Former CSX workers build futures with own businesses

Sep. 2—ASHLAND — The closure of the CSX shops in Raceland was the end of an era, but signaled a new beginning for some, including three men who took advantage of the opportunity to start their own business: Perry Burke’s Sergeant Burke’s Equipment Repair, Kenny Diedrich’s Hammer and Mud and Blake Runnels’ Runnels Performance and Maintenance.

Sergeant Burke’s

Perry Burke, 35, has always had the knack for figuring out how things work, a bonus for his job in the United States Marine Crops as an F-18 mechanic.

The Boyd County native said that’s different from the heavy equipment he now works on.

“I’m self-taught,” he said. “I can learn easily by reading, so I can pick up a manual and read it and learn.”

His business focuses on industrial, construction and farm equipment service and repair, including skid steers, mini to large excavators, loaders, man lifts, material lifts like on and off road forklifts, bucket trucks, dozers, air compressors, generators and farm tractors.

“Pretty much anything with an industrial engine in it,” he said, noting he can work at his shop or on the job site, but he doesn’t make roadside calls.

After leaving CSX, he worked for John Deere for a couple of years and at United Rentals before opening his own business in May this year.

“I’ve been at it full time since August,” he said. “I took a vacation in July because I knew I’d be busy.”

That’s because he is one of the few, perhaps only, independent businesses that serve heavy machinery. He said that’s an iffy proposition.

“You can call one of the bigger companies around here, and you might get a good mechanic or you might get a brand new guy, and it’s expensive,” Burke said, noting he could do the same work he had been doing but doing it for his own business.

Because mobile mechanic is one of the top 30 most dangerous jobs, Burke said he keeps safety in mind at all times.

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He also offers electronic diagnosis on diesel engines.

He said he plans to hire another mechanic at some point.

Sergeant Burke’s is at 18351 Bear Creek Road in Catlettsburg.

For more information, call or text Burke at (606) 585-2681.

Runnels Performance and Maintenance

When the CSX shops in Russell closed in the spring of 2019, Blake Runnels decided to make what had been side jobs a business of his own.

Runnels Performance and Maintenance, a heavy truck and fleet service and repair, is at 1515 Wollohan Drive. The 36-year-old said he travels to the location of the vehicle or vehicles, to as far away as Portsmouth and Barboursville.

“It saves a towing bill, and heavy equipment towing isn’t cheap,” he said, noting it’s usually about $500 plus mileage.

He said he likes the control he has by working for himself.

“A little bit of it is having your own schedule,” he said. “You get to make the final call on things.”

He said he got a taste of owning a business when his father, Paul Runnels, owned The Chimney Corner, so he also was familiar with the responsibilities.

He said he believes he’s filling a need in the area.

“There are not a lot of fleet services out there, until you get to Huntington or up to the national level,” he said. “They usually deal with large fleet accounts. There’s not a ton of fleet management companies in the area who are going out and finding the small fleets.”

One problem he faces is convincing people to spend money to maintain their vehicles.

“People hate spending money on a vehicle, but in a fleet perspective, you have to look at it as almost another employee,” Runnels said. “You have to keep up the vehicles so you can keep making money. Over the long run, just changing small stuff will pay off big. A lot of fleet vehicles never stop moving.”

He said he has one full-time employee and one part-timer who soon will become full time. He plans to hire a bookkeeper next.

“I want to grow it and expand it. I fee like there’s work out there to get, but I don’t have the manpower to do it right now.”

For more information, call Runnels at (606) 465-7785.

Hammer & Mud

Kenny Diedrich, owner of Hammer & Mud, said his Ashland-based handyman service started by offering drywall mudding, taping and plaster repair, but now does a wide variety of remodeling.

Diedrich, 51, opened Hammer & Mud last year.

“I kind of dabbled in it at first and wondered if there’s an opportunity there, and it took off,” he said, noting he worked at the Huntington shop, too, but was laid off. That’s when he got serious about his own business.

The Air Force veteran said when he was doing mud work, getting work was easy.

“Nobody wanted to do that, it’s very demanding and physical, so at that time I could write my own check,” Diedrich said.

Now, he has a helper in his nephew, Josh Salisbury.

“Josh had just gotten laid off and was working a job he didn’t like, and I invited him to try it out,” he said. “He joined me and we haven’t looked back since.”

That’s when they decided to expand the business to include repair and interior remodeling. Salisbury serves as project manager, covering estimates and scheduling, while Diedrich does paperwork. The business employs a total of four.

“Hopefully, it will be his when I retire,” he said.

Originally Appeared Here