Developing the Pro-Harvest Support Program:
My Most Exciting & Challenging Assignment at IHC
IH/CaseIH Manager (retired)
December 10, 2015
“Failure is NOT an option,” said Wells, “the Axial Flow must fly!”
In 1977, 300 of the new Axial Flow combines were released to the field. By 1979 it became clear that we needed to rapidly initiate focused critical customer and dealer support action, as most IH dealers and customers in the field, being unfamiliar with the new rotary technology, were apprehensive. In addition, the competition became very aggressive in their focused effort to discredit the Axial Flow rotary threshing principle.
To address this pressing need, a focused support program was envisioned, and I was directed to develop the needed support with a lot of dealer and customer input. The initiative soon became unofficially known as the Pro-Harvest Support Program. Prior to that, Harvester had a simpler program to support combine users known as “Combine Patrol,” but the new initiative was to be much broader in scope.
Once the initiative was approved by senior management, we had to move quickly without budgeted resources or adequate time to roll out a complete support program. So in the first year, we pressed into service a couple of training instructors, along with the local Service Reps in the harvest areas. We sent the guys out to help customers set up machines and assist dealers as needed, as well as give us feedback from the field. The new PHS Team had received training, and spent time at the East Moline plant with key Axial Flow experts such as Cam Beert, Bob Francis and several others. In addition, they spent time with Jim Minnihan in Product Reliability at the Product Support Center at Bur Ridge/Hinsdale, Illinois. A couple of the Reps had also spent some limited time in the field previously in 1977 with the original 300 introductory machines.
That first year there were no available vans or pick-ups that could be assigned to the program, and we had a very limited budget, so we got a couple of the little mini Dodge “K” cars the Company had in the fleet, and made up plastic magnetic signs with the words Pro-Harvest Support and a picture of an Axial Flow combine on them. We placed the signs on the doors, gave the Training Instructors as much machine setting info and support documents as we had, along with a few goodwill trinkets, and sent them out to contact and assist all customers, but to focus primarily on Custom Cutters.
A special core team was assembled the next year to guide and further develop the fledging program. The key participants were Vaughn Allen, Burr Ridge Product Support Center; Gary Wells, Axial Flow Product Development; Gerry Salzman, Product Marketing; Jim McLain and Elliot Bourgeois, Corp Parts; Ed Powell, Kansas City PS; and me, Service Marketing.
Gary Wells, a key player in the development and launch of the new combine, was proud of the new Axial Flow product, yet he was visibly concerned when we met because he knew very well the efforts competitors were waging to discredit the Axial Flow rotary technology. I will always remember a comment Gary made that day, “Failure is NOT an option with this critical support program, the Axial Flow must fly!”
The next couple of years we were able to leverage additional district Service Reps to focus on PHS, but only as the harvest moved through their areas. During this time, we had pending requisitions for two diesel powered Ford vans, but we were denied them and told to continue to use an existing IH Scout and the Dodge "K" cars We operated like that for the next few years, and dealers and customers alike appreciated our efforts. That positive feedback continued, and in 1983 we got approval for the requested Ford vans. We were THRILLED! I got those beautiful white vans proudly decaled and loaded with support materials, and that year Pro-Harvest Support looked very professional and really took off.
One of our key, highly respected Product Support representatives, Ed Powell, had been involved with the previously mentioned combine support program known as the "Combine Patrol" going back to the 1960's, and was instrumental in the development of the new PHS program. Ed had been assisting us as much as possible since 1980. The program operated as described above until 1984, when Ed became fully involved in the program.
That year, Ed and his wife Vonda took their motor home out on the Custom Run and supervised the program, moving with the harvest all summer long from Texas to Canada. What a tremendous team we had right there with our customers—great product support and a lot of goodwill.
At that time, in addition to the approval of the two Ford vans, we got approval to add a 53-foot parts trailer that we outfitted with bins, a monorail crane system, and a computerized parts management system that was cutting edge for the time. The selected PHS trailer inventory consisted of over 3,000 line items, some of which were fast moving as dealer back up, while other items were parts the dealers would not likely stock, such as header sheet metal that might be damaged in a minor accident. All part sales were through the local dealer, nothing was to be sold direct. We were there to support the dealers and the customers, not to be competitors in the dealers parts business.
