It all started with a pig. The pig, a gift from his father, was fed to market weight and then sold.
Most kids his age would have spent the money on foolishness, but the young Kevin Hruska sunk his newfound wealth into a router and woodworking tools.
With the router, he then made a tidy profit making signs for all the neighbouring farms at $5 each.
As he grew older, his inventions and manufacturing projects grew in size and complexity.
By age 13, he began churning out electric chicken pluckers, eventually selling dozens of handsome, hand-painted units, earning a few thousand dollars each winter working in the farm workshop.
“If there was any organization that steered me in a good direction, I would have to say it was 4-H. School was never a good experience for me. I truly enjoyed 4-H and think it is kind of underrated,” said Hruska, 45, in a presentation filled with humorous anecdotes at the recent Manitoba Ag Days.
He currently operates Bridgeview Manufacturing and the family farm, which has grown from three quarter sections to a 35,000-acre operation near Esterhazy, Saskatchewan.
Participating in a wide range of 4-H programs, from Outdoorsman, Automotive, Beef , Carpent ry, Welding helped him find out what he liked doing and what he did well.
“I had trouble focusing in school. I always wanted to run home and be with my father out there farming, doing chores or whatever he was doing,”
he said. “I couldn’t spell, and it seemed like everything in school relied on spelling.”
FLUNKED IN SCHOOL
He flunked the fourth grade, and an aptitude test administered by the school declared that he had the intelligence of a Grade 1 student.
Despite the academic setbacks, his success in practical matters roared along. He raised a 4-H steer and sold it, then got his hands on a heifer. From that first animal, he built up his own herd by trading his father a bull calf for a heifer. In this way, he came to own half the herd.
“My father and mother always knew I was going to be a farmer. They promoted farm-d
FRoM sMaLL beGinninGs: Kevin Hruska’s success is a testament to 4-H, perseverance and parents who encouraged him to farm.
“My farm was built during a recession, with wheat at $2.50 a bushel or whatever. But I didn’t
know any different. I don’t think there’s
anything wrong with a recession so long as you
don’t participate in it.”
– kevin hruska
ing and weren’t negative about it. They never said that there was a better life out there someplace,” he said, noting that his grandfather had given his father the farm, with the “old-fashioned” understanding that it would be passed on in turn to his own son.
At the same time, his inventing ambitions continued to grow. At 16, he put his 4-H welding skills to work building a harrow bar for his uncle, which he noted is still in use today.
“A light came on at that time,” he said. “I really loved doing that and it was as much as a hobby as anything.”
GROWING THE FARM
Hruska knew that the farm’s limited resources meant that if he was to grow the operation, he would have to generate the necessary capital by manufacturing. By 17, he was renting 60 acres and bought three quarters of land, which he paid for by putting pigs in every building on the farm and getting his father to look after them.
“I was so proud, I went to the elevator with my first load of wheat. But they wouldn’t take it. I was only 17 and you had to be 18 to get a damn permit book. My first load of wheat and I had to get help selling it. Now I’m still getting help selling my wheat,” he said, to chuckles from the audience.
After quitt ing school in Grade 10, he began manufacturing trailers, drill carriers – anything that he could – under the name Bridgeview Ironworks in the farm’s workshop. To handle the paperwork, he hired his first employee. The man, who started at 16, continues to work in research and development for Hruska to this day.
The farm grew quarter by quarter, and combine by combine. His skill at repairing machinery allowed him to get every last cent of value out of his equipment before he had to replace it.
“My farm was built during a recession, with wheat at $2.50 a bushel or whatever. I didn’t know any different. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a recession so long as you don’t participate in it,” he said.
“All that time, I was just doing it because I loved it. I didn’t have a real big, in-depth business plan of where I wanted to go or what I wanted to be.”
By 1990, he married his wife Pauline, built his own house, and started making grain hopper cones. As rows of grain storage bins, equipment and manufacturing space began filling up the yard, his father looked on in wonderment.
“He was scratching his head. He didn’t know what the hell was going on,” said Hruska, with a laugh.
“I remember him saying to me, “Are you going to take me down with you!’ I said, Dad, you’ve got to lend me some money for me to do that. He said, ‘Oh. Well, OK then.’”
Hruska credits his success to a good relationship with his father, who gave him the space he needed to work on his own ideas and projects.
“We were never really partners. What he did for me was to not stand in my way,” said Hruska. [email protected]