Spearfish Husky owners reflect on business before closing

Joe and Jan Miller closed Spearfish Husky this week after more than 30 years of owning the small engine business. Pioneer photo by Kimberly Talcott

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SPEARFISH — Joe and Jan Miller closed Spearfish Husky Monday after owning the shop for more than 30 years.

The Spearfish Husky story begins in the forest of the Black Hills. After arriving in Spearfish in 1969 and attending Black Hills State College, Joe began his search for a job.

“The longer I went to school the more I realized there was a lot more to learn. I was not going to live long enough to learn it all, so I better find a job,” said Joe.

Joe found work in the woods with a log contractor, Ray Hansen. Joe said the loggers in the region wanted Husqvarna saws but they did not have a dealer in Spearfish. Hansen pursued becoming a dealer, started a shop in the Industrial Park in Spearfish, and named Joe as manager.

“I had to do a lot of onsite learning. I did not go to school for small engine maintenance. With the aid of books and willing older folks, asking a lot of questions, I learned,” said Joe.

A year later, the opportunity arose for Joe and his wife, Jan, to purchase Spearfish Husqvarna. The couple bought the business in June of 1987 and renamed it Spearfish Husky.  

The Miller’s added other machines to their business including lawn mowers, trimmers, and blowers. In addition to sales, Spearfish Husky also provided service on small engine machines. When the couple moved the business to its current Jackson St. location they added lawn tractors, snowblowers and outdoor power equipment. They initially rented the Jackson St. space and when the building was up for sale, they bought the building.

Joe said he added items to his inventory that he anticipated people would want and also items his customers requested. He typically had two employees and Jan worked as the Spearfish Husky bookkeeper.

“Dave Mielke has been our No. 1 hired man for 14 years,” said Jan. “People have appreciated his excellent mechanic work. He has helped us out a lot over the years.”

Throughout their decades in business, the Miller’s witnessed significant changes in small engine technology.

“The engines got more complicated and larger. Of late, they started putting computers in them, which nobody likes, but it’s going to be the way. Everybody will adjust to it and life will go on,” said Joe.

Another change Joe noted was the decrease in logging business. He estimated 90% of loggers now cut with hydraulic machines or tree harvesters, instead of saws. It is a change he noticed 20 years ago but said has increased in the last 10 years.

Jan said it also became harder to service older machines.

“Finding the numbers for the parts and cross referencing with the newer ones, it has been more difficult. The way the town of Spearfish is growing, it is too much to try and keep a mom and pop operation like us running.”

The Miller’s recognize the many repeat customers they have helped over the years.

“We hope there will be quality repair work available in Spearfish for our customers. They have been very loyal. We have appreciated their business,” said Jan.

After thinking of closing their business for a while, the Miller’s put a sign up in their building window to see if it could sell. It sold.

When asked about his plans for retirement, Joe said he is looking forward to two things: Cleaning his garage and fishing.

“It has been a long ride but it is time for me to quit. I want to live a few more years without having to go to work every day,” said Joe. “And I want to fish.”

But before he picks up his fishing pole, Joe left some parting advice for those tinkering with their small engine machines. He remembers working on an especially difficult lawn tractor that would not run. He followed his normal procedures, putting in a new spark plug, and checking the engine components.

“We had done everything you could to this engine, even changing some parts. The boys asked me what to do next. I said, we will just have to start over and put a new plug in. And it worked,” said Joe. “The lesson is: Never trust a spark plug.”

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