About Me

That's Me!

Hey, thanks for checking out my site.

I have created this site with the intention of cutting through all of the mis-information that is out there in the landscape construction industry.  I want to give you, the do-it-yourselfer, all of the information that you need to complete your chosen task.  I know how it is to envision a project but to not have the know-how needed to bring that project to fruition.  Believe me, I have been there and done that 20 years ago.

A Bit of History

I have been in the construction industry since 1987.  I have done all types of landscape work and have learned from the best and by trial and error.  Over the years I have done quite a bit of building construction, renovating and remodeling also, so we’ll probably delve into a bit of that in the future.  But wait, I’m getting ahead of myself.  All of that will come with time.  For right now, let’s get down to some foolishness.

We should start a bit earlier to let you know more about me.  I grew up in Wisconsin living out in the country.  I have a great family and as a kid we raised chickens, ducks, rabbits and even a pony.  So, I’ve done my share of chores.  We all enjoyed the animals, but didn’t always enjoy the daily watering, feeding and poop cleaning.  My parents own five acres of land, so I learned to cut grass, pick rocks, plant  flowers, build fences, prune trees, burn fields, paint, stain, shovel snow, plow snow and a wide array of things that I’m sure I don’t  remember.  But, let’s not forget one of my very vivid memories of childhood chores; cutting wood.  My dad installed a wood burner in the basement, so we had our hands full keeping the woodpile stocked over the winter months.  Lucky for us, the lot next door was wooded and Dad had the permission of the owner to go right on over and cut wood whenever he wanted.  So, we were the haulers.  My brother and I would have the honor of hauling the logs out of the woods after dad cut them.  Dad would fill up the saw and head out into the woods to start cutting.   My brother and I got to man the wooden toboggan with a custom built wooden box that fit neatly on top to pile the wood in.  The work was rather hard and a bit grueling at times and I just remember listening to the saw cutting and cutting.  I was constantly praying for the cutting to stop, because I knew that in order for the hauling to stop, the cutting had to stop.  After the wood was all cut and stacked, then came the task of splitting.  I was the oldest, so I got the privilege of being the first one introduced to the maul and wedges as a sort of muscle building fitness program.  At least that’s how Dad sold it to us.  Well, although I didn’t like it much at the time, these chores and work gave me a great understanding of how to do things for myself.

Another great life experience/learning experience for me was hunting.  Now I know, half of you probably think hunting and guns are awful, but just hear me out.  My Dad is an avid hunter and when we were kids, he would always take us with him.  These hunting trips were always a very exciting time for us.  We loved hunting, partially because Dad loved hunting so much and partially because it is just really cool to be out in the wilderness fending for ourselves.  Man, can I remember all of the fun and adventurous hunting stories Dad and his buddies would tell us whenever they got together.  There’s nothing like a good hunting story.  As kids, my brother and I longed to have some of these adventures for ourselves, and over time, we did.  We went on many hunting trips with Dad and it was always a great time, at least as we remember it now.  Although, I do remember a few occasions that weren’t so great at the time but that make pretty good stories now.  I’ll never forget the time that my brother woke up on a bitter cold deer season morning in our trailer up north with his hat frozen to the inside of the trailer.  This doesn’t sound so bad, except for the fact that his hat was on his head at the time.  Oh the joys of hunting out of the old trailer.  It was always a test of our manhood to jump out of our bunks in the middle of the night to re-light the little heater which had gone out some hours ago.  Anyway, I digress.  The years of hunting were great for us, as they taught us to fend for ourselves, to not be afraid of nature, but to respect nature.  To never take more than you need, to always carry a compass and to always dress in layers.  I think that hunting should be a part of everyone’s life.  Even if you don’t want to kill anything, that’s o.k.  Just head out into the forest and live on the wild side for a bit.  Don’t bring your four-wheeler and your I-pod; just bring plenty of warm clothing, a compass, a good knife and some matches.  Take time to experience life away from all of the distractions and comforts that the majority of us take for granted.  You may just surprise yourself.  I believe that a person needs to be tested to understand where they stand in this world and to get a firm grip on how strong the human mind and body truly are.  Many people that I meet these days think that they are being physically challenged if they are forced to park near the back of the shopping center parking lot and walk all the way up to the front door.  Many people have no idea what they are capable of and if their minds believe that they are week, then they are.  So, here I am again rambling on and on.  Let’s get on with it.

