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What a Lift!

By Staff | Feb 21, 2009

She never saved anyone’s life or pulled a combine out of a muddy field, but she is what ‘hero stories’ are all about.

Owned by Prescher-Willette Seeds of rural Delavan, the yellow forklift, ‘born’ on March 4, 1982, recently was determined to be the oldest unit still in working order by Mitsubishi Caterpillar Forklift Trucks of Houston, Texas.

According to Mike Hughes, Plant Manager of Prescher-Willette Seeds, the 1982 forklift was originally purchased from Herc-U-Lift of Maple Plain in 1986. Bought as used, the 5,000 pound capacity Mitsubishi forklift had been a demo. If new, it would have cost the seed company about $15,000 to purchase.

For the past 23 years, the machine has been very dependable says Hughes.

“If you don’t abuse and just use, they work forever,” comments Hughes about the forklift.

According to Hughes, Harvey Zachman, the sales representative for Herc-U-Lift, contacted the local seed company in August 2008 inquiring whether they still had the old forklift.

“I thought the guy was just giving us a sales pitch,” says Hughes, “but it turned out he was trying to see if we might be interested in entering a contest to see if our Mitsubishi forklift was the oldest one still in operation in the U.S. and Canada.”

Prior to the salesman’s phone call, the Prescher-Willette firm had no idea there even was a forklift contest called ‘Keeps on Running’ being sponsored by Mitsubishi.

Even more surprising was to discover if they did win, they would be the recipients of a new forklift, valued between $20,000-$30,000, able to safely lift and move 5,000 pounds. It would be the modern version of their hard-working 1982 model.

The salesman came to Delavan and took some pictures of the forklift. After a number of calls from Herc-U-Lift to Delavan, Zachman did the required documentation and submitted the official entry paperwork to Mitsubishi’s North American corporate headquarters in Houston. Officials from Houston then contacted the seed company to verify the serial number on the forklift.

Hughes explains there were basically four criteria one had to meet to be in the running for the grand prize. First, the contestant, as well as the Mitsubishi forklift truck, must reside in the United States or Canada. Secondly, the owners had to currently operate the small cushion (solid, no air) tire unit which had to have a capacity range between 2,000 to 6,500 pounds. Most importantly, to meet the third criteria, the unit must be fully operational and part of their current material handling fleet. It also had to be located through Mitsubishi’s dealer network.

It was soon apparent to the Delavan company how important the dealer network was in contests such as this. Maintaining good service records back to 1986 also helped.

“The key to the contest was the machine had to be in current use,” says Hughes. He adds the seed farm employees continue to use it everyday to handle the packaged soybean seed.

As the weeks passed, Hughes says he was surprised to learn they were still in the competition.

“I’m sure there are older one’s out there, they just couldn’t track them down,” he adds.

Prescher-Willette Seeds was officially informed on Dec. 9, 2008 they were the winners of the contest.

“Herc-U-Lift sent about a half dozen people down from Maple Plain and three people from the Mitsubishi headquarters in Houston were flown in for the official hand-off of the prize,” says Hughes.

“They even brought along a professional photographer who took over 500 pictures,” adds Hughes. He chuckles as he recalls the Feb. 3 date.

“It was very cold that day, maybe ten above. The guys from Texas didn’t know how to dress. They came here wearing little gloves, light coats and dress shoes. We ended up having to go into the house to get them some warmer gear to wear while they were taking the pictures and doing their public relations work.”

The photographs and anecdotes gotten by the Mitsubishi firm in Feb. will appear in many national publications as well as farm publications in the upcoming months.

One of the questions the Houston guys asked us was “do you think there’s life still in that old gal?” reminisces Hughes. “When we jumped in the seat and it started right up, things just kept getting better,” he grins. “They were actually amazed at how well the old one worked. It was a real testament to their product’s durability.”

Initially, the Delavan business thought they would be trading in the ‘old gal,’ but the people from Houston explained this was not necessary. The seed company would be able to keep the old one, plus get the new one ‘free’ for winning the contest.

Begun in 1933, Willette Seed Farm was the brain-child of Donald Willette. By the 1980s, his sons Mike, Pierre, Tom and Jan took over the business. Currently, it is being operated by the third generation, Damian and Chuck Prescher. It employs eight full-time employees, plus bookkeeper Sue Perrizo.

One of the reasons the 1982 model is still operational is due to the fact it has had the same operators (Pat Hassing, Mike Hughes and Alan ‘Bart’ Bartholmey) since it was purchased.

Prescher-Willette Seeds produces, processes, packages and sells Gold Country Seed.

In the summer, explains Hughes, the employees farm. As soon as the new crop of beans is out of the field in October, seed cleaning then begins continuing with packaging and loading until June.

Two types of seed are sold by the Delavan firm. They are food grade soybeans for human consumption and round-up ready soybeans for area farmers (S.D., MN., Iowa and WI.) to plant.

Hughes says the food grade product is particularly popular where Asian communities congregate, but is shipped all over the country and even to a couple locations in Canada.

“Most everything we plant,” explains Hughes, “is planted with the intention of it going into a bag. We don’t sell our crops to the elevator.”

He further explains packaging the product is always a guessing game. The demand is always strong and has never gone down, but the company does expect some downturn in 2009 or 2010 because of the current economic situation.

As long as Prescher-Willette Seeds continue to package seed, the forklifts will be put to work.

Grateful to have won the ‘Keeps on Running’ contest, Hughes says he enjoys operating the new machine.

“It’s really quiet,” he says. “The company has made some nice improvements since 1982. This one is so smooth and it rides like a Cadillac, instead of a tired old Chevy.”

The Delavan company intends to use their new Mitsubishi forklift for the next 30 years.

“We still can’t believe we won,” says a smiling Hughes. “We knew somebody had to, but were just surprised it was us. It’s amazing that average Joes in the middle of nowhere are the winners.”