In 1986, I added a second 53-foot tractor trailer and two more Navistar diesel-powered Ford vans. The entire fleet was decaled with the PHS logo and appropriate corporate detail. We had now established two PHS routes from Texas to Canada to run parallel routes about 100 miles apart.
Initially the program was supported by available regional/district personnel as described above with Ed Powell's assistance. The first fully dedicated support was Ed Powell, and in 1985 we added Leslie Hearn who had just retired from IH Product support. As PHS expanded to meet customer and dealer needs, we added several retirees who continued to work with the program for several years. Those valuable early program representatives were, Roy Carpenter, Don Walth, James Anthony, Dennis Hejmanik and Bill Derke, plus two newly hired CaseIH Reps James Chandler and Bruce Hanson. We also had two full time Supervisors, Jaime Gerstenkorn and Frank Price, as we had now established two parallel routes from Texas to Canada. In addition, we continued to receive excellent support from East Moline personnel as well as from Elliot Bourgeois, a key IH/CaseIH Parts Department Manager, and others in the Parts Group.
Each year just prior to harvest in late May, the PHS Team would hold an open house in Vernon, Texas (near Wichita Falls) where the Custom Cutters tended to gather as they prepared their teams and machines for the run North as soon as those hot, dry winds hit, and the wheat became ready for harvest. Our goal was to update Custom Cutters on the PHS activities planned to support them up the route, and provide program handbooks with dealer stop locations and contact information. In addition, maintenance and machine setting information was discussed, and safety was stressed. Customers were also advised of all Super Stock dealers along the harvest trail, where the company had laid in a heavy consignment of Axial Flow parts to supplement dealer inventory. This Super Stock inventory was in addition to the 3,000+ line items carried on each PHS parts trailer.
The PHS program soon became an essential factor that customers relied on for assistance when they were hundreds of miles from home. Each following year—and still to this day—the PHS Teams move both trailers North with the harvest from dealer to dealer location, staying within about 100 miles of each other. Customer assistance is always near.
In the early years, there were a lot of small Custom Cutters, often operating only a couple of machines, but that changed quickly with most operations running four to six or more machines. In a typical year, the PHS teams were in regular contact and continually supported about 25 or more Cutters during the harvest run.
Some of our first Custom Cutter owners of Axial Flow machines on the harvest run that became AF enthusiasts and close friends were Doug Paxton, Johnson Harvesting, Gerald Walters, Duane Keller, Earl Riggins, Alan Westlake, Rob Holland, Carl Rieger, and Rick Ferris. What great memories and many success stories we have that we will always remember!
The PHS Program brought a lot of goodwill to the Company. We often responded to situations miles away from where the team was headquartered by driving overnight to a down machine. Other times, we would work with a local dealer to fly parts, sometimes overnight, to critical machine down situations.
I will always remember the time CaseIH CEO Bob Carlson and I flew to Glasgow, Montana to meet with the dealer and some customers. There was a machine down situation, so we decided to take the critically needed parts with us on the company plane. Mr. Carlson approved, so we removed a couple of the airplane seats to allow space for the needed, large fabricated parts that we loaded on the company plane at 4:30 that morning. The program was so beneficial and appreciated by customers that Deere users literally forced Deere & Company to organize a similar program.
There is much more to be shared about this successful program we launched more than 35 years ago than can reasonably be covered here. It is with much pride that I report that the program is still going strong today, and remains the premier CaseIH Axial Flow Combine customer support function. As a result of PHS, many competitive users switched to CaseIH.
For more interesting Pro-Harvest Support facts and incredible stories, refer to the new “Red Combines” book by Lee Klancher. Pro-Harvest Support is covered in Chapter 6, starting page at 220.
From left to right: Gerald Heim, CIH dealer principal at Hoxie, Colby and Oakley, Kansas; Edwin Powell, PHS Manager; James Gerstenkorn, PHS Supervisor; and Dan Kennedy, CIH Program Director.