When Hurricane Michael made landfall on October 7, 2018, it was only the fourth Category 5 hurricane to hit the contiguous United States — and the first to strike the Florida Panhandle. In Mexico Beach, Florida, entire neighborhoods were swept away, leaving only bare foundation slabs. Violent, 160-mph winds caused widespread destruction throughout Panama City, damaging or destroying homes, apartments, restaurants, gas stations, hotels, retail stores, and office buildings. Tyndall Air Force Base was devastated, with every structure sustaining wind damage and some completely destroyed.*

Firefighters are trained to rush toward emergencies instead of away from them. So it’s no surprise that when firefighter Josh Shumate, owner of TurfMasters in Madison, Alabama, was asked to help the people of Panama City, he answered the call. “Our pastor, Spencer Beach of Building Church, had a home there and knew families affected by the disaster. I told him that I had a John Deere 323D CTL (Compact Track Loader) and that my friend Zach Tate and I could bring the machine down there.”

Shumate needed a grapple to help clear out debris, so he approached his local John Deere dealer, TriGreen Equipment in Huntsville, Alabama. “My dealer contact, Doug Swaim, told me to swing by and pick one up. When I showed up, I was looking around for a used grapple, and he said, ‘No, just grab a new one. That’s the least we can do for those people down there. And let us know anything else we can do to help.’ That’s just the way they are. TriGreen always steps up.”

When he arrived in Panama City, Shumate couldn’t believe the devastation. “I had never seen destruction like that. I was overwhelmed. There were houses leveled and trees down as far as the eye could see. We pulled up to a house and couldn’t even get in the driveway. FEMA was there instructing people to pile up debris next to the right-of-way, so that’s what we did for three straight days. My 323D just never let up.”

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Shumate wishes they could have spent more time there, but with small children at home that wasn’t possible. “We’re grateful to our wives for allowing us to go. It was a humbling experience to see what those people were going through. I’m blessed to have my business and this equipment, and I’m glad we were able to make an impact in the time we were there.”

AT YOUR SERVICE
Shumate’s devotion to serving other people runs deep. “My parents have always instilled service and giving back, so I’ve always been passionate about helping others.” Since 2009, he’s worked as a full-time fireman for a fire department in North Alabama. “I had a roommate in college who was a volunteer fireman, so I gave it a try. I loved it and couldn’t get enough. When I had the opportunity to take a job as a full-time fireman, I jumped at it.”

Shumate’s parents also instilled his strong work ethic. At age 15 he started cutting grass for his father’s company, Classic Cut Lawncare. “All I wanted to do was ride our John Deere lawn mower. Looking back, Dad did all the hard work of trimming and edging — the things that really make a job look good. But he never complained.”

By the age of 17, Shumate was doing most of the work himself, with his dad helping him on weekends. After graduating college in 2008, he began building his lawncare business full time. “I still have some of the same customers we had when I was 15. If you do a good job and treat people fairly, you’ll hold onto customers and attract new ones. I’ve never really done any marketing. It’s all been through word of mouth.”

Since he joined the fire department in 2009, Shumate has worked 24 hours at the fire station, then has 48 hours off for lawncare work. “It was a challenge to find good help who could understand my schedule. So I decided to hire firefighters. They understand the lifestyle, and it has worked out great.”

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Today TurfMasters serves 60 regular lawncare customers. The company also offers brush-cutting and land-clearing services, and in the past two years has gotten into dirt work. “The economy in Huntsville is booming right now, with a lot of new construction, so my partner, Brandon Gibbs, and I thought it would be a good idea to expand. Brandon has done a great job attracting work from homeowners and a few larger builders. We rough in yards and driveways, the sort of jobs larger contractors tend to ignore. Now we’re able to work year round, including from December through March when we’re not doing lawncare.”

DOUBLE DOWN
Family comes first for Shumate, so on weekends he tries to take a day off if he’s not on duty at the fire station. That means he has to make the most of his time when he’s wearing his TurfMasters hat instead of his fireman’s helmet. Compact equipment helps him maximize efficiency.

The company currently runs a John Deere 331G CTL and a 50G Compact Excavator with buckets, brush cutter, and power rake attachments. “We’ve doubled down by putting both of these machines on worksites, and production has been fantastic. They are just absolute workhorses. By opening up more avenues to get business, they’ve taken us to another level.”

His Deere machines have been phenomenal, according to Shumate. But service and support is “where it’s at.” “Our dealer support from TriGreen is exceptional. That’s what you need to stay in business and a big reason I’ve continued to run John Deere.”

Like their dealer, Shumate and Gibbs are always glad to be of service. “Brandon is also a firefighter, so we like to help people, whether it’s clearing brush from a lot or doing fire and rescue work. I’m just happy to be able to serve the community. And call me crazy, but I love cutting grass, and I can run a trimmer all day long. It’s awesome to find a profession that you really enjoy doing.”