April 1, 2021
It would not be an exaggeration to say that John Howerter’s life-long relationship with Caterpillar equipment started in a sandbox. He and his brother grew up playing in the dirt in rural Fulton County, Illinois, situated about 50-miles southwest of Peoria. Howerter never strayed too far from his small-town roots, except for spending some summers in Michigan running dozers for a well-drilling company.
Howerter Bulldozing Inc. is a first-generation company that started in 1998. John had been working for his older brother who had a dirt-moving business, and was getting to know the local agriculture community serving as a subcontractor to an ag-tilling business. When Howerter’s brother decided to go in a different direction, John bought the small fleet from his sibling and was off and running with his own company. As you will read in this interview, it is business – small town style. John Howerter wouldn’t have it any other way.
This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Talk about some of the day-to-day work you do and the type of projects Howerter Bulldozing takes on at any given time.
John Howerter: We are surrounded by farmland, so our customer base is 75-percent agricultural and 25-percent recreational. We tackle a variety of jobs: land clearing, terracing, building-site cleanup, fence removal, digging foundations for new construction, levee and drainage ditch maintenance, waterway and dry-dam construction. For recreational customers – think owners of hunting grounds – we typically build roads and maintain water crossings. A lot of guys said I should go off to Peoria and go on big construction jobs, but I always just wanted to work next door, for my neighbor.
What type of Caterpillar machines make up your fleet today?
We’ve come a long way since I bought an old bulldozer from my brother 20+ years ago. Our fleet today includes three excavators: a 323 Next Gen HEX, a 316F, and a 315C (with 13,000 hours and still going strong). We also have a 299D XHP track loader and two D6XE dozers.
John Howerter doing what he loves
Howerter Inc.’s Cat dozers in action.
Buying a Caterpillar machine is one thing, but what do you look for after the sale in terms of services and parts?
A strong relationship and capability with our Cat dealer (Altorfer) is a must. The value is proven when you get in a tight spot, and quickly getting that part or service you need. It is also worth mentioning that when I was considering a machine purchase, Altorfer and Caterpillar hosted a visit to the Edwards Learning and Demonstration Center. They would demo the machine and we talked about my operation and business needs with their expert operators to help determine what I needed.
The work you do can be time sensitive. Machine reliability and durability is critical. Any real-life examples come to mind?
In the early 2000s, I had a D6M dozer that ran for 36-hours straight! We were building a pond and had to get it done. We were changing operators at 12-hour intervals, and we just kept going. By the way, this has happened at various times with that D6M over an 11-year stretch. It doesn’t get much more reliable than that. That’s how you get repeat customers. When I leave a job, I want to know they’ll be coming to us when they need something again.
A couple of years ago, you had the unique opportunity to speak to a group of Caterpillar employees. What was your message?
I really stressed the importance of reliability, and how dependent a company like mine is on the machines that have to run every single day. It’s something that’s so critical for smaller operators who do not have back-up machines.
What would you tell someone who is considering the purchase of Caterpillar equipment?
From my experience, if that person decides to go with Caterpillar equipment, they would be taking the least amount of risk. For equipment purchase decisions, a customer has to consider both product reliability and the dealer’s support capability and having the ability to deliver the services we need when we’re out there making a living.
Personally, what is your favorite machine to operate, and why?
It has to be the D6 XE for when I am pushing out water ways. I am able to use slope assist, and in a very short time can show a customer how efficient the machine is, overall.