On Record: Hall of Fame reading

As the days start to shorten, I wanted to tell you about two recent books to put aside for the winter downtime ahead – in full recognition the term “downtime” is now a relative term.

These books appeal to me because I’m an admitted history buff, but I’m recommending them to you because I know you enjoy discovering how things work – in particular, the thought processes behind the innovations we’ve built this industry upon. Both books are celebrations of 2008 company anniversaries: Bobcat’s 50th and Vermeer’s 60th.

These are more than just dry incantations of what-happened-when. And they take entirely different approaches. Bobcat’s “Fifty Years of Opportunity 1958-2008” centers on company milestones, and was a labor of love for Leroy Anderson, marketing communications manager and company historian. Vermeer’s “In Search of a Better Way: The Lives and Legacies of Gary and Matilda Vermeer” is divided between company and family history, with an emphasis on the personal faith that still undergirds the family-run company.

Perhaps it’s because both companies are so firmly grounded in success they can take a wry look at their mistakes – thus providing some of the most interesting copy. For Vermeer, those failures included a barn cleaner, street sweeper and an early circle trencher. In Bobcat’s corner, they talk about a “tree monkey” delimber attachment prototype they couldn’t get down from a power pole, and a snow blower that only operated well in one type of snow.
But as Gary Vermeer put it, “If 50 percent of your ideas don’t fail, you’re not doing enough.”

It’s that spirit that put Vermeer and Louis and Cyril Keller, co-inventors of the Bobcat skid steer, into the Construction Equipment Hall of Fame. Now, after several years in hiatus, the Hall of Fame is once again in operation, sponsored by the Association of Equipment Manufacturers. AEM will induct a new Hall of Fame class, announced later this fall, at its annual meeting in November.

As these two books illustrate, the new Construction Equipment Hall of Fame inductees will have broad shoulders to stand upon. The execution of a great idea is always tempered by failure. These men showed how much they learned by each failure and persevered until their products became what Vermeer calls “a better way.” And now these “better ways” populate our working fleets – legacies that will in turn have their own successors.

Construction Equipment Hall of Fame members (with original companies)
Joseph C. Bamford, JCB
H. Ashley and Harry H. Barber, Barber Greene
Daniel Best, Best Manufacturing
J. Don Brock, Astec Industries
Edward D. Etnyre, E.D. Etnyre & Company
William D. Ewart, Link Belt Machinery
Gary L. Godbersen, GOMaACO
William B. Greene, Barber Greene
John L. Grove, Grove Manufacturing
Howard Hall, Iowa Manufacturing
Henry Harnischfeger, Harnischfeger
John N. Heltzel, Heltzel Steel Form & Iron
Benjamin Holt, Holt Manufacturing
Frank G. Hough, Frank G. Hough Company
Simon Ingersoll, Ingersoll Rand
Charles S. Johnson, C.S. Johnson
Louis and Cyril Keller, Melroe Bobcat
Clarence E. Killebrew, Clark Equipment
R. G. LeTourneau, LeTourneau
Ed Malzahn, Charles Machine Works
Richard D. Messinger, Power Curbers
William G. Mulligan, Ingersoll Rand
William S. Otis
(inventor of the steam shovel)
Thomas L. Smith, Telsmith
Robert Studebaker, Laserplane
Charles F. Swigert, Electric Steel Foundary
G.W. “Bill” Swisher, Jr., CMI
Gary J. Vermeer, Vermeer Manufacturing
Reinhard Wirtgen, Wirtgen