W. Nebraska manufacturer has been creative from the start

GURLEY, Neb. (AP) — The brick house on County Road 38 southeast of Gurley doesn’t give any indication by itself of its significance to industry. Nor does the garage that sits just to the south.

What started out for Theodore (Ted) Egging as a project to build a tractor cab for a cousin’s husband ended up becoming a successful business for Egging.

Some 60 years after The Egging Company was incorporated, the business no longer produces tractor cabs, but is still running as a supplier of machine parts, primarily for Caterpillar equipment. The current manufacturing area is housed in steel buildings across a yard from Ted and Mary Egging’s house. The garage where Ted built that first cab now serves as the tool shop for the operation.

When Chuck Bode came to Ted, he was looking for a modification to a new plywood cab John Deere had produced. The problem was that the John Deere cab didn’t fit on Bode’s LA Case.

“(Bode) asked dad if he could modify that cab to fit his Case tractor,” Ted’s son Walt told the Scottsbluff Star-Herald. “Dad told him it’d be about as easy to start over.”

It took three years to build the first cab, but when the Case dealer in Sidney saw the result, he placed an order for more.

“Dad had a history, a reputation of being a pretty handy mechanic, and repairing things,” Ted’s son Don said. “He had made some of his own ag equipment, like a deep chisel, a disc and all that kind of stuff. Dad then was doing diesel engine repair some for the Marathon Oil fields. He had a tractor that he had converted from gas to diesel, so he had a reputation for being pretty handy.”

With the order from the Case dealer, Ted mortgaged everything he could to purchase sheet metal and supplies to go into the tractor cab business. When the dealer saw that the new product wasn’t selling, he told Ted to take them back.

“So he thought, ‘Geez, I can’t just sit on these things. I’m going to lose the farm and everything,’” Don said. “He decided he would see if he could sell them. He turned into a salesman and started going around the country.”

Ted began thinking about where the cabs might be needed. He thought Montana and areas to the north might be a good idea.

“So, what does he do?” Don asks. “He takes flying lessons for a week, rented a little tail driver Piper Cub and started flying up to Montana and that sort of thing. … To figure out where he was going, he had a road atlas he’d take with him and lay on the seat next to him in the airplane, so he’d just follow the roads to the different towns, looking for wheat ranches. He’d sit (the plane) down on a dirt road, and talk to them. He was gone for a couple of weeks. Mom didn’t know where he was, and hadn’t heard a word from him. He showed up two weeks later, and she wasn’t very happy about that.”

The trip was successful, though, so now Ted needed to get his cabs shipped. Shipping by common carrier proved to be too expensive for the customers, so Ted got creative again. He took the box off his Studebaker pickup, built a trailer and hit the road himself. Along the way to Montana, Ted would stop at every dealership he saw and ask to use the restroom or get a cup of coffee. This gave the dealership representatives time to look at what he was hauling and ask questions. Low and behold, Ted would have himself another customer ordering his products.

“He was a guy whose whole attitude was you can’t quit, you can’t just give up,” Don said. “That was not an option, so he’d keep moving forward.”

One thing led to another, and The Egging Company began to grow, eventually becoming the premier cab producer in the industry with such innovations as sound insulation, air filtration, air conditioning and roll guards. At one time, Egging manufactured about 120 different varieties of cabs. Over time, the operation migrated from customizing cabs to producing machined parts, today primarily for Caterpillar and its line of heavy machinery.

Coming up with some way to sell his products wasn’t just a dream for Ted Egging. It was a need.

“We were 16 kids altogether (18 including two boys who died as infants),” Don said. “There were enough kids there that he could see that farming wasn’t going to cut it. He had to do something additional to feed the kids and pay the bills.”

Seven girls and 11 boys were born to Ted and Mary Egging. The small brick house didn’t allow for much room to move around, but Walt and Don said there never seemed to be any real issues, and they all get along well to this day.

“Everybody did not have their own room like kids do today,” Walt said.

Dinnertime was a family project with the Egging kids helping Mary with the meal. The dining room table was modified with a sheet of plywood with a Formica top.

“(Mary) would have the meat portioned out, and the first time around the table you could only take so much of one thing,” Don said. “Then if you were hungry later on and there was some left over, you could take a portion of that again. Nobody was allowed to take whatever they wanted the first time around.”

Walt has retired from the business, but still comes back now and again to help with repairs when a piece of machinery goes down. Don is corporate vice president and director of engineering. Another brother, Ted, is an engineer with the company. Brother Lou is president and CEO of the company, working out of Egging’s Clinton, Iowa, location. The Clinton facility was added to place employees closer to service the Caterpillar locations in Illinois.

“Everybody in the family has done pretty well,” Don said. “That speaks volumes to how Mom and Dad raised us as kids. … All the guys with the exception of Walt and Vince, younger brother, have their engineering degrees. All the gals have degrees in certain areas, whether it’s nursing or accounting. … Dad’s formal education was through the eighth grade, so he was really proud of the fact he had college graduates working for him. He thought that was pretty cool.”

Egging’s employees come from Gurley, Dalton, Sidney, Lodgepole and Bridgeport. Some have commuted from Scottsbluff, Gering and Oshkosh over the years.

“I don’t think you’re going to find any better work ethic anyplace,” Walt said.

Today, there are 35-40 employees at the Gurley facility and another 45 in Clinton. The business has slowed, but the passion has remained. The Egging Company has been named a platinum provider for Caterpillar, signifying excellence in their product as well as on-time delivery.

“The employees that we have here are excellent,” Don said. “Almost all of them come from a farming background. They’re innovative. They care about what they do.”