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Muskegon Chronicle, The (MI)

May 1, 2007
Section: D
Page: 1

Heavy-duty harvesters make light work

Marianne Van Eenenaam Chronicle correspondent

It's been a long journey but a short trip for Wayne Vogel. The founder and president of Vogel Engineering Inc., next to the railroad tracks in Brunswick, farmed with his family on land adjacent to his company. His building occupies the spot where once Dake's Thriftway grocery store and local post office stood. The company office was once the store itself.

Now, with seven additions, it has grown to 32,000 square feet, big enough to house the huge carrot and pickle harvesting machines that are made here and used by farmers nationwide.

Not on small farms, but on farms that are at least 1,000 acres, most of them much larger, Vogel said.

"We're building pickle harvesters now," Vogel said on a tour through the plant, where several of the huge machines were nearing completion. Painted a vivid green with an American flag logo on each, the harvesters are 55 feet long, 12 1/2 feet high, wide enough to span six rows of plants and weigh approximately 50,000 pounds. The pickle harvester is powered by a 325 hp John Deere engine and sells for $460,000 to $500,000, a price that is recovered with its increased efficiency in just a few years, Vogel said.

"This will replace five small, tractor-mounted harvesters," Vogel said.

A single driver operates the machine, sitting in an enclosed cab equipped with air-conditioning, radio and soon a Global Positioning System, which is a satellite navigational system.

The enormous machine cruises through a field of pickles at a rate of 6 acres an hour. It slices off the vine at ground level, separates the vine from the pickles, discards the vines and too-large pickles and places the acceptable pickles in a bin that has a capacity of 500 bushels. Any excess is poured into a hopper that runs alongside. It leaves behind a clean swath of ground.

Vogel Engineering has manufactured 15 pickle harvesters in the four years since they entered the pickle harvesting market, and will add another by the end of the year. "We made seven just this year," Vogel said.

Vogel opened his machine shop in 1985 and in a year began building carrot harvesters. They have sold 60 now, Vogel said. The first went to Bakersfield, Calif., the "carrot capital" of the United States, where 30 percent of the nation's carrots are grown.

Twenty-two Vogel machines dig the carrots, trim the greens and deliver cleaned carrots at the other end, on the 500,000-acre Grimmway Farms in Bakersfield. When Vogel accompanied the delivery to the first-time buyer, he returned with two more orders. "Almost everyone who buys one wants more," he said. "We have carrot machines that have 70,000 hours on them," he said.

Advertising is strictly word-of-mouth, the acknowledged best way that obviously works well for his company, he said.

Vogel, 57, modestly declines to be called an inventor, although he designs the machines his company makes. "Inventing is a big word," he said. "Some guy in 1934 invented the carrot harvester. We just improved it.

"We owe our success to our employees. I do the ordering and the heavy thinking. The others do the rest."

Building things comes naturally to Vogel, whose family owned a carrot and onion farm. "My father was always building things, and I was the kid who always built the go-carts," he said. He was a Marine during the Vietnam war, but spent his time in Beaufort, S.C., "fixing airplanes." As a Vietnam veteran, he came home and started farming again, for 13 years. "But I liked building things more than farming," he said.

Then, the near-by grocery store building became available and Vogel saw a way to do something he loved - building things.

"I love work - and fishing," he said.

Vogel has two sons: David is vice-president and has always worked with his father. He said he wouldn't consider doing anything else. Keith, who had managed a machine shop in Colorado, now runs the Freedom Lift division of the company, building the accessory to cabin cruisers that lifts the dinghies out of the water. "We ship most of them to Florida," Vogel said.

Another new product, ordered by Gerber Products Co. in Fremont, is a butternut squash harvester. "We have to have it ready by fall," he said. The plans are well under way in his head, he said.

Vogel and his wife, Karen, also have a daughter, Tara Rendulic, who lives in South Carolina while her husband serves in the U.S. Army in Afghanistan.

- Who: Vogel Engineering Inc.
- Where: 6688 Maple Island, Holton.
- Phone: (231) 821-2125; fax: (231) 821-0275
- Email; Vogeng@verizon.net

Wayne Vogel, center, and his sons Keith, left, and David built harvesters for pickles and carrots.

Chronicle photos - Kendra Stanley-Mills
Copyright (c) 2007, Muskegon Chronicle, The (MI), All rights reserved.

 

 

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