Dedicated dealership is mainstay for agriculture
April 14, 2006
Carl and Lucille Luther stand before shelves of parts at their equipment dealership. They have been in the business for almost 50 years. Photo by Becky Talley by Becky Talley
Fence Post Staff Reporter
Just east of Greeley, Colo., lies a business that has been a fixture in the area for 48 years. Farmers from all across the front range have been coming here to get farm implements and parts from the same dealer since 1954. In fact, Luther Equipment is the only farm implement business left in the area that is still under its original ownership. And though selling farm equipment is what they do, it is the heart and pride of the Luther family and the staff that has kept Luther Equipment in business.
Carl and Lucille Luther have owned Luther Equipment since its inception. Over the years they have raised two children, son Merle, who works at the business, and daughter Merna, who lives in the area, and have watched their dealership and local agriculture grow.
They have supported farmers for decades and have been the only exhibitor at the Colorado Farm Show to come back every year since the beginning. What at first glance looks like just another dealership is actually history in the making. Carl Luther moved to the Greeley area as a small boy.
His parents had moved from Iowa and began farming raising crops such as alfalfa, sugar beets, corn and beans. It was because of this agricultural background that Carl got into dealing farm implements.
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“I had been custom corn cutting with Fox equipment and went in to get parts, but the dealer didn’t have them,” Carl said.
He had to go all the way to Denver to find the necessary pieces, and when there, the distributor asked him to be a Fox parts dealer for the area. The dealer provided the parts and covered their costs until fall, and when the season was over Carl paid him back.
The business was small in the beginning, running out of the garage of the house that is now dwarfed by the dealership building. Lucille sold the parts while Carl continued to do custom work.
Lucille was at the business about half of the time, but there was never any concern over theft.
“Farmers would come in, pick up their own parts and wrote what they took. We never got beat out of a thing,” said Carl.
Eventually the Luthers’ business grew and they needed to expand. A larger building was purchased at half- price from a man who was unhappy with the window structure. The Luthers purchased it, making sure the windows would be put in evenly, and trucked it in from Fort Lupton.
From there Luther Equipment continued to grow and the building was added on to seven different times. The trucked-in building is now just a portion of the garage.
“As business grew we needed more and we just built on a little bit at a time,” said Carl.
And it’s a good thing they did. Eventually, the business was experiencing great success. Luther equipment was once the leading forage harvester dealer in the area.
Carl recalls a story about the prospering business. At one point a train two-and-a-half blocks long carrying farm machines came straight from the factory to Greeley, stopping traffic in the town. They were all to go to Luther Equipment.
“I didn’t have a signed order for one of ’em ” it was just by word. Every one of my customers came through.”
Today, the Luthers are happy with the business as it is and have no plans to further expand.
Throughout the years the Luthers have had a hand in several different activities. In addition to selling farm equipment, Carl and his son, Merle, continued to run the custom corn cutting business until 1969 when Merle was called to Vietnam.
” I quit farming because I didn’t want to do it by myself,” Carl said.
They now do custom baling of hay and cornstalks.
The father and son team also became involved in tractor pulls about 30 years ago. Merle was in the first farm stock competition with a Moline G-1000 and took first. Carl also won a pull with the same tractor. They continued to pull and eventually got involved in hot rod competitions as well, though both are currently retired from the hobby.
It is Carl’s hope to someday leave the business to Merle, who is involved in every aspect of the operation from repairs to deliveries.
“I hope he takes over when I quit. I try to teach him something new everyday,” said Carl Luther Equipment itself has also seen some changes over the past couple of decades. In addition to dealing several different brands of equipment, the business was a Jeep dealership from 1964-1969 (Carl quit to sell Case equipment) and started selling boats, boat motors and parts in 1964. It was only recently that the shop stopped offering a boat repair service.
Through it all, the business has always been there for the customer.
“Carl’s been a fixture here for 48 years,” said Bob Sundquist, who works at the parts counter.
In fact it was the business’ reputation with the local agricultural community that helped the Luthers become Case dealers.
Case was looking for someone to deal their equipment, so survey cards were sent out to farmers in the area asking who they would like to see sell the implements. After the cards were sent in, Carl Luther’s name was at the top of the list.
“He was probably the best business out here that we ever had,” said Jim Pieper, a former Case marketing representative or “blockman” (Carl jokingly refers to them as “blockheads”) for the Greeley area.
Carl continued to carry Case equipment until a company merger in 1984 forced him to find another brand. He now deals Agco (Allis-Chalmers) products.
In addition to the hard work of the Luthers, they have the help of a dedicated staff to keep operations running smoothly. There are six employees, not including Carl and Lucille, that come rain or shine to Luther Equipment. Some of them have been there almost as long as it has been open.
Virginia Kinney has worked at the store for 28 years. She works the parts counter and, like the rest of the employees, covers any job that is needed.
“She’s pretty near one of the family,” said Carl.
Another long term employee, Silbestre Grimaldo, has been with the Luthers since he was 17, which was several decades ago. He started working on the custom haying operation pitching the hay into the grinder. Today Silbestre works in the shop and is basically a jack of all trades.
Because of the dedication of the Luthers and their employees, the business has not only been a mainstay for farmers in the area but has also been a part of one of the largest farm agriculture shows in the nation, the Colorado Farm Show, from the very beginning.
In 1964 the Farm Show was called the Colorado Agricultural Chemical Exposition and was held at the Greeley Community building. There were only 30 exhibitors in that first year.
Carl and Lucille both remember the first years as a little chilly. Their equipment would be displayed on the lawn and the exhibitors would stand in the building waiting for people to show interest in their product.
Things are done a little different today, 38 years later. The Luthers, and over 300 other exhibitors from all around the nation, have moved into Island Grove Regional Park with over 20,000 customers coming to them. The Luthers claim they come back to the show every year to get to know their customers and display their products. They like to get the name of interested farmers in order to call them personally and further discuss products.
“Anything new and anything that that has been selling good we try to display it,” said Carl.
The Luthers have had a front seat in watching agriculture change over the years. The first tractors they sold had an average of 40-60 horsepower. Now they sell machines with at least 200 horsepower.
“Farming has changed. The farms and equipment have gotten bigger and the profits have gotten less,” Carl said.
However, he and Lucille don’t have any plans to leave the implement business any time soon.
“We’re going to work here as long as we can wiggle.”