Mechanical Challenges

Besides all of that, I also learned quite a bit about mechanics living out in the country.  I learned to fix my own bike when it broke, I learned that I could salvage pieces from the local garbage dump and build my own bike if need be.  I learned to repair motors and keep them running.  Often times a bit of mechanical knowledge could save many hours of manual labor.  I had all sorts of stuff to fix.  I can remember taking apart my Mom’s vacuum cleaner as a boy just to see how it worked.  By the way, for any of you  thinking about taking a few things apart to see how they work, usually this is a great learning experience because most things are much  harder to put back together than they are to take apart.  I learned this when I spent an afternoon out in the woods trying to re-assemble the derailleur on my five-speed banana seat bike.  Why was I doing this in the woods?  Well, you wouldn’t want your parents to see you intentionally dismantling your bike, especially when you weren’t sure how to put it back together.  Anyway, taking apart is a great way to learn, but I spent many hours sweating profusely, trying to figure out how to get my parent’s appliances put back together.

Living out in the country gave me the opportunity to buy a car when I was fifteen years old, in anticipation of getting my drivers license.  This was once again a great learning experience for me.  Take a $250.00 1974 Dodge Charger, a fifteen year old kid, a crescent wrench, vise grips, two screwdrivers and a hammer and now you are having some real fun.  I taught myself to repair just about anything and everything that could go wrong with that car.  I learned mountains of useful information from that machine.  Things like;  “man those little springs that hold the brake pads on sure can fly a long ways”, “soup cans only last so long as exhaust patches, depending on what type of wire you use to secure  them”, “101 ways to remove a stripped or broken bolt”, “chicken wire and sheet metal screws are really not what you want to patch the rust  holes in your fenders”, “don’t even start body work unless you are going to finish it within a few years”, Don’t take your $250.00 car out on  the road to try to burn some rubber when you are fifteen years old, it is sure to conk out in the middle of the road.”, “don’t drive like a freaking  maniac the first day that you get your license, you may not get as lucky as I did”, “too many reverse drops will definitely shorten the  lifespan of an automatic transmission” and last, but not least, ” If you go off the road and into a ditch in the middle of the night on your  way home from work wearing your skin tight Burger King uniform and you can’t get that car back up onto the road, you should walk to the  nearest house and call someone for help.  No matter how much this pisses you off, do not, under any circumstances, just hold the gas pedal to  the floor and shift the car from drive to reverse and back to drive in an attempt to get it unstuck.  Evidently, this is a good way to bend three valves and never have that motor run correctly again.”  But, if you do find yourself in this situation, and you do bend three valves,  don’t stand in your driveway, once again in your skin tight burger king uniform messing with the timing trying to get the piece of crap  running well enough to take you back to work.  By this time you may be so pissed off that you punch the car.  Oh, wait, that is my last lesson, never for any reason should you punch your car.  You might just break your hand. Stupid!

Actual Paid Work!

O.k., you’ve probably had enough of my extracurricular activities, on to the good stuff.  How about some actual work experience?  Let’s see, I think that I started working for local farmers during hay baling season.  They always needed help either stacking bales on the wagon or up in the hay mow.  That was some sweaty, hard work.  You young kids now-a-days with your fancy schmancy automatic throw balers that just toss them into a wagon don’t know how good you’ve got it.  You should have tried working for good old Charlie; he was paying you hourly to stack those bales on that wagon, so you can bet he drove that tractor just as fast as he could without clogging the baler.  Whew, exhausting.  I also worked at the local pharmacy where my Mom worked.  She got me a job cleaning, stocking and sweeping floors.  I can’t remember if this was before, after, or during the farming.   I do know that I quit the pharmacy work to enter into the exciting and challenging world of fast food. Yes, you got it; this is where the skin tight Burger King uniform comes in.  That was an interesting job.  It was kind of neat, the managers were nice, the girls were cute, and there was a lot of old food to eat.  Heck, what more can a teenage boy ask for.  After the fast food, I know that I spent some time assembling sound proof rooms for testing hearing.  I spent some time working on a vegetable farm.  I spent some time working for a local roofing contractor, where I learned two things. The first was how to carry bundles of shingles on your shoulder up a ladder and walk right on to the roof with out ever pausing, and second, that I never really want to do roofing again.  Wait a second, did I mention that before all of these jobs I used to go stay with my grandfather and help him with any and all chores around his place?  Man, I almost forgot about that.  I learned to paint and repair fences, cut lots and lots of grass, maintain pool equipment, paint lawn furniture, paint the house, spray the apple trees, fix the apple tree sprayer, how to spin cookies on a riding lawnmower and how to ride and wipe out on a moped.  O.k., time to get back to the job experience.

