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The

McConnell

Company

Under F ly i n g The Radar by Sherry Schaef

I

f there is one company that lacks the notoriety that it deserves, it’s the enterprise run by J. Ward McConnell,

Jr. based in Kinston, NC. This is a man whose mind never stops and even at the young age of 82.5, he’s anticipating his next move in the industry. Tinkering in everything from potato planters, tractors, ladders and jets, this man along with his son, Marc, have a firm grip in the ag industry. So much so that in 2011, on the 40th anniversary of the NASDAQ stock exchange, Ward McConnell rang the opening bell.

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Joseph Ward McConnell, Jr. was born to Edith and Joseph Ward McConnell, Sr. on a farm outside of Prattsburgh, NY in 1931. Young Ward grew up on the family’s dairy farm along with his two sisters. After attending Alfred State College and serving in the US Army, he came back to Prattsburgh to pursue his dream. Ward wanted to build tractors and farm equipment. In 1956, Ward purchased a former Cletrac dealership and began selling Oliver tractors. He only operated the dealership for five years and by the end, he was selling John Deere equipment. He sold out in order to begin McConnell Manufacturing, which built potato planters, rock pickers, tillers and wagon boxes. The McConnell planter was very well-known in potato regions and even had branch offices in Burley & Grand Forks, Idaho. The model 500 was one of the most popular planters and was available for 1, 2 or 4 rows. In 1965, the 500 was redesigned with 20 new improvements and a 20% larger seed hopper than its closest competitor. In 1970, Ward joined the Board of Directors of the Farm Equipment Manufacturers Association (FEMA). In 1979, McConnell Mfg. relocated to Kinston, NC where the business remains today. At that same time, he purchased a foundry in NC that specialized in pressure tanks and cast iron cooking pots. Ward still dreamed of building tractors. In 1985, while attending the large Smithfield farm show in England, he learned that the Marshall Tractor Company, a British manufacturer, was going into receivership. Not having the capital available to start a tractor company, Ward, put in a bid without a clue how he would pay for it if he were the successful bidder. By the time the gavel hit the block, Ward, the winning bidder, already had a buyer that would flip the company and leave him with a nice profit. Technically, Ward McConnell owned/operated the Marshall Tractor Company profitably for less than four hours. Using the proceeds from his short-lived tractor manufacturing career, Ward purchased the ChisholmRyder Company in Niagara Falls, NY. This company

was a manufacturer of grape and bean harvesters. In addition, they did hi-crop conversions for some of the IH model tractors, using many of them to serve as powerplants for their harvesting equipment. By the late 1980s, Massey was facing financial difficulties. In an effort to keep things afloat, the combine division, the baler, a foundry and the 4000 series 4WD tractor line were grouped together in a new entity known as the Massey Combines Corporation. Carrying a large chunk of debt already, the corporation was doomed. The combine technology was sold off as was the 4WD line. The tractor line was purchased by McConnell Manufacturing as Ward’s dream of building tractors came closer to reality. McConnell took the 4000 Series tractors along with the excess inventory of parts. Since Massey was no longer building a tractor, they had nothing to offer their customer in the 4WD market. McConnell gladly offered to continue to sell the 4000 series parts. At the same time, he set out to build his OWN tractor. The 4000 Series Massey tractors all used the V-8 903 Cummins. That engine was no longer available so McConnell

was forced to turn to other manufacturers, which was probably a blessing in disguise. While Ward McConnell was starting his purchase of the 4000 series tractors, Roger Penske was acquiring 60% of Detroit Diesel from GM. Six months later he purchased another 20%. Under Roger’s guidance, the company went from one that lost $100 million in 1987 to earning $16 million the next year. The 60 Series engines was brand new and was the first computer-controlled engine, which gave the option of changing horsepower without changing much else. Roger was anxious to get this motor into something besides a truck because the truck industry was down at that time. When McConnell approached GM regarding an engine for their new tractor, Roger told them to ship them a tractor and they’d engineer it themselves to make it fit. A chassis was sent to Detroit where the frame was lengthened to accommodate the longer in-line engine. Testing was done by GM and they also displayed the tractor at all of their events. In addition, they printed literature to go along with the tractor to boast the use of the new 60 Series engine.

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Options consisted of a diagnostic reader, electrical power converter, microwave oven, retractable trouble light, air suspension seat, 3-point hitch, air intake pre-cleaner and a variety of tire sizes.

