SitePrep — July/August 2012
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Out Of The Storm
Jean Hiller

Blizzards change course of Colorado business from cattle ranch to site work contractor.

Sometimes, a business transformation comes as a result of a grand plan—a strategy to grow and compete on a larger scale than ever before. And sometimes, you just get hit by a blizzard.

That was the case six years ago for the folks at Wells Ranch, near Greeley, Colo. The first 115 years of the 34,000-acre ranch were successful ones. By 2006, it had built a large feed yard and a 10,000-head bottle-calf program.

But that’s when the blizzards began hitting, one after the other, for six weeks. The powerful snowstorms decimated Wells Ranch, which suffered large losses to its herd.

“We lost a lot of money, and we owed a lot of money,” says Steve Wells, the third-generation owner of Wells Ranch.

So Wells began looking for alternative ways to augment the ranch’s income.

When the oil companies sought to buy the mineral rights at the ranch to drill hundreds of horizontal wells, Wells saw an opportunity. He negotiated with the oil companies to do all of the site preparation and roustabout work for the drilling rigs.

“We wanted to do the work on our own place,” Wells says. “No one takes better care of your own land than you do.”

Wells believed he could successfully transform his business and get the site work done. They just needed equipment to get them on their way.

No Quitters on the Ranch

To keep the story of Wells Ranch in perspective, you need to know its history. Here, quitting isn’t an option. Wells Ranch was founded in 1888 by Steve Wells’ grandparents, and it remains a true family business. One of Steve Wells’ sons, Josh, now runs All Around Roustabout, the company that does the site work for the oil rigs at the ranch, and Steve’s wife and daughter keep the books. Another son, Shane, is involved in the ranch’s cattle operation, and a son-in-law, Jeromie, is also learning the business.

“It’s kind of been the rule of the family: You’re born here. You work here. You die here,” Steve Wells says.

An important part of the story of this family is about overcoming adversity. Steve Wells’ father was born crippled and couldn’t walk as a child. But despite the things he couldn’t do, Steve Wells’ dad did learn to work.

“You just don’t quit,” he says, recalling his father’s advice. “You just never give up. If you want something bad enough, you do it.”

Finding the Right Equipment So when the storms came, devastating the ranch operations, Steve Wells didn’t let that stop him. After a large oil company bought up the mineral rights at Wells Ranch, he simply forged ahead with his plans to do the site work on his ranch, despite skepticism that he could succeed.

“It was just one of those things,” he says. “Everyone else didn’t think we could do it.”

But the company needed equipment to perform the site work. Initially, Wells Ranch started out using a wheel loader from one manufacturer, but they grew dissatisfied at how quickly it needed repairs.

“It was just a nightmare,” says Josh Wells. “I was ready to see that thing go away.”

In their research for new equipment, Steve and Josh Wells found comparison data that showed it took significantly more hours for Volvo loaders to need major overhauls for transmissions and other vital systems than their competitors. So they called up Jim Koeltzow, a salesman for Power Equipment Company, the Denver-based Volvo Construction Equipment dealership. They bought a used Volvo L220E loader and discovered that the bigticket repairs they experienced with the other loader went away. And the operators loved it.

“As far as I’ve seen, it’s about as good as you can get when it comes to power and smoothness. It’s really good,” Josh Wells says.

Today, the Wells operate 26 pieces of Volvo equipment at the ranch. Three Volvo excavators from their fleet of four, ranging from the EC210B to the EC380D tracked models and the EW210C wheeled excavator, dig trenches for water and gas lines, working along with eight BL70 backhoe loaders. Seven Volvo wheel loaders, ranging from the L60F up to the L220G, clear and prepare sites for drilling rigs. A total of five Volvo A35E and A35C articulated haulers move rock and clay to and from those sites. Two Volvo G976 motor graders keep roadways in tip-top shape to keep the whole operation moving.

“The quality of the equipment by far is superior,” Steve Wells says. “The fuel consumption was less. The repairs were lower. We just haven’t had any trouble with it.”

He says one of the main perks of using Volvo equipment is his relationship with Koeltzow.

“In all honesty, you’re not going to meet a better human being than Jim,” Steve Wells says. “He is incapable of lying. For a salesman, that’s unreal. He’s just a great person.”

Wells says part of what makes Koeltzow special is that he started his career as a mechanic, so his knowledge base goes beyond what you might find in a typical salesman.

“At his age, I’m a little worried that he’s going to retire before I’m ready to quit,” Steve Wells says, only half-joking. “He works all the time, and we can count on him. If we tell him we need him at 6:30 in the morning on Saturday, he’ll be here at 6:15. He’s one of those.”

Still Going Strong

For Wells Ranch, the reliability of the Volvo equipment is key to its continued success. The company has expanded its footprint beyond the borders of the ranch and now does roustabout work for clients across the region.

Today, the ranch and its sister companies—including All Around Roustabout—have grown from a handful of employees to 300. They have built more than 50 miles of road, prepared sites for more than 500 oil wells and installed miles of water and gas lines.

“One thing led to another and another and another, and it never stopped. And it still hasn’t stopped,” Steve Wells says. “We’ve built some remarkable things over the years, and it has been fun.”

Still, at Wells Ranch—where the wide open spaces of the high plains reign supreme—it’s hard to escape just how much things have changed in five years. As two Volvo wheel loaders—an L220E and a new L220G—back-fill a compressor pad and finish off a stock-tank site with pea gravel in a spot where 12 oil wells are under way, Steve Wells recalls how far they’ve come since those blizzards hit the ranch

“Five years ago, Josh and I were out at 2:00 in the morning, baling hay,” Steve Wells says, smiling.

“We’ve come a long way.”

Jean Hiller is a writer for Two Rivers Marketing in Des Moines, Iowa.