Introduction to Industry

After high school I worked for one summer at a local fiberglass press factory.  This place was hot, sticky, covered with fiberglass and full of grumpy guys that hated their jobs and let everyone know about it every day.  I was running a press making fiberglass trays like the ones that you probably ate your school lunch on.  The work was easy, and I could make rate with plenty of time to spare.  Well, since this was my first factory job, after making rate I just kept right on working and made a bunch of extra trays.  I assumed that this would be seen as a good thing, but the next day my foreman told me to slow down and that if I make rate I should sweep the floors or go out behind the building and waste some time.  Evidently, I was making everyone else look bad and no one wanted to have to work any harder than they already were.  This was also the place where I was first introduced to the never crap or eat on your own time philosophy.  According to this factory logic, you had two fifteen and one thirty minute break per day and if you were smart, you could use these for things more relaxing than crapping and eating.  If you were a smart guy (and felt that you were overworked and under-paid) you would make sure that you ate your lunch while working, because evidently this was somehow a way of sticking it to the man.  You also made damn sure that you took one crap per day whether you needed to or not, because you could sit down for fifteen minutes in the bathroom, no one would give you a hard time, and it was like another break.  Boy, I guess these guys really had it all figured out.  I wonder why all of the foreign countries can produce product cheaper than us hard working Americans??

College Boy

All right, after one summer manning the fiberglass press and plenty of prodding from parents and grandparents, I headed off to college.  In college I learned all sorts of smart college stuff like; “wow, I really am not cut out for Botany and Zoology”, “how to successfully take a multiple choice test even if you know none of the answers”, “how to drink lots of coffee and stay up for two days straight because you saved that big paper until the last minute”, “how to survive on macaroni & cheese, ramen noodles and beer”, “how you really shouldn’t let your grade point average drop to a 1.5 as a freshman, because it is really tough to bring it back up later”, “and, a bunch of really smart college stuff that I’m sure sunk in but can’t quite be recalled at this point.”  All right, all joking aside, I think that college was great for me because it taught me to live on my own and allowed me to meet many different people from many different walks of life.  That was an experience you just weren’t going to get in small town Wisconsin.  The whole college experience opened up my mind to learning, free thinking and Psychology, which turned out to be my major.  You may be thinking to yourself, “Wait a minute, Psychology?  What a strange major for a construction guy!”  Well, maybe not so strange if you consider that we all need to deal with people every day, all day.  Psychology is basically the study of people and why they do what they do.

Landscaping Basics

Starting in the summer of 1987, right after my first year of college, I got a job working for a local landscape company here in S.E. Wisconsin.  This is where I really started to get my education.  I had the privilege of working for a brilliant, extremely hard working and inspiring young entrepreneur.  He had a very creative mind and had built a reputation for extremely creative and high quality projects.  We were involved in some of the most beautiful and inspiring landscape and building construction going on in our area.  Working with him I learned many skills that I still use today.  Skills such as; equipment operation, tree planting, flower planting, brick laying, grading, cultivating, seeding, sodding, retaining walls, etc.   But, some of the most important lessons learned from him were things that weren’t’ so standard; how to paint without dripping it on you, the brush or the can, how to picture good designs and implement them, how to manage a project, how to sell a project, how to run a business and how not to run a business, how to talk to, sell to and service clients and how to have an overall inquisitive and accepting mind.

Home Construction?

During these years, I also had the opportunity to work on several custom home building projects with him which was a wonderful opportunity to get close and personal with some of the most skills tradesmen in our area.  I’ll tell you, there is no book or course that you can buy that will teach you the skills of the mason, carpenter, plumber or electrician the way that actually getting to know these guys will.  From the old mason I learned to work carefully and accurately no matter how hard the general was pushing you because your work will be there long after everyone forgets why we were in such a hurry in the first place.  From the electrician I learned that the plumbers’ job is easy; “hot on the left, cold on the right and shit flows down hill”.  And from the plumbers I learned that; “those damned electricians don’t know what they’re talkin’ about”.  I learned that the lead carpenter running a complex custom home building job was probably smarter than the architect, the engineer, the inspector, the builder or the homeowner.  The architect could draw you a pretty picture that probably couldn’t be built the way that he drew it.  The engineer could tell you how to build it so that it wouldn’t fall down, but it would cost you an arm and a leg and it would look like hell.  The inspector could tell you about a few ordinances and tell you that he damn sure had the authority to shut you down.  The builder could tell you what he wanted to get done by the end of the week.  And the homeowner could tell you whether or not they liked what they saw.  They could all tell you something, but the lead carpenter had built many houses and been on many jobs will every trade you could imagine.  He could tell you how to build that house from top to bottom so that it would; function properly, last for many lifetimes, look great when you were done, would not cost an arm and a leg and would be on schedule.  Overall, I learned to have a great deal of respect for all of the tradesmen who go to work everyday and put in an honest days work for an honest days pay.

