In the spring of 1983, when Levi Miller sold his dairy farm in southern Ohio and moved his family to a property six miles west of Millersburg, he never imagined the big things that would eventually take place. His son Lee, 14 at the time, remembers the shock he felt when his dad first mentioned the idea of selling the dairy farm and moving back to Holmes County. Lee understood the decision, however. He explains, “My dad was good at running a dairy farm. We had the best fields...the best cows, but it was just too hard for us to make a dollar.”
After the move, Levi acquired some hogs and cattle, and he got busy building the family homesite. Levi and Lee cut the timber from the property, using a tractor and an older dozer. Lee recalls that he pulled 50,000 feet of logs that summer. The tracks on the dozer became worn, and it couldn’t be used without repair. Levi found out that the repair would cost over $1,000, which seemed prohibitive. That’s when his “can-do” attitude and entrepreneurial spirit really kicked into gear.
Levi was determined that he should be able to fix the tracks himself, so in 1984 he took $3,000 out of the bank and built his own track press. Once he completed the repair of his own dozer, Paint Valley Repair was born and he started doing track repairs for others.
Levi and Lee worked long hours in a cold and dirty space, heated with a wood burner. Their perseverance paid off, as it wasn’t long before they started repairing things other than just tracks. It was at this time that Lee chose to try a different career path and left to take a job in construction in 1987.
Lee says his boss was a good leader whose guidance shaped his own management style. Lee returned to working for his dad at Paint Valley in 1990, and they have been in this together ever since.
By 1990, PVE was fixing all kinds of heavy equipment, anything from dozers to backhoes to excavators, especially older equipment. They were buying and selling used parts, and they were also buying old equipment, sometimes to sell the parts, and other times to fix the piece of equipment and resell it. The knowledge gained from all these efforts led to the next big development—1990 was the year that Paint Valley Repair began building their own new parts, and around 1992 the business name was changed to Paint Valley Equipment.
Levi and Lee recognized that certain used parts were in high demand. Levi began to reverse engineer those parts so that they could come up with plans to build them. Within a year, Lee was running the repair shop, and Levi was able to spend more time on engineering and building replacement parts. They knew they had to get their new parts into a national distribution chain. PVE already had a relationship with PSW in Cleveland, which agreed to stock PVE’s new track adjusters and put them into their distribution channel. It didn’t take long for those who bought these track adjusters to contact PVE directly about purchasing other parts. PVE’s national-level sales had begun.
The 1990s were boom years. In 1993, they realized they no longer had the time to repair outside equipment. At the same time that the new parts business was growing, heavy equipment sales were booming. Demand was high so they were buying semi-loads of used equipment out of Texas, Florida, and Ontario, Canada—even placing locators in those places to purchase equipment for them. They went from selling 8-10 machines a year to 140 units in 1996. PVE took pride in making every piece “work ready,” and their customers knew it.
Levi had traveled some over the years to buy equipment, but by the late 90s, Lee was doing all the buying and selling, and Levi was focusing solely on building new parts. In 2000, Lee became a partner and was excited about having “skin in the game” with his dad. Lee describes Levi: “As long as I can remember, he’s been the strongest, hardest working man I know, and he’s also incredibly intelligent.”
It’s not possible to talk about PVE’s history without paying tribute to the good people who worked day in and day out—the people who became the lifeblood of the company. The PVE team (12-14 people at the time) had a lot to be proud of when the year 2000 rolled around, but even knowing their success, they didn’t expect all that was yet to come! The rest of the story - “The Story of PVE: Part Two (2000-2019)” - will be published next month.« Back to Blog