How a city kid started Hamilton Equipment
Odds were stacked against a guy like me ever making it as a farm equipment marketer. But somehow it happened, thanks to the many farmers, dealers and manufacturers who had the patience to teach the brash young city kid the business.
I grew up in Pittsburgh in the 1920s and early 30s. My farm experience was limited to a few summers on nearby farms. In those days, college was a $300 a year bargain, and good jobs hard to get. So I worked my way through the University of Pittsburgh, taking engineering. Not ag-engineering, Civil. Somewhere along the line I knew sales was for me. And a farm equipment business looked like a natural, combining my two loves.
When I graduated, I thought I had the world by the tail. Translated in the lingo of the times, that was a $575 two-door Plymouth and $7,000 cash. Fortunately, no one told me my ideas wouldn’t work. Where should I establish this business? Lancaster County, I decided. I’d never been there. But it was the number one farm county east of the Mississippi. Then, as now. I headed east on the Lincoln Highway, one of the first great wonders of the twentieth century. I needed warehousing. And the city of Lancaster was my destination. But no luck. Not on my budget. I did better in Ephrata, renting a 4,000 square foot tobacco storage for $35 a month. It was 1938. Hamilton Equipment was born. At the end of 1938 it was barely breathing.
I still had $600 left when I started 1939. In those days, I’d leave home with $25 in my pocket, stay out all week and often arrive back in Ephrata Friday night with $5 and change. It was fun, and 1938 prospects became 1939 customers. My dad had come down from Pittsburgh after he retired and handled the office work. I stayed on the road. In 1941, I drove 62,000 miles in my new $700, 1940 Plymouth. In places like Shamokin, you could still get a clean bed and breakfast for $2 a night.
My first dealer was L.H. Brubaker in Strasburg, PA. Forty-five years later he stopped by to see me when I was in the Lancaster hospital. So did four of five others of those early customers. That says something about the kind of people that make this business great. What made Hamilton Equipment go was people – office people, salesmen, and most importantly, loyal customers. Everybody on the team.
Champion Irrigation was the first manufacturer I represented. Talking to customers, I soon learned that everything they ordered had to be shipped from the factory. That’s when Hamilton Equipment started building inventory. Today, we fill 92% of all orders right out of our Ephrata and Raphine warehouses.