From One-Man Operation to Premiere
Excavation and Site Work Contractor
For over 30 years, Elk Mountain Construction Company has been a premiere provider of excavation, grading, demolition, site work and trucking services in and around the Upper Cumberland area of Middle Tennessee. The Cookeville-based company was founded by Donnie Elkins in 1982 and incorporated in 1988.
Elkins was born in Gainesboro, in Jackson County, Tennessee, where he still lives. After graduating from high school, he began working in the construction industry as a laborer and soon was operating heavy equipment and managing projects. He spent 13 years with McDowell Enterprises, mainly involved in base paving and grading projects, and later worked for two other area firms.
He started his own company with a used backhoe and a dump truck. “My shop and office were in my basement, which had a wood stove,” Elkins recalls. “I started out as the only employee, so I had to do all the repair and maintenance. When you’re a one-man operation, it’s a challenge to get people to come work for you. You first have to build a reputation with your customers, then people want to work for you.”
Among his first jobs were digging graves, installing septic tanks, and working on a number of commercial lots, Elkins says. “I also started a good relationship with many companies in the Upper Cumberland that all helped me get started.”
Through word of mouth, Elkins was soon known throughout the community as a hard-working contractor who took pride in his work. With that reputation as a foundation, he now has people coming to him, wanting to work for his company, he points out.
ELK MOUNTAIN CONSTRUCTION STAYS BUSY IN COOKEVILLE AREA
Today, Elk Mountain Construction works mainly in the Cookeville area, in the heart of middle Tennessee’s Upper Cumberland area. The company, which has its own in-house engineering staff, specializes in grading, sewer, and storm water projects, as well as demolition work. At one time, Elkins owned a rock quarry as well. “We sold the quarry to the Rogers Group,” he relates. “We still do their hauling, but 80 to 90 percent of our hauling now is for our own jobs.”
The firm has 45 employees, and typically has seven crews at work. “Our employees are like family,” Elkins comments. “Some of them have been with me for over twenty years, and some long-timers have just recently retired.” Elk Mountain has been headquartered in its current Cookeville office since 2002. Elkins’s crews did all their own sitework in preparation for the move to what was a former dump site.
One of the company’s longtime clients is Cookeville’s Tennessee Technological University, and one of Elkins’ biggest recent jobs was the University’s new Fitness Center. “That project had some challenges,” he reports. “We were limited to a certain number of days in which to complete the job before winter weather set in and the soil became too difficult to work with. Middle Tennessee has a lot of unstable, non-compactable soil, and a lot of rock.
The Fitness Center project, for which Elk Mountain hauled in 2,800 loads of dirt, was in close proximity to other University buildings and adjacent to busy 7th Street, he adds.
A STRONG RELATIONSHIP WITH THOMPSON MACHINERY
Elk Mountain Construction’s equipment fleet now includes over 125 machines, including 22 dump trucks and 40 Cat machines. “I always buy CAT – we have a very strong, personal relationship with Thompson Machinery. They have always treated me well, and treated me the same when I only had one piece of Cat equipment as they do today.
“Thompson’s parts and service are always excellent,” he continues. “They have even run a parts truck to my home in Gainesboro. That meant a lot to me, especially considering how small my company was and how big Thompson is – I didn’t have to go looking for parts. At Elk Mountain, we do our own maintenance, but utilize Thompson for our other service work.”
Elkins’ recent Cat machine purchases include a D6N dozer and a 330F hydraulic excavator; he is currently looking to add a compact track loader to his fleet. “We bought a D6N LGP for finish grading work,” he explains. “It’s wider, it’s got great features, and it doesn’t tear up the ground as much as other dozers.”
CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY HAS CHANGED SIGNIFICANTLY
Reflecting on all the industry changes he’s experienced in the past 30-plus years, Elkins comments, “When I started, there were no environmental issues to address; now, you have to have to get grading permits – it’s hard to even operate without in-house engineers. And in the old days, you’d keep a bag of quarters with you, and you knew where every pay phone in every town was, so you could stop and make the phone calls you needed to make.
“There is also a shrinking pool of operators and mechanics. People who are qualified to operate our machines today are also qualified to do other jobs that let them stay in an office.”
From humble beginnings as a one-man company with two used machines in its fleet, Elk Mountain Construction Company had grown to become one of middle Tennessee’s top choices for quality excavation and sitework services. “People seeing the quality of our work has led to other long-term relationships,” Donnie Elkins states. “And like us, Thompson Machinery believes in taking care of customers and employees. If you do that, everything works out, and you build long relationships and repeat business.”
To learn more about Elk Mountain Construction Company, visit elkmountainconstruction.com