A $100 and a Dream, Yoder Builds a Successful Saw Business
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By Emily Bontrager
When Levi Yoder left home at the age of 18, all he had in his pocket was $100. Through hard work and determination, Levi took that $100 and pursued his dreams. Now, many years later, Levi owns a successful saw maintenance and repair business in Clark County, Missouri called Yoder Saws Inc.
Levi was born in Hazleton, Iowa and raised in the Amish community. His family moved from Iowa to Wisconsin when he was four years old and they moved around a lot over the years.
When Levi turned 18 years old, he decided to leave the Amish community and go out on his own.
“I get the story all the time about people who didn’t have a chance or an opportunity. When I was 18 years old, I had $100 to my name,” Levi said.
With that $100, Levi hired a driver to take him to his first job away from home.
Showing up broke to his first job, the first thing that Levi asked his new employers was can I borrow some money for food.
Fortunately for Levi, his new place of employment was a sawmill that was owned by his brothers Wayne and Enos and they loaned him the money.
Enos and Wayne also paid for Levi’s schooling so he could learn how to maintain and repair saws, which is what his own business provides for its customers today.
After working for about a year at the sawmill, Levi decided to take a chance at riding bulls, which was always a dream of his. On July 4th, 1996 he went to a rodeo with his cousin in Wisconsin.
“We were sitting in the stands and the guy goes out and wins the bull ride. He had his victory lap, and the crowds were going crazy. I said, ‘That’s going to be me someday,’ and my cousin laughed at me and said, ‘Yeah, right!’” Levi said.
Levi made up his mind right there that he was going to be a bull rider. He asked around for help and eventually ended up with a number for the pro rodeo and his career began.
In September of 1996, when he was just 20 years old, Levi rode his first bull. That night he won his first prize check.
That winter, Levi moved to Kansas and he participated in as many local rodeos as he could. He also ended up riding in a lot of Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) rodeos.
“The following 4th of July, I went back to Wisconsin to that same rodeo and won,” Levi recalled.
Through rodeo, Levi was able to compete in many states including Wyoming, South Dakota, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, and Louisiana.
Closer to the end of his bull riding career, Levi decided to move from Kansas to Southern Missouri and he started working with saws again.
“I started doing saw work when I was 19, and it seemed like that was what I always fell back to,” Levi said.
“A guy was selling sawmill equipment and he was selling band saw rigs. He needed somebody to do the saws, so he started a shop and hired me.”
The saw shop was located in Ellsinore, Missouri. Levi worked there for three years and in February of 2005, he broke his femur riding a bull. At the age of 29, Levi decided that he was done riding bulls.
“It’s not that I wasn’t any good at it, but I was tired of being hurt all the time,” Levi said.
“It’s a very dangerous sport.”
In 2005, Levi decided to move to Clark County, Missouri. He had been in the area before with his good friend Eric Hopp and he loved the county and the people. This also gave him the opportunity to be closer to his family, who had moved back to Iowa.
“My entire life I had been a mover, whether it was at home or with my parents we moved all the time. When I became an adult, I was either moving for a job or for rodeo, so I decided to quit the saw shop and pick where I wanted to live,” Levi said.
When Levi started to heal from his broken femur, he started looking for work around the area.
“I found a job in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa at Batey Limited doing their saws for them,” Levi said.
In 2007, Levi married Lesley Scholz and they bought a house together. The house came with a shed and Levi thought he could start working on other people’s saws to bring in some extra money.
“2008 was when I really started doing saws at home. It was just a machine shed,” Levi said.
The machine shed was a 50×40 structure with no insulation or walls. This is where Yoder Saws Inc. was born.
Using their tax return money, Levi purchased their first grinder to start the business up. He then worked in the evenings in the shop and was busy enough that he stopped working at Batey Limited.
“We had people calling and wanting to know if I could do their saws. The question was, ‘Do we want more and build a big business out of this or not?’” Levi said.
Levi and Lesley decided they wanted to take on more work and the business started growing. Levi hired one helper at first. He then hired Keith Whitaker and later Travis Sturm, who still work for him today.
For Levi, it was nice to have the business at home, because he was able to work in the shed and spend time with his wife and three daughters Morgan, Laine, and Amanda. But as the business grew, it became more hectic.
“You never got away from work,” Levi stated.
“Lesley pushed to move it to town, but I didn’t want to because I wanted it close to home.”
Levi and Lesley tried to find land close to where they lived north of Kahoka, but nothing was available.
“One day we pulled into here and Michael Phillips was working on a combine head. We had been in town looking at lots and we told him what we were doing, and he said ‘Hey, I’ll sell you guys a piece of this,’” Levi said.
Levi and Lesley bought the piece of land and built the Yoder Saw Inc. building in 2017. Later as the business grew, they added on.
“I can honestly say that that was the best thing to ever happen as far as the stress level for the business,” Levi admitted.
“I can come here and come to work as long as I want to, but as soon as I pull out of that driveway, it stays here.”
Currently, Yoder Saw Inc. employs nine people.
“My biggest goal with my guys is to make them feel like they are part of something,” Levi said.
“You don’t grow a business by yourself. Your crew and people do that with you.”
The saw shop is located at 23422 East Main St. next to the Clark County Fairgrounds outside of Kahoka. In 2021, Levi bought Lesley’s portion of the business after they got a divorce. He is now the sole owner of Yoder Saws Inc.
The saw shop primarily provides sharpening for wide band saws, but the business also takes care of other types of saws too.
“The wide bands are our bread and butter, but we also do some other stuff like table saws, skill saws, and edger saws,” Levi explained.
Using a rotation method, Yoder Saws takes a box of sharp saw blades to the customers and trades it with a box of dull saw blades.
The saw shop has a wide range of customers in many states, including Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Indiana, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Kansas, Michigan, North Carolina, and New York.
Levi’s main goal for his business is to treat his customers and employees fairly.
“That matters to me more than anything else. To be fair and honest to people,” Levi said.
From experience, Levi knows that it is not easy to start up a business.
“My advice for someone wanting to start their own business is don’t. Go work for somebody else. There is a lot less stress and more money if you work for somebody else,” Levi said.
“If you are dumb enough to start your own business, don’t expect results. There is a growing period, and most businesses go five years before they see any profit at all. It is a commitment. Try to grow into what you want instead of borrowing or buying into what you want.”
Levi knows that the hardships he went through in life molded him into who he is today.
He also credits his parents, Wayne and Amanda Yoder, for teaching him about having a good work ethic and how to stay committed to a job. Without them and the other people who helped him over the years, Levi would not be where he is today.
Starting with $100 in his pocket, a dream, and the drive to work, Levi ended up creating a successful business in his local community. His story shows others that hard work and determination can help make your dreams become a reality.