Being involved in building custom homes, also gave me the opportunity to travel Europe on several occasions for inspiration, ideas and products.  Overall, this landscape construction job had shaped up to be much, much more than I had ever bargained for and it has had an influence on my life ever since.  I’ve not spoken to my old boss for many years now, but am forever grateful to him for providing me with the hands on life experience and inspiration that he did.  His influence still shapes my life today in ways that neither he nor I will ever know.  But, as with most things that I have encountered in life, things and people change and we decided to go our separate ways.

Out On My Own

This is when I decided to start my own company and Hurth Construction, Inc. was born in March of 1994.  I believe that this was the best thing that I could have done at the time.  Believe me, when times are tough and things get rough, I often wonder if I would have been better off doing something else, but in the end I think that there is no greater feeling in business than being your own boss.  The minute that you become your own boss, all of the negative thoughts and feelings about your boss and work go away.  Things like; “when will I get that raise?”, “I’m being ripped off, he’s making all of the money.”, “why do I have to work on Saturday?”, “why can’t I get some time off?”  Once you become your own boss, you are in charge, you can now stop worrying about all of these negative things and start worrying about “how am I going to pay the bills?”, how will I find employees”, how will I sell more?”, etc., etc., etc.  Over the years, I have learned many new tasks and honed my skills even further on the tasks that I knew.  We started out doing all of the usual landscape construction stuff like; patios, walkways, retaining walls, seed, sod, grading, filling, tree trimming and removal, drain tile, planting and a bit of maintenance.  Basically we did whatever we could get paid a decent wage to do.  I started out as a one man show.  I was doing all of the work myself.  It was hard work, but was also really satisfying.  I was able to work on the projects that I wanted to work on and I could make them look how I wanted them to look.  I held myself to high quality standards and was very organized.  So, as I am dispensing my hard earned knowledge on these pages, you can rest assured that it is first hand knowledge coming straight from the guy who has done it himself.  Hard earned knowledge can’t be beat.

Growing Pains

As the years went by, my company and crew grew little by little and I started hiring temporary help in the mid 90’s.  From this I learned what a fiasco temporary help can be.  While I did find a couple of decent workers, the vast majority of guys that the temp service will send to a landscaper were sub par at best.  I had guys showing up to job sites wearing silky dress shirts and polished dress shoes.  I had guys showing up still staggering from the previous night’s activities and more than once had these same fellas falling asleep on the job when their buzz wore off.  Many times I would lose few guys at lunch time; they would just walk off the site and never return.  What a joke.

As time went on, I hired, fired and lost a lot of employees.  It has been a real challenge to find guys who actually want to learn and work in this industry.  Many guys will stand in your office and tell you how strong they are, just to quit after a week of pushing wheel barrows and shoveling clay.  I can’t say that I really blame some of them.  This isn’t easy work and it really doesn’t pay very well, especially at starting wages for a laborer.  Which brings me to a great hiring tip.  Always get your supervisors or crew leaders from your existing crew.  Don’t even bother advertising a landscape supervisor or crew leader job.  The guys that show up to apply for these jobs usually have a season or two of landscape experience under their belt and they know that they don’t want to keep doing that..  They must read the add and think “Well, landscape labor is really hard, but I’d probably be good at standing around telling people what to do”.  These applicants were usually very lazy and not inclined to do anything that could be considered labor.

So, over the years we grew a bit, crews came and went and we established a reputation of performing creative and quality work.  We always made a point of trying to make sure that our customers were happy.  Many times this is not an easy task.  Many people have a hard time understanding this type of work, much less understanding a complex bid or landscape plan.  I’ve always done my best to explain things as well as possible to avoid any future conflicts or misunderstandings.  Overall, we provided a whole lot of quality and creative work at a fair price.  I believe in treating others as I would like to be treated and I believe that this should hold true in business as well as personal life.

