know it, they’d be at the FEMA convention and so we’d get a chance to sit down and talk to them face-to-face and meet them. The rest is history. It’s been a great … A plug for FEMA, man. I mean, that’s a great resource. It has grown our business on both the supply side and the sales side.

Mike Lessiter: Take us back to ’69 and your conversation with Connie, who you had not yet married at that point, right? So, you had given yourself a three-year timetable. What were those first three years like? Could you envision the boys back in the business and the business of the size and scope that it was in 1969 and ’72?

Jim Hellbusch: ’69, I wasn’t even married. I couldn’t have had no boys in my vision. But no —

Mike Lessiter: Something tells me you were thinking about it.

Jim Hellbusch: I graduated in ’69 and I was offered a job at a junior college in Des Moines for $5900 a year. Now, that’s right at $600 a month. That was a gazillion dollars back in 1969, a lot of money. My dad said I was probably the dumbest person on this earth to turn that job down to come to do something at home, you know? But it was my passion, I wanted to do it.

Those first years were really tough. Connie, you could ask her. Her friends called her a honeymoon widow. I was never home. We had a farm, my dad and my grandpa, we had a family farm. I would help them farm in the morning, like say from six until eight or eight-thirty. I’d go in the shop, which was a 32x80 building, and I would weld —

Ben Hellbusch: Which is now our main office, the whole shop.

Jim Hellbusch: That’s about half of our main office. Where was I heading with this? Anyway, then I would go home at six o’clock at night, throw down supper, and go back out and farm then until dark. Did that for four or five, six years. Because farming was putting food on the table; manufacturing wasn’t back in those days. Duo Lift had $50 in the checking account. I’d take out $5 to go buy milk, you know? I think most people you probably already interviewed, they all say that same story. They all started on a shoestring and they all had to start from zero. It was tough times.

I’ll never forget, the very first employee I ever hired, his name was John. I’m welding away, had the helmet on my head. I looked up and he was gone. Where did John go? I looked around the shop, couldn’t find him. Went into the restroom, he wasn’t back there. Back in those days, we had a cattle yard behind our manufacturing building so I walked back there, looked in the cattle. Where did he go? Did he quit? So I walk in the front. Here he’s sitting in his pickup.

And I said, “John, what are you doing?” This shows my naivete. He said, “I’m on my break.” I said, “You’re on your break. What do you do on your break?” “Have my ham sandwich and my cup of coffee.” “Okay. Well, how long is your break going to last?” He said, “10-15 minutes.” I said, “Okay.” So I go back welding and here he comes. I’m embarrassed to say that story but it’s true. Being from the farm, you go 100 miles an hour all day long. You don’t worry about break time and lunch time and the clock; you just do what you’ve got to do. He came from the manufacturing world, so he had his time set. Which is great. Now we are overboard on our benefits. We really do, don’t we?

Ben Hellbusch: But you’ve got to treat your people right. It’s not just an employer/employee relationship. We really truly believe that and try to create that culture and that atmosphere, whether you’re in the plant or in the office. We’re all together, we’re for the greater good and we work together. So yeah, we do. We treat our people very well, give them benefits that other companies don’t.

David Hellbusch: The buy-in is very important to us. We want them to feel like they’re on our team, we want them to feel like they’re part of something good, something in agriculture. So that’s kind of how we run it. We want them to feel part of something greater than just a job and so we treat them that way.

Ben Hellbusch: Even to the point like during farm show season, we’ll get a bus and we’ll take half the shop, go to the farm show.

David Hellbusch: Go see what our equipment looks like in an actual setting of how we’re going to sell it. Go see the competition, go see what this is all about.

Mike Lessiter: Great team building.     

Ben Hellbusch: Yeah, absolutely. And we use it as an opportunity to show them that their work matters, you know? What you're doing, people come and look at. They see it. It’s not just going to a farm yard and getting put behind a shed. This is equipment that is marketed as high-end and it is high-end. The paint job you put on it matters. That’s what people see. The weld you laid down that bead, people see that.

Jim Hellbusch: Our welders look at the welds on the machine. They don’t look at the paint or the tires, they look at the welds. And they’ll say, “Look at that crap weld.” Or whatever and that kind of thing. The painters look at the runs, they look at the painting system. It gives them, like Dave said, a lot more buy-in to that.

