By Matt Reese
Like wide-eyed children at the toy store before Christmas, grown men in coveralls stare in wonder at the spectacle around them. Visions of glitch-free harvests, smooth operating equipment and big savings dance through their heads as they wander the rusting combine wonderland that is Spallinger Combine Parts, Inc. in Hancock County.
“There are a lot of guys who just like to come out here and look around,” said Jim Spallinger, who runs the operation with his brother Ivan. “We’ve heard that that we are one of the largest salvage yards for combines in the country.”
The business got its start when Dave Spallinger, who was working for nearby Anderson Tractor Supply, decided that there should be a salvage business specifically focused on the combine. The business took off quickly and Dave’s sons Jim and Ivan were on the staff full-time within a couple of years. Now Jim runs most of the daily operations of the business while Ivan handles the trucking and purchasing.
“They had been getting a lot of calls for combine parts at Anderson Tractor, so dad had an agreement with them that he would start a business focused on combines and they could stay focused on the tractors,” Spallinger said. “We started with a 45 John Deere and added several models of each brand. We just bought whatever anybody wanted to sell. When combines come available we try to buy them. Now we have around 750 combines sitting on 15 acres.”
Spallinger Combine Parts sells parts, whole combines, grain heads, and corn heads. Once they get the combines, they are stored among the neatly organized rows. The parts are removed as they are needed. They have parts from combines from the early 1970s up through models from 6 or 7 years ago and a sizable stock of new aftermarket parts and accessories.
“We have a lot of the parts that are sometimes hard to find,” Spallinger said. “There are a lot of parts that are just not available for many models anymore. And, typically, our parts are around half the cost of new parts.”
The Spallingers get their combines a number of different ways, but they do not go to farm auctions because they do not want to compete for combines with their customers.
“We’ll go to a couple of auction companies a year, we’ll buy trade-ins from dealers and we get some combines right from farmers looking for upgrades. A lot of the newer combines we have gotten are from insurance companies after they have been fire damaged,” Spallinger said. “On average, we buy about 100 combines a year. We bought just over 3,400 combines since we opened in 1977.”
The business is very seasonal in nature.
“This business is a lot more seasonal than the tractor salvage business. A lot of guys will put their combine away with something broken on it and they don’t find out about it until they get ready to use it the next year,” he said. “Our business is usually busy from June, when guys get their combines out for wheat, through November, though we stayed busy into December this last harvest. Most guys don’t work on their combines much in the winter because they don’t have a heated shop that is big enough to fit them in. They just fix them when something breaks.”
The combine parts business offers unique challenges due to the importance and intricacy of the machines.
“There are so many moving parts. You never know what people are going to want. Every situation is different and there is nothing that is standard on any combine,” he said. “I figured that this year they would need transmissions and final drives with all of the wet weather we’ve had, but we haven’t seen that. I think they are wearing them out this year and they’ll need them next year. We try to anticipate what we’ll need but that’s a guessing game. Oversized tires and rear wheel assist have been big this year.”
Combines are also different because there are comparatively fewer than tractors and other types of equipment.
“Most farms only have one combine. They may have 4 or 5 tractors, but only one combine,” Spallinger said. “And we have noticed that as farmers get older, the younger guys come in and farm more acres so there are just fewer combines out there.”
Another challenge is the rapidly changing technology of combines.
“Combines are getting bigger and harder to handle and the newer models are so technical,” Spallinger said. ”The electronic age is going to change things, but we just have to go with the flow and learn little by little.”
Though technology has added challenges, it has also made some aspects of the business easier. Online auctions, manufacturer’s parts and price directories on the Internet and a business Web site have all been very beneficial.
“We may start selling through online auctions this winter,” Spallinger said.
Despite the challenges and changes, business is, and has been, very good.
“Whether times are good or times are bad, our business has been good,” he said. “There will always be people who want to save some money and who need parts that are hard to find. Around half of our customers are within a 75-mile radius, but we also get a lot of people from Michigan, Pennsylvania and even New York looking for combine parts. We try to advertise quite a bit so guys have our number handy when they run into problems.”
And, in terms of the best brand of combine, Spallinger said there isn’t one.
“We get asked all of the time who makes the best combine and the truth is they are all good. It is a matter of you being comfortable with the dealer you’re working with,” he said.
Through the years, Spallinger Combine Parts, Inc. has developed a respected reputation and a solid base of customers. The founder has since retired and the two sons have enjoyed their livelihood for the past 30 years.
“Now I have trouble crawling up and down combines all the time, but you get to meet a lot of people in this business,” he said. “It can be tough keeping up with business in the fall, but, at the end of the day, it is satisfying to help people out.”
Take a look at Spallinger Combine Salvage for yourself in this video.