Scape & Scrape: Working In Extreme Weather
Brian Fuller, who plows snow in the winter and landscapes in warmer months, loves hands-on labor, living on the farm and his prospects for future growth.
By Richard Banks | Photos By Rob Lagerstrom
His work runs the gamut. It’s hot, it’s freezing. It’s mind-numbingly tedious. It’s treacherous. It’s often overlooked, until he’s clearing the way for the rest of us who’d be stranded otherwise.
Brian Fuller plows snow and maintains right-of-ways, the kind of work that is often not seen and/or noticed by most of us. Throw in the work he does for local code enforcement and you have an industrious and diversified bundle of services that keeps him and up to 10 workers employed, and occasionally in harm’s way.
He and his crew, who primarily work for the city of Fort Collins, Colo., have encountered rattlesnakes, cars and trucks piloted by drivers who are texting, the occasional meth lab and steep hills. One of Fuller’s employees even encountered a homeless man asleep in the tall grass. “The homeless guy looks up and just didn’t move,” explains Fuller. “He almost got run over by the tractor. My guy had to drive around him.”
Fuller says he learned his love of hands-on labor and working outdoors when he helped manage the family farm near Cleveland, Ohio. The youngest of eight children, Fuller says he was his father’s right-hand man in helping to maintain a small herd of cattle, but at age 12, tragedy struck.
While the two were cutting wood, his father had a heart attack. “He fell in my arms and died,” Fuller remembers, pauses and repeats, “right there in my arms.” From that point on until he left home some 12 years later, it was the younger Fuller who managed the cattle.
“I guess, in one sense, it was work I had to do, but I loved farm life from the get-go.” He also didn’t mind work. When he was 13, he says, “I was up at 5 in the morning milking 80 head of cows for a farm down the road.”
Blazing His Own Trail
Later, as a young man exploring his options, one of his sisters, who worked a desk job, told him she was concerned about his longevity as a laborer. “She was kind of on me way back then saying, ‘You don’t want to do this your whole life. You know, it’s going to make you old … or you’re going to have a bad back.’
“I have none of that,” says Fuller with a wry smile. “I’m glad I took the route I did.”
The route Fuller did follow took him from Cleveland, where he was in management at a welding company to Fort Collins at age 24. “Met a girl in Arizona and that’s what got me [here], not knowing at the time that her parents lived in Colorado. Once I got here and I saw this place … ” he says, trailing off. “Well, I was hooked.”
He stayed for a week at Christmas break and in the process met the man who’d help him land his first business with the city of Fort Collins. That first contract was to help enforce code in the city, which, as home to Colorado State University and these days more than 30,000 students, has plenty of need for such work, says Fuller.
If you’re a city official and a resident doesn’t cut the lawn, who you gonna call? If they leave a fridge or couch in the yard, or that meth lab mentioned above in the alley, who you gonna … You get the idea. Fuller and his company, Fuller Landscaping, get the nod. The same goes for clearing snow for several of Fort Collins’ facilities, as well as maintaining right-of-ways on highways and interstate for the city and the state’s Department of Transportation.
Again, it’s that combination of services that keeps him and a variable number of employees busy throughout the year. It is, however, a fiercely competitive market in which he competes.
Future on the Front Range
Speaking of his competition, Fuller, who’s worked for Fort Collins now for some 20 years, says, “A lot of these guys come in, they low bid this stuff, these contracts, just to get their foot in the door. But they don’t know what it’s about, and … if you’re not making money, you know it takes about a year to two years and they’re gone.” According to Fuller, what they don’t account for are costs to hold onto quality employees, insurance and inspection of equipment, as well as the toll the work takes on that equipment.
“I go out and I buy good equipment,” says Fuller. “I spend the money. They come in with these old, old tractors—beat up and they’re broke down, and there’s no safety involved. That’s how they justify their lower rate … but it just doesn’t last.
“For me, to be able to do this 20 years later and still be in it really says something,” Fuller continues. And when asked what else differentiates his company from others in the business, he replies simply, “I think it’s me—I’m at almost every job site … and I think it’s my name. I’m using my last name as the name of the company.” When something’s not done right, it’s pretty obvious who’s responsible, he says.
As with his love of labor and working outdoors, Fuller’s upbringing on the family farm also shows in his approach to efficiency, or perhaps more to the point, his desire to let nothing go to waste. Accordingly, much of the grass he cuts on roadsides, as well as for a few landowners for whom he custom bales, goes to his cattle operation. The latter has included as many as 12 head, but he’s currently without any because a stillborn issue forced him to cull his herd.
That tough news notwithstanding, Fuller is content with life. He loves where he lives within the shadow of the famed Rocky Mountain Front Range. There with his wife and four children, they own 5 acres. The kids keep animals and in many ways enjoy the same pleasures of country living he did in Ohio.
In terms of business, he says, “I just signed another five-year contract with the city. That’ll make 25 years. I think that’s one of my biggest accomplishments [to] get in with a municipality of this size and have them just keep signing you because they’re happy with your work. It’s huge.”
Fuller is also optimistic about what’s around the bend. “The future looks really bright,” he says. “I think we’re only going to get bigger. Business, I think, is only going to grow here in the Front Range,” he says with a smile that brings the point home. “I have a pretty good outlook.”