July 18 2009 12:00 AM

Brothers Don and Dave Hendrickson were exposed to the irrigation business at a very early age. Growing up in Corona, California, their means to extra income was tending to the orange groves owned by their father, Bill, and keeping those groves properly watered. They didn’t know it at the time, but this line of work was to be their calling.

Hendrickson Bros. was the name of their father’s company. He had started the business in 1942 with his brother, Bob, and successfully ran it for decades. Funny how half a century later the company would be run by a new generation of Hendrickson brothers. This company would come to be a premier manufacturer of irrigation products, but the first incarnation of Hendrickson Bros. served only the orange and citrus industry, applying pesticides, insecticide s and pl ant growth regulators to their clients’ orange groves to ensure healthy crops.

“It was always my goal to get involved in the business with my father,” explains Don Hendrickson. Today, he and his brother run the business together. Don is in charge of sales and administration, while Dave works as the product and equipment manager.

Both brothers are naturally softspoken, but Don is especially modest. It’s obvious he takes great pride in what he does, but talking about his work is an obvious strain for him. He’s the type of person who’d rather be on the phone with customers than explaining his role in the irrigation industry.

“It was a family business, and our father encouraged both of us to study and get involved in it,” he continues. “So throughout high school, we’d both help out.” The brothers were introduced to all aspects of taking care of a grove. This provided them with a solid agricultural background, although they were able to learn about irrigation as well. “Wed do a lot of spraying and we learned a thing or two about drip, but neither of us realized that we’d be going into the irrigation business later on down the line.” Both Dave and Don went to school at Cal Poly Pomona. Dave studied citrus production for a couple of years but never graduated, while Don earned his degree in agricultural biology in 1965. Upon graduating, Don promptly entered the agricultural industry, working at Willits Newcomb, a citrus nursery in Thermal, California. There, Don conducted research on citrus varieties and diseases, learning much about citriculture all over the world.

“It was a world-renowned nursery, so it was very interesting to talk to different professionals from many other countries,” says Don. He continued to work there for four years, until Willits Newcomb was sold off. Following the sale of the company, he worked as an irrigation and agricultural consultant for a couple of years for the citrus and almond industry. After that, he went to work for the County of Riverside in California as an agricultural inspector, keeping a watchful eye for insects that were coming into the area.

In 1972, Bob Hendrickson retired from Hendrickson Bros. With his uncle out of the family business, Don’s father asked him to join the company. Don accepted, and the two of them set to work. Times were tough, however, and the business was struggling. Eventually, Bill Hendrickson decided that if his company was to survive, it would have to refocus its efforts.

“Pesticides were becoming a stigma in the industry,” says Don. “Nobody wanted anything to do with them anymore because of their effect on the environment. My father could see the writing on the wall, so he came up to me one day and said, ‘Hey, I think we ought to change and get into irrigation.’ And so we did.”

The two set about transitioning Hendrickson Bros. into an irrigation supply company. They began by developing a drip irrigation kit, along with a line of flow controls and pressure regulators to sell to larger manufacturing companies. They also started selling irrigation products directly to the citrus growers, and performing installations. The transition was easy; they already had a customer base that required irrigation systems, so it was simply a matter of marketing new irrigation components to the same people they had been working with for years.

After about a year into the development of the drip kit, Don and Bill decided it wasn’t going to fly. “We discontinued making the kits,” says Don, “but other people started coming up to us and asking if they could buy parts from us.” At this point, they were having more success in irrigation than they were with insecticides, so in 1982, they sold all of their chemical equipment and set their sights entirely on irrigation.

Dave was out managing orange groves in Riverside County while Don was busy assisting with the family business. In 1985, Dave joined Hendrickson Bros. parttime, assisting wherever he could. By 1996, he decided he needed a change. “There were so many issues within the citrus industry with water prices and fruit sizes, and the growers were no longer making any money,” says Dave. “Citrus didn’t seem like a very bright future. However, Hendrickson Bros. was growing and was in need of an extra hand. My dad was getting older and couldn’t help out like he used to, so I joined fulltime.”

Dave’s role as product manager involves making sure the molds for the irrigation equipment are built properly. He’s also in charge of any repairs that need to be made. He adds, “I’m definitely happy with the change. I like what I’m doing.”

When not working, Don and Dave enjoy braving the great outdoors, going on camping trips and bird-watching forays. Don goes out with his wife regularly for square dancing lessons and is the proud grandfather of two granddaughters. Dave is happily married and has one daughter.

Like any other company, Hendrickson Bros. has its ups and downs, but at the end of the day, both brothers go home feeling good about what they do. Says Dave, “We’re struggling just like everyone else is right now, but we’ve got a great company here and we couldn’t be happier.”