David Hellbusch: Why we are the way we are and why the quality is the way it is.

Jim Hellbusch: David preaches and preaches and preaches — quality, quality, quality, efficiency and that kind of thing. This is the reason why. There’s no one out there with a gun to their head making them buy our stuff.

David Hellbusch: For more money.

Jim Hellbusch: For more money. They have to want to come and buy our stuff. That’s a challenge, that really is.

Mike Lessiter: You guys grew up around the business. You probably can’t even separate your life from the business element. Tell us a couple memories about having grown up around this fledgling upstart business.

Ben Hellbusch: I’ve got one about the farm and I’ve got one about the business. You’d probably say the same one. The farm, growing up, Dad bought us a go kart as soon as we were walking, taught us how to drag race right out of the gate. We used to tear around the farm. We had more than one close encounter with a tractor or a combine or something with the go kart. But you know, you learn a lot out there.

Jim Hellbusch: We were really safe though, we were really safe.

Ben Hellbusch: But, you know, you learn a lot about farming and a lot about the industry, the guys that were farming our ground. You ride in the combine with them, you grow up around it. We were kind of hybrids. We lived in the city but had the farm, had all that stuff. Our roots are certainly out there. I mean, we’re farm boys without growing up on the farm, is the way I’d say it.

Then in the shop, that same go-kart. We packed all our own bearings with buckets or 55-gallons drums of grease for years. There was a little room in what’s now our office but back then it was the shop when we were growing up. Our go kart was stored in it and that was our garage. And every day, I believe, they had to haul that dang go kart out of there so they could go to work. Because at night, Dave and I were out tearing around on our go karts, having a good time. We grew up out there, playing on the equipment. We learned how to weld, put stuff together. It was some of the best life lessons, being in a facility like that.

David Hellbusch: One story about that is we had the one go kart. Well, there was two of us. So Dad bought us a second go-kart but what we bought that time was a kit. We had to put the kit together. We had to go put that second go-kart together.

Ben Hellbusch: We wanted to drive it, we had to put it together. Figure it out.

David Hellbusch: And so he said, “Here you go. Put it together.” He didn’t help us at all. I’ll never forget that. There’s ____ right in the center of the shop, we put it together on a Saturday. And there was two big old iron workers, big casts… Huge, you know, 10-foot tall.

Jim Hellbusch: Do I know this story?

David Hellbusch: 10-foot tall glass. So we get this thing put together, we’re all excited it’s done. So we start up the engine. Alright, let’s go. Well, you had to go around this… In the center of this shop, you had to go around this rack where steel was to be able to get outside the door. So we go. Well, the pedal sticks and we turn this way to swerve, hooked up the steering backwards, and swerved right into that big machine. We hit that thing and it started rocking back and forth. That was pretty scary but it’s a funny story now. You know?

Ben Hellbusch: At the time, it was kind of like, “Whoa, everybody’s got to stop for a second.”

Jim Hellbusch: Don’t tell dad.

David Hellbusch: But we learned and then we learned that we hooked the steering up backwards and we fixed it ourselves and we went out. So an excellent life lesson there of how to put something together from scratch.

Mike Lessiter: So this is a blessing in itself, I take it. How did growing up and watching your parents launch a business, essentially… How did that prepare you for the roles you’re in today?

Ben Hellbusch: Work ethic, just like Jim had said. He was around as much as he could be. Never missed a sporting event, never missed anything. But there was never any other time, either. It was work or that. Family was always first, but work was on its heels.

David Hellbusch: A very close second.

Ben Hellbusch: If you ever wondered where Dad was, you knew where he was. He was out working. He was out on the farm, he was out in the shop. He was whatever. In the office, doing paperwork or welding or whatever the case was. I would say growing up around it… For me anyway, you’re probably the same way. It was the work ethic. And knowing that if you work hard enough and you commit yourself to something, you can make it go. But the downfall is a lot of people don’t put that 100% commitment in there. And without his buy-in and commitment to Duo Lift, it wouldn’t be where it is today, not by a long shot.

So I would say the life lesson there is don’t give up and keep at it. No matter what gets throw at you. There’s plenty of stressful days and all of that. But you can persevere if you put your mind to it. That’s our attitude. That’s our attitude in the shop and the office, running the business.

