When heavy equipment fails and costly downtime looms, someone must be available to repair diesel engines or hydraulic systems, weld, or rebuild undercarriages.
Fulton S. Owensby recognized this fact in the early 1960s and sought to be that person.
For the past 40 years the Wilmington, DE-based company has been working to keep its customers’ equipment — from airport snow plows to Army Corps dozers — up and running.
Fulton S. Owensby, now 74 and semi-retired, began in the construction industry in 1947 working for his father’s business, F. J. Owensby & Sons, an excavating company, which excavated properties from everything to drive-in movie theaters to water treatment plants. Like many contractors, he became extremely familiar with the machinery.
“I was an estimator and operated various types of excavating equipment,” Owensby Sr. said. “In 1966, rebuilding undercarriages was economical,” he said. “Rebuilding was a [relatively] new concept and it was pretty much in demand because new parts were costly.”
And that is the thought that tripped Fulton S. Owensby’s idea switch.
State Line began repairing machines for local excavators involved with housing developments and shopping centers, Owensby said.
“On average it would take a week to complete a job. The demand was pretty constant for tracks, rollers, sprockets, and front idlers — parts that allow tracked vehicles to perform. The sandier the soil, the faster parts tend to wear out.”
State Line, so named because of its proximity to the Delaware-Pennsylvania state line, followed a slow and steady growth pattern.
The company’s familiarity with a wide array of manufacturers was a boon to the business.
“Unlike some dealers who only repair and service the equipment they sell, we have expanded our business to service just about all makes and models of equipment,” said Fulton S. Owensby II, vice president of State Line Machinery Inc. “Our business has become a one-stop shopping for contractors. We currently offer the repairing of engines, transmissions, hydraulic components, as well as, line boring. Field service for dozers, loaders, excavators, pavers and milling machines became routine. One area of growth in the past decade has been in the repair and maintenance of ground-engaging tools, buckets, blades or anything used for digging. Our other areas of growth have rivaled and passed undercarriage work.”
Passing the Torch
Forty years is a nice run for any business. That he is able to keep it in the family is a particular source of pride for Owensby Sr.
He recalled his son, Owensby II, as a young man sweeping up around the shop, carrying parts and helping out technicians. Owensby knew that not all sons want to follow in their father’s footsteps, and he was at peace with that.
“My plans were never for my kids to be part of the business,” Owensby Sr. said.
But things have a way of working out and Owensby II discovered that he, too, had a passion for the industry. He attended diesel school, took some welding classes and became certified to work on the big iron. And recently he was elected to the board of directors of the Independent Distributors Association, a worldwide organization based in Dallas, TX, that represents the aftermarket parts industry.
“Pretty much most of my life I had this in mind,” he said.
Today, Owensby II leads a company that services customers from Cape Charles, VA, to Harrisburg, PA, and virtually all of New Jersey, Maryland and Delaware. Customers include aggregate companies, stone quarries, gravel pits, excavators, highway construction firms, municipalities, airports, power facilities and military customers such as the Army Corps of Engineers and Dover Air Force Base.
Solving problems is among Owensby II’s favorite responsibilities at State Line Machine.
“I love the challenge of doing that,” he said. “It’s why you get up in the morning. The money comes, but if you don’t like what you do, and you don’t have goals, it will get old.”
In the past five years the company has doubled in size to approximately 20 employees. It recently opened a second location in Laurel, DE. It operates two track presses — a 210 ton and a 200 ton — that can handle some of the largest machines including the Caterpillar D10. It also operates a 300-ton vertical press at its Wilmington facility.
Both locations have welding facilities and shops, and both stock parts. Six service trucks, including three boom and three utility trucks, are out on the road almost constantly.
“We’re pretty much a pit crew for contractors,” Owensby II said. Recently the company added an enclosed trailer for its line boring division.
The addition of Dave Esposito as general manager has given the company a big boost. Esposito’s knowledge and day-to-day presence allows Owensby II to spend more time with customers.
“Dave’s 25 years of construction equipment experience, as well as our talented sales and product support team, which includes Ken Frederick, Al Stewart and Hank Michalkiewicz, have significantly contributed to our success,” said Owensby II.
The greatest challenge for the company’s future will not be in finding work, however, but it will be in finding people to do it, agreed both father and son.
“I don’t hear too many young kids saying they want to be heavy equipment mechanics. It sounds like too much work to them,” said Owensby II.
“We have been blessed with the most talented employees any business could hope to have. We have learned a lot over the years and that experience has enabled us to fine-tune what we do and make changes as the industry changes,” added Owensby II.
Both Owensbys insist that the greatest factor in the success of the business is that they like the job.
“Fortunately, like my father, I have a passion for the industry” said Owensby II. “I love what I do and I love the people I work with. Relationships are very important to me, and I consider our customers, vendors and fellow employees part of my extended family.”
Owensby Sr.’s passion for construction equipment is manifested by a vast collection of construction toy models and memorabilia and restored antique crawler tractors — all of which he displays four times a year during open houses. Owensby Sr. still enjoys attending tractor and equipment shows and is a member of various collectors clubs.
He also spends time on the road visiting dealers, customers, attending trade shows and working in a public relations capacity. He and his wife also do a fair amount of traveling.
Both father and son are extremely grateful for having had the opportunity to be in business for 40 years.
“It’s something I am very proud of, but my father would be the first to tell you that it hasn’t been easy,” said Owensby II. “He is a very tenacious person who doesn’t give up. He has a lot of faith in God, has a vision and knows his purpose.”
“My father and I, as well as our employees, would like to sincerely thank all the contractors and customers, both past and present, for their loyal support over the past 40 years. Without you we could not have achieved this milestone.
“We thank God for blessing us with this business and we owe its success to Him,” he continued. “Without His guidance, we wouldn’t be where we are today.” CEG