IN a rural farming town that in recent years saw 900 jobs vanish in the blink of an eye, the January 15 open house at Southern Indiana Materials Company Inc (SIMCO) to introduce the new Tracker lowbed trailer was a major event.
"It was a real kick in the pants to lose that many jobs in a community with a population of 6,000," said Jimmie Wright, mayor of Linton, Indiana. "I know how important a new business can be to the economic success of a community. Linton has high hopes for SIMCO."
Standing at a podium on the deck of a Tracker lowbed trailer, Wright proclaimed January 15 as "SIMCO Tracker Day" in Linton. Seated behind Wright waiting to speak to about 120 guests were SIMCO co-owners and company officers including Lyndell Fuller, president; Orie Fritts, vice-president of finance; and Gary Woodall, vice-president of engineering.
The SIMCO co-owners also own Systems Engineering Consulting (SECO), another company in Linton. SECO manufactures material-handling equipment for coal and aggregate mines.
Michael Duckworth Sr, a representative from the offices of Senators Richard Lugar and Dan Coats (R-Indiana), commended the owners of SIMCO during the open house. Duckworth and Wright warmly welcomed the opening of the new plant in a city that saw many jobstrickle away.
Plant Closings Two years ago, the General Electric plant in Linton had 500 employees, Wright said. The GE workforce was reduced to 160 employees before the plant closed and production was moved to a new plant in Mexico.
Another plant in Linton that produced wrought-iron furniture employed 400 people before closing one and a half years ago. Recognizing the need for reinvesting in the community, the owners of SIMCO purchase as many trailer components and parts as possible from local suppliers.
Oak flooring for trailer decks is purchased from a sawmill in Linton. Tires, wheels, air hoses, and quick-couplers for hydraulic hose are purchased from local companies or distributors in Linton.
"I'd like to see a dozen plants like SIMCO in Linton," Wright said. "These guys will be successful. They're already talking about a 100-ft-long addition to their manufacturing plant."
SIMCO has created a modest amount of jobs compared to what was lost during the major plant closings. The company has 25 shop employees on one shift, but plans to add a second shift with up to 10 additional jobs.
$500,000 in Equipment SIMCO was incorporated in March 1997, and moved into renovated offices and a modern, well-organized 17,000-sq-ft shop in July. Before starting production in November 1997, the company invested $500,000 in new equipment and fixtures. In October, a five-ton overhead crane was installed with a 60-ft span that covers the entire production area. SIMCO purchased the crane for $80,000 from Hydro Power in Terre Haute, Indiana.
To build trailers, employees use spray-arc welding, which produces a smoother weld bead with less spatter, said Mike McCord, production manager at SIMCO who conducted tours of the shop for guests. Spray-arc welding uses a tri-mixture gas composed of 90% argon, 8% carbon-dioxide, and 2% oxygen. A regular welding shop uses 75% argon and 25% carbon-dioxide.
Welding fixtures are used to build the gooseneck, rear bridge, siderails, and main beams. The deck siderails and crossmembers are made of A36 structural steel with a 50,000-psi tensile strength.
The gooseneck siderails, upper coupler, and trailer main beams are made of T-1 steel for hauling heavy loads, McCord said. A 43-ft trailer with a 24-ft deck can haul a 35-ton load. SIMCO designed a horizontal locking mechanism for the deck and a hydraulically operated gooseneck.
A big advantage is that if the lock is jammed, the gooseneck can be released from a loaded deck with the horizontal pull bar, McCord said. On many other lowbed trailers, someone must crawl underneath the trailer to release the gooseneck when the lock jams.
Hydraulic-Powered Gooseneck A gasoline engine with an electric starter powers a self-contained hydraulic system that operates the gooseneck. When the gooseneck is disconnected from the deck and the tractor fifthwheel, a hydraulically-operated stinger keeps the front of the gooseneck off the ground.
Currently, SIMCO has sold and built five Tracker lowbed trailers. Another 25 Trackers are in production. The company expects to build 40 trailers in the first quarter of 1998, and to build up to 200 by the end of the year.
"We have bids quoted on 37 trailers, and we're sure we can close those deals because customers tell us that our price is reasonable, and our quality is excellent," Lyndell said.
At full production capacity, the SIMCO plant can built 300 trailers a year, Fritts said. When the company begins building that many trailers a year, it will expand the plant. In three years, SIMCO hopes to build 400 trailers a year.
"We can do 300 easily," Fritts said.
Initially, SIMCO plans to market its Tracker lowbed trailer within a 200-mile radius of Linton and eventually expand to nationwide distribution, Woodall said. The largest potential market for the Tracker lowbed trailer is in California and Ohio, where local manufacturers have not fully penetrated the regional market.
National Dealer Network Bob Walk, vice-president of sales and marketing, is developing the company's national dealer network. SIMCO has two dealers signed up and another four in the process of becoming dealers
Walk has experience in this area because he worked for Transcraft, where he developed their dealer network, he said. Only dealers will sell SIMCO trailers, and the company plans no direct sales.
Long-range plans are to market the trailers in Asia and Southeast Asia because the company already has connections there. Fritts owns Tradespan International, an international marketing company with three offices in China in the cities of Beijing, Tianjin, and Shanghai.
As China expands its already huge export business, the country is hurriedly trying to add infrastructure such as highways, Fritts said. The number of highways are limited and often bulldozers are simply driven from one job site to the next. So there is a great need for lowbed trailers.
"We have to establish what kind of equipment they need," Fritts said. "For example, Chinese trucks might not have the right fifthwheel. So we might have to sell those customers a used tractor to pull the trailer."