Story and photos by Jody Spear and Kelly Meyer –
MASON CITY – A typical Iowa winter would see Larry Elwood’s construction crew busy with sixty to eighty hours a week of work.
“Not this year,” says Larry (pictured, right). “We’re trying hard to find enough work to keep our full-time people at 40 hours. For the holiday season, they’re used to getting 20-40 hours overtime.”
(We interviewed Larry just before our latest big snowfall arrived, on a day of beautiful sunshine and warmth. Since we got several inches of snow, Larry and his team have had plenty of work to do.)
Troy Elwood and other crew members were in the warehouse working on the trucks that day, keeping them in good working condition.
Along with the snow removal service that Larry Elwood Construction provides, the company sells snow blades. The big industrial size ones that go in front of a four-wheel drive truck. “In December, we were selling one or two a day. In January, we’ve only sold a couple, none in the past two weeks.”
“We have 4-Wheel Drive trucks and two backhoes here and they’re just sitting. These blades are sitting here, ready to be put on and used.”
(PHOTO: One of Larry Elwood’s snow removal vehicles sits idle. Until the recent snow of several inches, there wasn’t much for them to push.)
“This is great weather to dig a foundation for a new house,” Larry said. “With the economy the way it is, people are not wanting to spend money. It would be a win/win situation for both of us. We could stay busy doing a project and the customer would receive a lower bid. This is because the materials would be lower, being the off season, to build and we’d be able to stay busy. We would share the lower expenses with the customer. This would apply to the smaller jobs also. Like installing windows, remodeling a new kitchen or bathroom; whatever they need done.”
“It is not just us that are out profit because of the mild winter, it is all the companies that I buy materials from. The Kum and Go’s and KandH that I buy gas from, The North Iowa Sand and Gravel that I buy sand from, and Tractor Supply and UBC that I buy ice melt from. I usually buy at many pallets of ice melt, but I haven’t had to buy any this year. I’m still on the pallet that I had left over from last year.” The domino effect takes place here. Larry Elwood Construction is just one company in Mason City, but it has a big impact on many others.
“Besides the supply companies that I go to, we hire around eight to ten seasonal workers. They hand shovel for us. From residential sidewalks to company sidewalks like HyVee and Subway, but we haven’t needed to call them. They sometimes work ten to fourteen hours a day, just shoveling. They are not making any extra money this year either.”
(PHOTO: Larry’s son, Troy, on a recent warm January day was helping out in the garage, keeping the trucks running smooth.)
“Whenever we have even just three quarters inch of snow, we are removing it for the companies, for safely reasons. With the lawsuits, they want it clean and they want it dry. None of us like to hear of anyone falling and getting hurt.”
“It has affected us, I want to say, fairly dramatically. It has cut our income down considerably. It has affected the amount of money our employees make.”
Even with the loss of profits from the lack of snow in North Iowa, Larry is staying positive.
“There’s still two to three months left. There’s snow in the forecast (soon), so we’ll see. When the snow comes, the blades will sell, the crew will have more work to do, and the companies will sell some product. Everybody knows that this late in the season, if it does snow, it don’t last as long, but it still needs to be cleaned up and removed.”
This week, Larry and his team were seen downtown helping remove snow from walks and parking lots… snow had arrived, and along with it work for his employees.