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A John Deere 470G LC Excavator is moving a bucket full of dirt from a lagoon to be dumped into a 410E-II Articulated Dump Truck.

A John Deere 470G LC Excavator and a 410E‑II Articulated Dump Truck work together restoring a lagoon in southern California.

Spring 2023

Leaving a Legacy


One company’s mission to reshape California’s coast and its future

Clock Icon 8 MIN READ

In the midst of a sizable restoration project on the California coastline, Marathon Construction Corporation Owner Mike Furby must keep a careful eye on the job’s myriad details and deadlines.

Such projects, which have become a calling card for the San Diego contractor, present a wide array of challenges. In addition to navigating the complicated terrain of the coastline, Marathon Construction must also maneuver strict governmental regulations and consult with nearly a dozen participating agencies.

Even so, Furby stops a moment to take in the beauty of his surroundings. “Who wouldn’t want to be here on the coast?” he asks, pausing to let the question sink in. “Who wouldn’t want to work by the ocean?” With breathtaking views of the Pacific, it’s easy to see why Furby is enamored with the moment. And even more about what lies ahead.

Marathon Construction is restoring the lagoon, an effort that requires moving and reshaping major chunks of land, in hopes of improving water quality and creating new habitats for protected and endangered species, including a variety of birds and fish. These projects are augmented with recreational components like walking paths and bike trails for area residents. To Furby, these benefits provide ample motivation as the complicated project unfolds.

“These are projects that leave a legacy,” he says, looking down the coast with a hopeful gaze. “When you see the flora and fauna that come into the lagoon after we’re done, and you watch the use it gets from the general public, it makes you really proud. And this land is protected, so we know it is going to stay this way for generations to come.”

Tricks of the trade

With nearly a half-century of experience under its belt, Marathon Construction has emerged as a reliable leader for projects just like this. San Diego County is home to a half-dozen coastal lagoons that provide breathing room between municipalities and open space to enjoy ocean views.

Such undertakings do not come together easily. Furby estimates that the project at hand spent roughly 15 years on the drafting table before restoration work officially got underway. In California’s strict regulatory atmosphere, Marathon Construction must work with anywhere from seven to ten resource agencies that have skin in the game. Over time, however, the company has developed a brain trust of workers with decades of experience in such matters.

Furby views RDO® Equipment Co., his John Deere dealership, as an extension of that trusted team. “We have very similar philosophies. They value working together as a team, they’re responsive, they have integrity, and they’re all about customer service. Those are Marathon Construction’s noble features, too. Those are our core values.”

Pond-restoration work throws plenty of curveballs at contractors, a reality that is all too familiar to Jon Ruth, Marathon Construction’s chief operations officer. He explains that the soft soils can frequently pose major challenges to earthmoving equipment. “We keep a very close eye on how well the equipment performs and how consistently,” he says. “And Deere, in these types of environments, has proven to us over the years that it can consistently get the job done.”

Project conditions are further complicated by corrosive saltwater, which can lead to rusting issues and cause broken fittings and hoses.

“Minimizing downtime is critical in this line of business,” Ruth says, nodding emphatically to hammer home the point. “And the service they provide to us is top-notch. If we ever have a machine go down, we get same day service to address it.”

Ahead of the curve

Decades of work in California have taught Furby a few lessons about how the state operates, and it’s given him insights into where it’s headed next.

“The state of California is the leader when it comes to greenhouse gas and climate action, and it is leading the way on the implementation of electric equipment and electric vehicles,” Furby says. “I think we’re going to see an industry that transforms from carbon-emitting machinery to electric machinery. And from what I’ve seen, it looks like John Deere is on the cutting edge of that.”

Furby got a glimpse at a new generation of earthmoving equipment when he demoed the 850 X‑Tier Dozer, John Deere’s first diesel-electric dozer to hit the market. As he moves material around the site, Furby emphasizes that, while the machine isn’t fully electric, the hybrid solution emits less carbon than a traditional dozer and meshes perfectly with the goals and objectives of the lagoon restoration as a whole.

“We would definitely use it on a project like this,” Furby says, looking across the jobsite. “It’s all about emissions, right? So, if we can reduce that carbon footprint, we’re doing our jobs.”


The fire still burns

When Furby pauses to contemplate the arc of Marathon Construction, his thoughts circle back to the concept of family.

He emphasizes that the camaraderie and trust between longtime employees is the true source of the “magic” that keeps things moving forward.

In the same breath, however, he emphasizes that the company can never become satisfied or rest on its laurels.

“We’re not complacent,” he says, gesturing forcefully to bring the point home. “Complacency will kill a company. We stay engaged. We stay focused on getting the job done and being responsive. And that’s what keeps the fire going in me.”

Employees like Ceifus Johnson, foreman superintendent for Marathon Construction, bring that philosophy to life. Johnson first started operating machines when he was just nine years old, running small dozers for is uncle’s operation in Northern California. He followed that passion into adulthood, ultimately landing a job with Marathon Construction in San Diego. Johnson emphasizes that he continues to learn new things each day on the jobsite.

“All projects are a puzzle to me,” he says. “There’s a lot of different parts that you’ve got to put together, and they all coincide with each other to make the finished project. Every project is not exactly the same, so once you’re in the seat you have to be ready — and you have to adjust to the conditions of the project.”

With his emphasis on adaptability and continued improvement, Johnson feels a sense of kinship with the machines he operates. New technologies like integrated GPS systems have changed the way he works, adding a higher level of precision. “John Deere equipment has gotten 110-percent better over the years, just in terms of the quality and the horsepower it brings to any project,” Johnson says.

As crews reshape the land on the doorstep of the Pacific Ocean, Ruth lists the possible pitfalls that could derail a restoration project like this: Everything from the composition of the soil to the rigorous agency regulations represents hurdles that must be cleared. But he knows Marathon Construction was built for the long haul, equipped with the endurance and perseverance reflected in its name.

No matter how bad it gets or how tough it is, don’t stop,” Ruth says. “Don’t give up. That’s when you
lose. Keep working towards your goals. Keep your head down and your feet moving.”

Marathon Construction Corporation is serviced by RDO® Equipment Co., Lakeside, California.

Clockwise from top. Marathon Construction Corporation is restoring lagoons like this along California’s coast in hopes of improving water quality and creating new wildlife habitats. Dave Cunningham directs the operator of a John Deere 850L Dozer near the lagoon in San Diego, California. Brian Stephenson walks past a John Deere 850 X‑Tier E‑Drive Dozer and a 410E‑II Articulated Dump Truck at the end of his shift. Rafael Vaca, an operator for Marathon Construction, stands in front of a John Deere 850 X‑Tier E‑Drive Dozer as a pair 410E‑II Articulated Dump Trucks work in the background. Michelle Teems of Marathon Construction operates a John Deere 410E‑II Articulated Dump Truck.

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