A bright light in Hartland 8 months after the December tornado

Published 9:00 pm Friday, August 26, 2022

L&D Ag Service constructing new building on south end of town

HARTLAND — When an EF2 tornado swept through Hartland last December, Travis Routh, general manager and co-owner of L&D Ag Service, was at his own home not so far away from his business in the city. 

A friend called and told him that the buildings across from the company’s main shop and showroom on Broadway Street “were wrecked,” and he headed up to find out the damage of their building on that block that the company used as its manufacturing and welding department. 

Many overhead wires were down, and the alley on the back side of the building was full of rubble. Routh said they worked to shore up the building that night to make it theft-proof and rain-proof.

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The daylight the next morning brought new visibility of the damage in the community. Routh said the tornado essentially took a detached garage, threw that into a neighbor’s house and then it hit the buildings, peeling off most of the brick on the back sides and pulling off three-quarters of the building’s tin roof. 

Despite the damage, at first he thought the rest of the building could be saved.

“My thought the whole time was we’d have to put a roof on, a couple new overhead doors on and it would be fine,” he said. 

But county officials quickly told them the public would not be allowed to be in the building. They worked out of it for a short period and then emptied it and got out of it. He said the ceiling had started to separate and the walls started bowing. 

Instead of seeking to rebuild at the site, however, the company, which moved to Hartland in 1990, decided to construct a bigger building for its manufacturing and welding department on the south end of town, next to one of its other properties. 

Construction on the new building started earlier this summer, and the goal is for it to be complete by the end of the year. 

While their old building that they rented was 60-by-70 feet, the new space is 60-by-120 feet. 

Routh said the company moved the three to four employees who worked in the manufacturing department  to the former Rihm Kentworth building in Albert Lea to work there temporarily. 

He said the company lost about three to four weeks of production until it opened at the Albert Lea site, and he anticipates they will lose another three to four weeks when they move into the new building. 

While he looks forward to having the new energy efficient building, it was an unexpected expense that the company wasn’t prepared for. 

“The coverage we had basically covered repairing a building, not replacing a building in 2022 with current prices,” Routh said. 

Despite the negatives, he said he is proud to be able to support Hartland’s tax base with the new building and said steel will be able to be loaded and unloaded much easier and safer in the new structure. Semis will be able to pull in and out of it, and there will also be better overhead hoists for a safer working environment. 

He said he is grateful the tornado’s path that December day was narrow and that it did not damage their main building across the street. 

“It would have been way worse if it was 150 feet difference,” he said. “If it had been that, we would have had a tough time recovering.” 

Routh said the buildings on the block on Broadway Street are slated to be demolished and there are initial talks for new development in their place. 

Routh said he will remember how well the town came together after the tornado. 

He said L&D Ag Service has about 20 employees itself, and while some didn’t come in the days following because they had their own damage and they had three or four people working to answer the phones, the rest cleaned up their building and then went out to help in the community. 

Much of the debris was cleaned up in a matter of days.