Member profile: 15 years in the trenches
By Brock Huffstutler

Member profile: 15 years in the trenches

Sometimes the most important work involving rental equipment happens in the muddy underground where you don’t always see the tools in action or progress made. Projects like water and sewer line work may be dirty jobs, but they are vital for a solid infrastructure and public health. In 2021, Contractor Solutions Trench Shoring celebrates 15 years of providing the supplies needed for projects like these across a five-state swath of the Midwest.

Des Moines, Iowa-based Contractor Solutions specializes in the underground safety industry, offering a wide array of aluminum and steel trench boxes — mechanisms designed to protect workers in a trench from the pressure and weight of soil in the event of a cave-in. The company’s primary customers are water/sewer contractors, plumbers, municipality workers and others who install underground pipes and utilities.

“I grew up in the construction industry and worked through college as a laborer in horizontal directional drilling,” says Dave Hehr, president of the company, who also serves as ARA of Iowa president. “I got into the construction rental industry selling and renting equipment early in my career for another rental company. I was able to gain knowledge in the trench shoring and underground rental industry where I specialized in trench boxes and trench safety. After getting out of the rental industry for a couple of years, I realized my passion for the equipment and sharing my expertise for trench safety with customers. It was a goal to own and build a successful business, and in 2006 I established Contractor Solutions.”

Contractor Solutions was launched out of a single job-site trailer with two employees on “a little piece of property in Des Moines,” Hehr says. Today, Contractor Solutions operates with a staff of 15 employees out of two locations — the main facility in Des Moines and a branch in Omaha, Neb.

Hehr learned early on that a large and varied inventory is needed to adequately cater to the trench shoring industry while meeting its strict safety standards.

“You can’t have just one size trench box; you have to have multiple sizes,” Hehr says. “We have over 100 trench boxes in stock, and one size doesn't fit every same excavation. That is why the vast and numerous sizes and other types of trench shoring are needed. Plumbers, municipalities and other companies that have lighter backhoes and mini excavators are going to rent the lighter-weight aluminum trench boxes. When you get into your big, open mainline sewer and water line excavations, you’re getting more into bigger track excavators and those will rent the bigger steel trench boxes. There are a lot of rules by OSHA [Occupational Safety and Health Administration] on what your shoring equipment has to be depending on the size of hole or excavation that the contractor is opening, so there’s a lot that goes into it. It is critical that the correct information is trained down to the customer. That’s why we carry so many different sizes of trench boxes, vertical hydraulic shoring, sheet piling, steel plates and slide rail shoring systems.”

Keeping an eye on OSHA requirements and the many other safety concerns associated with excavation work is a priority for Hehr. That is why he has taken an active role on the safety board of the National Utility Contractors Association (NUCA) of Iowa.

"Safety is big — making sure people use the correct equipment,” Hehr says. “It’s one thing having the equipment; it’s another being knowledgeable about it. We get excited about safety. NUCA has a ‘Trench Safety Stand Down’ every year in June. Last year, we went from job site to job site between Nebraska and Iowa to offer it as a free service. We handed out T-shirts and safety posters, and trained over 500 people in less than two weeks with trench safety and toolbox talks. In the winter months we also are very safety-focused and offer different training classes that companies can schedule, ranging from excavation competent person training, confined space training, OSHA 10-Hour, OSHA 30-Hour and others.”

In addition to its concentration on trench shoring services, Contractor Solutions has diversified to offer equipment and specialty in several other areas, including lift station pits, pipe and rotary lasers, submersible water pumps, crane equipment, steel sheet pile, steel road plates enabling motorists to drive over in-progress water/sewer construction, and site-specific engineering consultation.

“My value in Contractor Solutions is making it a one-stop shop for the underground excavation contractor,” Hehr says. “We’re successful because we listen to our customers’ needs. As a smaller company, we believe in taking care of the customer and helping them out. We can’t be profitable unless the customer is profitable. So, it gets me excited when we can help a customer be successful and profitable, and they acknowledge that. It’s not just a one-time rental. We’re building a relationship so the customer comes back and we can help them with their future jobs later on as they grow.”

Growth is exactly what is on tap for Contractor Solutions. Having exceeded capacity at their current facility in Des Moines, Hehr and his team will soon move into a new location that will provide them with more space as they look ahead to the next 15 years and beyond.

“We’re breaking ground this summer on a brand-new facility in Altoona, Iowa, for expansion in the Des Moines market,” Hehr says. “It will be a state-of-the-art facility with a built-in concrete trench and manhole that will be used for excavation and confined space training. We will expand into it this fall because we’ve outgrown the location where we’re at now. That’s really exciting.”

Brock Huffstutler

Brock HuffstutlerBrock Huffstutler

Brock Huffstutler is the regional news editor for Rental Management. He writes and edits articles for ARA’s In Your Region quarterly regional newsletters, Rental Management, Rental Pulse and other special projects. Outside of work, he enjoys biking and spending time at the few remaining vintage record stores in the region.

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