We’re not the guys that are going to tell somebody else to go do something and then go horse around, doing something else. We’ll never ask anybody to do anything that we wouldn’t do ourselves. That’s a big key, too. I think we got a lot of respect, Dave and I did, because we worked at the shops, summers coming back from college. In high school, we were out there alongside the guys. Now we’re in the office but some of those same guys still work for us. The amount of respect we earned doing that was great, not to mention the life lessons that we learned in the process.

Jim Hellbusch: You know, the neat story about that is… I don’t know how old you guys were. I had already taught you guys how to weld. It was the middle of July, just so dang gone hot. Oh, man. I don’t know what you guys were doing; you were working on the farm doing something. There was sweat lines and dirt coming down their face. They came in the back of the shop and they had… I don’t know even what it was. It was a part that had been broken and they had to have something welded.

So I’ve got guys that have been there for 20 years. “Okay, I’ll weld it for.” No, no. One of you guys said, “I just need your helmet and your gloves.” “What? No, I’ll weld it for.” “No, I’ll do it.” So one of you guys —

Ben Hellbusch: That was me.

Jim Hellbusch: Took the helmet, put the gloves on, welded this thing, and left. These two guys have been there for 20 years, “What the heck just happened here?” So they proved themselves, that they are not the boss’ kid that wear a white shirt and tie and they come into the company. The older guys that work for us remember that story. And of course, that gets told over and over and over again.

So Ben or Dave — now especially with Dave being the plant manager, when he goes out there, they know he knows what he’s talking about.

David Hellbusch: And they can see me go out there… They have this question, they don’t know the answer. I can go out there and tell them exactly what to do. Right then and there, it shows that we know what’s going on. I know how it’s put together, I know that if there’s this issue, you do this or do that, just by growing up in. Now being in the managing role that I am, to have that knowledge and then to prove that that knowledge is valuable, it’s that buy-in. Everything goes back to that buy-in from them.

Mike Lessiter: Did you guys know this is what you were going to do with your career early on?

David Hellbusch: I did, yeah. I just had a feeling in me that this is what I wanted to do. I love the mechanical stuff, I loved building stuff. And yeah, I did. I wanted to go away and work for a while. It didn’t work out that way. To work somewhere else, get experience elsewhere. I ended up coming right back after college, right after I graduated. So I didn’t get that experience of working for somebody else but still, I don’t regret it at all.

Ben Hellbusch: I would like to say yes. I had doubts in the beginning, nothing to do with Duo Lift or working with Dad or anything like that, just kind of wanting to make my own path, do my own thing. I have regrets that I did do that, I think. But I did get to experience of working with some other people, which has helped me. At the end of the day, I suppose I did always know I’d end up here sometime, just didn’t know when. I thought maybe I’d go do something else for a while and then end up back.

Looking back on it, I wouldn’t have done it any other way. I’ve loved every minute of it. The stressful times and the times I want to pull my hair out, I’d still take that over not being involved in this. The thing about it is working with family, there can be some pretty interesting conversations.

Jim Hellbusch: Positive and negative, yeah.

Ben Hellbusch: I’ll say things to him I would never say to a boss. And I know you would, too. To be a fly on the wall sometimes in some of our conversations would probably be pretty funny. At the end of the day, I would never change it and I know you wouldn’t either. With all the stresses and all the things that come with it, I still… The ability or the opportunity, I guess I should say, to work in a family environment. I mean, some people see their parents at Christmastime and that’s it. You know? They’re off in Washington and they’re over in Florida. That’s the way some people are. We’re a close knit family that I think the big man upstairs had plans because we’re all back in it. 

Jim Hellbusch: To bring that down to reality, I know when you went to college — being the older one — you had that conversation. But Ben said, “Is there room for me at Duo Lift? What should I do at Duo Lift?” You know? They get inquisitive questions of should I be a doctor or a lawyer or an engineer or business administration? What should I do with my life? I said, “Well, I’ll answer that with a question. When you went to bed at night and I tucked you in a gave you a kiss, what did I do?”
“Well, we’d always hear the garage door go up and down and you went to work.” I said, “Yeah. What did I do most Saturdays?” Outside of Nebraska football games. You said, “Well, we always went and work.” In our office, they had little bitty cars, little battery cars. They’d play on the racetrack. They did that. They came to work with me as little kids. I’m working but we’re together.