Pioneer Equipment manufactured quality horse-drawn equipment for over forty years, a leader in equipment innovation and safety for farmers and their horses before selling their product lines in December of 2022.
A brief history of Pioneer Equipment Inc.
After World War II, until the early 70’s, horse drawn equipment was available for dimes on the dollar throughout the Midwest. Tractor farmers discarded the old machinery or parked it in fence rows. These old relics were viewed as part of a bygone era.
By the late 70’s the need for new horse drawn equipment, especially plows, became more real as old plows were wearing out beyond repair. Spare parts were scarce and often very expensive.
During this period our father, Wayne Wengerd, along with our grandfather, Henry Wengerd, did their own repair work and made eveners and neckyokes for use on the farm.
In the summer of 1976 when the Wengerds needed a new walking plow they decided to build their own because manufacturers like John Deere and McCormick quit building them decades earlier. They questioned if the newer raydex plow bottom would work on a Walking Plow. They took a bottom off an old Ford Sulky Plow and attached a beam and handles. The first test run was made behind a hill to save embarrassment from the neighbors. After numerous improvements the plow performed satisfactorily. The neighbors still found out and asked the Wengerds to build plows for them.
Most of the plow parts were manufactured in the small farm shop. However, they lacked the proper tools to cut plow beams and machine the spindles and bushings. At this time Wayne was still working at J. Horst Machine, a local metal fab shop, and was able to do the necessary machining and fabrication at this location.
The first run of plows was sold in the spring of 1977; twenty five each of Walking Plows and Sulky Plows. These were sold to farmers in Holmes County and the surrounding area.
In September of 1978, Wayne quit his job at a local metal fab shop and officially opened his business under the name “Wengerd’s Machine Shop.” The same year a 40 x 72 shop building was erected for the new business.
“We decided to build the shop large enough that we will never run out of space,” Wayne recalls. Henry opted to keep farming the 150 acre family farm, and a neighboring 115 acre farm, rather than becoming a partner in the business.
Other family members helped in the business during their spare time. When Henry passed the farm on to the next generation, he worked in the business full time until a few months before he passed away in March of 2007.
Wayne hired his first full time employee, Emery Yoder, in the summer of ’79. New products, services and more employees were added as time went on.
Spring and spike tooth harrows were added the following years. The first steel wheel was made in March of 1983. Wagon gears and forecarts came on board in the mid and late 80’s. Small express wagons were a vital part of the business during this period.
In 1986 a corporation was formed, and the business name was changed to Pioneer Equipment Inc. Wayne felt the need to have a logo and brand to go with the new name. His youngest brother Henry Jr. had artistic talent and provided the skills in developing the original widely recognized Pioneer logo.
Like any business, time brings change and new challenges. The business and the Wengerd family continued to grow. The twelve children outgrew the house and barn and 2 acres where the business was located. New product lines and additional employees created a need for more elbow room.
In October of 1992 the Wengerd family purchased the 57 acre farm 1-1/2 miles from the business. A new 145 x 200 steel framed shop was built in 1994. Another one of Wayne’s younger brothers, Leon, provided the skills for plumbing the air and hydraulic system, and machine setup at the new facility. The business moved to the new location in February of 1995. The machining and wheel department continued in the old facility until the fall of 1997 when the move was finally complete.
A new barn was constructed at the new property during the summer of 1998. An employee section at the west end served for employees coming to work with horse and buggy.
The business continued to prosper into the new millennium. Many new products were added – including some that have since fallen by the wayside.
By 2007, Pioneer Equipment was again bursting at its seams. The Wengerd family began talking about an addition or another building. They asked themselves some hard questions – did they want more infrastructure on the property? Do they want to continue to grow? Or should they pass certain product lines on to another company? What was their responsibility as stewards of God’s resources?
At their year-end review with their accountant, the Wengerd family was introduced to Lean Manufacturing – a manufacturing process with a concentrated focus on eliminating waste in the complete manufacturing process, from taking the order to collecting the cash. After consulting with their supervisors, they decided to embrace this new concept in the fall of 2008.
Lean Manufacturing enabled them to reduce their work-in-process inventory by over 50%. Their finished product inventory was reduced by almost 25%. This major shift created space they didn’t know existed. Suddenly they were able to offer shorter lead times to their customers. This major shift allowed them to grow considerably within the same building.
Their team of employees acted upon what they were taught and pushed the limits of what was available to help Pioneer on its LEAN journey. Unable to find exactly what was needed, the team began to build solutions to everyday problems. Solutions that became metal pegboard and mobile workstations. This was the beginning of Flextur, the product offering that is a very important part of what Pioneer is today.
All production continued in the 145’ x 200’ manufacturing building except for a few products like cushions, wood tongues, aluminum seats, plow handles, etc. that were manufactured by other local family businesses.
In mid-summer of 2013, John Wengerd (Fifth of Wayne’s sons and a shareholder) acquired a beautiful piece of real estate along the scenic banks of the Sugar Creek in the Sonnenburg Valley. John moved into his home later that summer after he married Pioneer Equipment’s longtime secretary, Ina Weaver. In the spring of 2014, John and Ina renovated an empty veal barn into a manufacturing facility. Now the question arose – which manufacturing portion of the business would fit in Johns’ shop?
While researching ways to improve their manufacturing efficiency, the Wengerd family learned about laser burning capabilities. This would allow them to improve the design on equipment by making specialty shaped plates to add strength exactly where it was needed.
After much forethought, time, and deliberation, they decided to move forward on acquiring a used Mazak Laser plate burning machine. The machine, weighing over 18,000 lbs., arrived by semi in mid-July 2015. By late August, the refurbishing, installation, and setup was complete. In early September, production officially began in Johns’ shop at the PLANT 2 location, about five miles from the main facility.
As agriculture rebounded and contracted, intentional planning by the family and employees resulted in diversification. In 2015, the family determined that the business needed change. The first phase materialized in 2018 with the opening of Ackerman’s Equipment & Rental located in Mt Hope, Ohio. Mt Hope Elevator was acquired in 2020. Through these acquisitions, the family business could offer more to the plain community than Pioneer Equipment alone.
By early 2022, the Wengerds decided something must be done with their horse-drawn equipment manufacturing. The idea was tossed around about selling the product lines rather than terminating and selling everything. An existing business could incorporate the line into their offerings. Or a new business might be started with a Pioneer product line.
The idea was tabled until after the 2022 Horse Progress Days. Soon after the July event, the decision was made to sell the agricultural equipment at Mt. Hope, Ohio in December of 2022.
Pioneer Equipment sold off inventory and the various lines of equipment with the intent that small family businesses could carry on individual lines. Hundres of people from around the country, including many dealers, attended the sale.
December 28, 2022 will forever be etched in the Wengerd family’s memories as a day of many emotions, fellowship, and blessings—the day of the Pioneer Equipment sale and the closing of a chapter. Each day is history in the making, and with each passing year, another chapter is being written.