offer a range of sizes to suit the needs of the operator. The largest tractor in the McConnell-Marc lineup was the 1000 model. This tractor used the 12.7L 425 hp 60 Series Detroit Diesel engine. This model originally used a 12-speed manual shift transmission. A power shift was optional. During later production the 1000 used an 18-speed Fuller transmission with an optional powershift transmission. Using a 15½" twin disc dry clutch to deliver power, braking was done with a 17" driveline brake. By the fall of 1989, McConnell has introduced the new Massey 5200 tractor. The tractor was available with the 60 Series Detroit or the less powerful Cummins 855. The deal was that Massey would receive a royalty from McConnell for the sale of each tractor. A 123,000 sq. ft. facility was set up in Kinston, NC with the capacity to produce over 500 units annually. By the fourth quarter of 1989, the first shipment of ten tractors was sent to Saskatchewan to ten different dealers. One year later, those ten tractors were still sitting on the lot and McConnell was sitting on a million dollars worth of tractors up there. After getting the original ten tractors back in the US, they realized the deal with Massey was not going to be as successful as once thought so they turned to plan B - Manufacture 4WD tractors that could be sold at ALL dealerships. Thus the McConnell-Marc was born. In order to distinguish the McConnell-Marc tractor from the 5200 Massey, the color was changed from red to yellow. The decision was also made to 44 May /JUNE ISSUE 033

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Standard equipment consisted of a ROPS, adjustable suspension seat and seatbelt, tilt/ telescope steering wheel, air conditioning, AM/ FM cassette stereo, cooler, light warning monitor system, fuel/ coolant temp gauges and engine diagnostic system. Options consisted of a diagnostic reader, electrical power converter, microwave oven, retractable trouble light, air suspension seat, 3-point hitch, air intake pre-cleaner and a variety of tire sizes. The base price on the 1000 was $117,428 in 1992. The 3-point hitch option listed for $8,253. Rear fenders added $926 and the microwave added $990. That same tractor in 1994 had increased to $123, 887. May /JUNE 2014 ISSUE 033

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Services and the Kinston factory is used to warehouse and disassemble aircraft, which explained why there was large aircraft cowling laying in the back lot next to the McConnellMarc 1000 when I visited. When he wasn’t in school, young Marc McConnell would go to work with his dad and play under his desk. For years he watched his entrepreneurial optional on the 1000LL as well their line without years of research father wheel and deal in the The McConnell-Marc 990 as a 6-speed powershift with a was the next tractor in the and development, AGCO farm equipment industry. One torque converter. acquired the 4WD line from lineup, also using the 12.7L day he told his dad “I want Ward was optimistic about McConnell Tractor. Perhaps Detroit engine. 1992 literature to do what you do.” Ward their product line. He was this came from the fact that states this model has 425 hp said that changed everything while the 1994 literatures states finally living out his dream along McConnell’s best selling dealers from that moment on. After with his son by his side. In an were Allis-Chalmers dealers. is has 390 hp. Since this was a graduating from Cornell Unieffort to get McConnell-Marc Tractor production was programmable engine, it could versity, Marc joined his father tractors in dealerships around moved out of the Kinston probably be set up either way. in the company business. At the country, a tractor was taken factory and to AGCO-WHITE/ the young age of 34, Marc has The baby in the lineup, cross-country. New Idea factory in Coldwater, worked his way up the ladder if you can call 320 hp a baby, A letter to dealers from OH. After a facelift and other was the McConnell-Marc 900 and now serves as the President Ward McConnell at the end of modifications, the new model which used an 11.1L Detroit of FEMA. It is easy to underwas sold as the AGCOSTAR. engine. Virtually everything on 1993 states... stand why the name “Marc” is Even though McConnell the tractors was identical, which on the hood of the McConnell was no longer in the tractor “1993 was a good was great for parts companies manufactured tractor. year for McConnell manufacturing business, they and reduced a high stock of The McConnell family Tractors. We were continued to dabble in the inventory. The McConnellis heavily involved in the profitable again. industry by importing a lineup Marcs had a fuel capacity of 190 ag industry as well as a few But our greatest of small Chinese built tractors, gallons. The crankcase held 41 others. According to Ward, achievement for the also painted yellow and labeled they currently have over 13 quarts while the cooling system year was establishment McConnell. held 63 quarts of coolant. All facilities that they operate of many, many new In 1996 McConnell models were equipped with their businesses out of. In dealers. …….Together, acquiring the Logan Harvester addition, Ward’s wife, Linda, double-reduction outboard I sincerely believe Company of Idaho Fall, planetary axles. currently operates the historic 1994 will be another ID which they later sold to In an attempt to target Bentley Bed and Breakfast in positive step towards our Artsway. McConnell has made Kinston, NC. The historical the construction industry, ultimate goals of 10% of numerous acquisitions through ag roots run deep in this family McConnell marketed a 1000LL. the 4WD market.” The model was designated a the years and is currently a and with the Entrepreneurial Land Leveler. While it also controlling stockholder with spirit engrained within him, used the 12.7L Detroit engine, The success of the Artsway. Under his guidance, Marc McConnell is sure to it could be turned up to 450 McConnell-Marc got the several subsidiaries have been follow in his father’s footsteps hp. While double reduction attention of the AGCO formed along with more and lead the farm equipment planetary axles were standard, Corporation. Looking for a ventures. In 2003, McConnell manufacturers of this country heavy outboard planetaries were reliable 4WD tractor to add to purchased Mountain Aircraft into the next generation. 46 May /JUNE ISSUE 033

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The McConnell Company  

Flying Under The Radar

The McConnell Company  

Flying Under The Radar

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