One important thing to always remember in business as well as in your personal life is to return calls or e-mails as soon as you can.  What can start as a simple question can quickly escalate into panic and a full blown battle.  When someone reaches out to you, you should at least make a point to connect with them as soon as possible, even if you really don’t have the time or really don’t feel like it.  Even if you just leave them a quick message saying that you will contact them in a few days when things slow down this will put their mind at ease.  Communication is key.  People hate the feeling of being ignored or worse yet shunned.

Specialty Work

As time went on, I became more and more interested in ponds and waterfalls.  My father in law actually got me started in this pond hobby.  We were re-landscaping his backyard, he heard about these new water gardens that people were installing and he talked me into putting one in his yard.  I was against this idea initially, because most people who were installing ponds back then just dug a steep banked pit and let it fill with water, algae and weeds.  Needless to say, I didn’t want to encourage anyone to go down that road.  Well, with some help from another relative who owns a landscape company, we got our hands on an Aquascape Designs pond kit and we were on our way.  Little did I know that this would lead me to realize a passion that I didn’t even know that I had.

We finished his pond and waterfall to rave reviews, everyone loved it!  I even had one of his next door neighbors come over and thank me for putting in the waterfall because he could hear the soothing sounds from his house.  Wow, what an astounding thing, never before had I had a neighbor come over and thank me for landscaping the house next door.  Think about that for a second.  Very strange, but very powerful.  This initial experience with ponds made me realize that this was an industry that I could really get into.  I jumped into the water garden industry with both feet; I took many hours of training over the years and have installed many ponds and waterfalls.  This pond idea was turning out to be ok.  I was astounded at the effect that a naturally balanced ecosystem pond and waterfall could have on a person’s yard.  Never before or since have I found any type of landscape construction that could be done in a back (or front) yard that would have such an impact.  The sights, sounds, natural beauty of a water garden are simply unmatched.  People and animals worldwide are drawn to water.  I quickly learned that there was a good demand for a quality pond and waterfall installer in our area.  I guess that’s me!

This pond building is rather complex compared to regular landscaping, and there are many things that can and will go wrong.  The necessary learning, attention to detail and potential for call backs has discouraged many landscapers from actively pursuing pond building jobs.  They usually try a few and then decide that there are too many variables and details to tend to.  I will not disagree with this, there are many variables that you must consider when building a pond and there are many variables involved in maintaining a pond.  The beauty of these ponds and waterfalls is that if you follow the rules and install them correctly, the ponds take care of themselves and will provide years and years of unparalleled enjoyment and beauty.  I guess you could say I was hooked.  As a matter of fact, I still am.  To this day, pond building is my favorite type of landscaping.  I believe that it is the most creative and I also believe that it is where the client can get the most bang for their buck.

Reaching Too Far

After a few years heading toward the specialty of pond and waterfall construction, I decided to open a water garden retail store.  So, I bought a building, put too much money into it, made it look beautiful and filled it with water gardening products, display ponds and brick walk ways.  We had a great deal of fun and sold a lot of ponds and pond supplies for a few years, but with the downturn in the economy in 2008, it had to come to an end.  We had a big sale, let the employees go and shut down the pond store.  This was perhaps the toughest time of my life so far.  I wasn’t accustomed to letting people down, or failing, and I was doing plenty of both.  The financial burden that the store carried was simply too much to handle going into a down economy.

Through this experience, I learned a lot more about retailing and going broke than I had ever dreamed I would know.  One thing that I learned for sure was that neither of these, retailing or going broke were very high on my list of favorite things to do.  My advice to anyone thinking about going into retail sales would be to really think twice.  If retailing is not a passion of yours, you will not have a very good time. I enjoyed meeting all of the people, building the water features, talking about ponds and waterfalls and fixing the store, but I’m just not really a retail guy.  I love construction, not shelves full of products.

The Here and Now

Anyway, that sort of leads us to here.  I am now still running the landscape and water garden business, just on a much smaller scale.  For the last two years, our crew has consisted of me and one guy and this has been surprisingly refreshing.  While we are taking in much less money, we are also spending much less money.  We can now take more time to enjoy our work and we can better serve our clients.  Like many businesses have in the past two years, we have really learned to tighten our belts and make it work.  We’ve become more efficient and streamlined than ever before.  For me it has been a breath of fresh air, and it has also allowed me to more easily pick and choose the jobs that we do, making each one that much more satisfying.  Not to mention, it has given me time to mess around and start this blog.

Happy Pondering,

Doug Hurth

4 Responses to "About Me"

  • sandra west says:
    • Doug
      Doug says:
  • mrwaterfalls says:
Leave a Comment