SPENCER - Gary Hoefling fancies himself a bit of a fanatic when it comes to his two passions - keeping John Deere tractors going and giving back to the earth.
In fact, he's so driven toward these two causes that he received the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation's "Renew Rural Iowa Entrepreneur of the Month" Award last fall.
Hoefling is not only green in the environmental sense but also works on rebuilding carburetors and whatever customers bring in for John Deere tractors, upgrading them to be more environmentally friendly by using gasoline more efficiently.
-Messenger photo by Karen Schwaller
Gary Hoefling discusses his business, The Motor Works, in Spencer, and how he sees himself as an economic development catalyst for other communities.
-Messenger photo by Karen Schwaller
Gary Hoefling adjusts a carburetor on a John Deere engine in his shop. He installs Zenith carburetors into older tractors so they’ll burn gasoline more efficiently.
He specializes in refurbishing John Deere tractors exteriors, especially the 10 and 20 New Generation series, but he also installs a new Zenith carburetor in those engines. He sells the carburetors in the United States and in foreign markets.
Born and reared in Marcus, Hoefling graduated from college and understood there wasn't room for both he and his brother to return to the farm. So he pursued his passion for mechanics. He began working for John Deere in Spencer in 1980, staying for 12 years before going to work for John Deere in Sibley in 1993. At that time he also struck out on his own on a part-time basis, beginning G. H. Repair with nothing but a pickup truck and some tools which he kept in the truck bed.
He took this garage-on-wheels to job sites and worked his magic on the road. He was later able to rent a facility in Spencer, and officially began that business on an infamous date - Sept. 11, 2001.
In the meantime, Hoefling had also purchased The Motor Works, a nationwide diesel engine business, and moved it to Spencer. This gave him the capability to work on anything that was John Deere from 1961 to current production.
The summer of 2006 brought the news that the owner of internationally known Robert's Carburetor Repair, a two-cylinder carburetor restoration business, wanted to retire. Hoefling became the owner of that business in 2007 and looked to build a new facility to house both businesses, as neither location allowed for the expansion. That building exists today in Spencer's Industrial Park on the west side of town.
Today, with Robert's Carburetor Repair, Hoefling restores carburetors on any John Deere from the early 1900s through the end of the gas tractor era in the 1960s, while the Motor Works takes over and works on any John Deere equipment from 1961 to the present.
"If it's made from cast (iron) or brass and burns gas, I can fix it," Hoefling said, adding that up to the 1920s, carburetors were made from brass, and that John Deere didn't go to cast iron carburetors until the mid-1930s.
Back in the work room, Hoefling has bins filled with carburetors waiting to be restored - John Deere and other models.
"There were two main companies that manufactured carburetors back then," Hoefling said. "Marvel Schebler and Zenith. If you have one of those, we can restore it. We currently have one dating back to 1910 in the shop. There are no books on these things. You just have to tear them apart and figure it out. You have to be a craftsman."
Their carburetor parts go across the globe. His most regular customers are from Canada, Finland, Australia, Sweden, England and South Africa. During the interview, a man from California called wanting a catalog for Robert's Carburetor Repair, because he had 26 restored John Deere tractors in a shed on his farm and he wanted to make sure he had the means to keep them running.
"John Deere started with the Waterloo Boy in 1918. I'm preserving living history," Hoefling said of his profession. "I get letters that say (something like) 'Grandpa can't see anymore, but when his tractor (that wasn't running) goes past the nursing home in the Fourth of July parade, he tears up because he can hear which tractor is his.
"I get lots of warm fuzzies like that. I get people who will say, 'Grandpa has died, but he gave us this tractor, but it doesn't run anymore. We would like to get it running again.'"
Hoefling has great pride not only in what he does, but because of its historical value.
"There are places that have threshing bees," he said. "You want to be able to keep those threshing machines going. It's no fun to go to something like that if the machines won't run.
"What stops people from buying antique tractors? They can't find parts to keep them running. I can fix them. We're very specialized here. No one around here does what we do.
"John Deere is putting much of their efforts into keeping their new lines running, and are slowly discontinuing all of their parts related to gasoline engines. What we have on hand, John Deere has maybe 10 percent of or less," Hoefling explained.
Hoefling's new facility makes use of geo-thermal heating and cooling. Permeable pavers, rain gardens and native prairie grasses and flowers help filter and hold rain water. This, he said, helps to protect the ground water that goes into nearby Stolley's Pit, which is the back-up source for drinking water for the city of Spencer. The building was constructed with pre-cast concrete walls and has the greenest lighting possible.
"I'm so green that I go through the trash at home and bring half it back into the house to recycle."
It was the combination of Hoefling's commitment to restoring history and using completely environmentally-friendly ways to construct his facility that earned him the entrepreneurial award.
Hoefling said he's a good economic stimulus package for a small town.
"We restore a carburetor here and then send it home. Once the tractor runs again, the local battery shops, tire stores, parts shops, paint stores - all make sales to complete the rest of the tractor. A customer wants the whole tractor to look as good as it runs and every dollar spent helps a local economy somewhere. I'm committed to being here for another generation. I'm preserving living history."
Contact Karen Schwaller at firstname.lastname@example.org