Below is the full interview between Mike Lessiter, editor of Farm Equipment, and Janea and Glenn Danuser — the brother and sister duo representing the fourth generation to run Danuser Machine Company.
Mike Lessiter: So first question, tell us how you would describe Danuser — your niche and what the company does.
Janea Danuser: This is where I get to say that Glenn Danuser doesn’t really allow me to talk to the customers. I’m the back office, so you give the sales pitch.
Glenn Danuser: Alright, so we have about three different divisions at Danuser. We have an OEM division, Original Equipment Manufacturer that we can make parts for all major tractor companies, a lot of tillage, approximately a thousand customers there. And then we have the Danuser attachment line, which it carries our name of course. And that one has about 12 to 14 worldwide distributors, that’s how we go to market, which they set up the dealers and go to the end users. And then the third one is more of a hobby, it’s the recoil reduction devices for the end of shotguns and rifles.
Mike Lessiter: I didn’t know about that one. Learned something already.
Janea Danuser: That’s kind of a jerry hobby business. It was brought on in the 80s and we continue to this day.
Mike Lessiter: Tell us about you have a long story history, more than most of the manufacturers will sit down with. Tell us about the beginnings of Danuser.
Glenn Danuser: Whew! So we started 1910 and one of the first products was a stain thrasher, grain thrasher.
Janea Danuser: And, see, as a little sister I get to interrupt him, correct him, and say — actually our great grandfather, the first Danuser product was more of a farm wagon. He started more in Reedsville, Mo., and moved his family to Fulton in 1910, and then the other.
Glenn Danuser: So, in 1945 Grandpa Henry was the first to mass produce the post-hole digger in the U.S. And from there it went into the 50s for blades, rakes, box blades, log splitters, post drivers, hydraulic post-hole diggers, earth augers, pallet forks, concrete breakers, material mixing buckets. I know I’m forgetting something, so we’ll just stop it right there, but as you can see it gets — really we’re doing innovative tools I would say in the 50s and 60s. He was way ahead of what everybody else was doing. He would travel overseas, find some good ideas and bring them back to America. And so that — he had a very long relationship with Henry Ford, JI Case, used their marketing distribution channels. He went to Henry Ford to talk about a post-hole digger for his 8 inch, 9 inches, said I got something that you need on your tractors. And Henry Ford liked it, said it’s great but it’s got to be pained Dearborn red and it’s got to say Ford Dearborn. Well then Henry Dansuer said well it needs to say Danuser on it and so they argued it out and one side goes to Ford Dearborn, one side goes to Danuser. And then he went to see JI Case and had a 3-point blade for them and they said we like it, it has to be painted the Case, I think it was more like an orange back then, and it had to have the eagle with the globe. No, it’s got to say Danuser. And so there again both sides of the equipment everybody got their marks. And so using those 2 bigger companies with well-known name brand, recognition back then, nobody really knew who Danuser was, Danuser didn’t make anything. So it was kind of new and using those marketing channels got the exposure for the Danuser name out and then Grandpa Henry just took it further and further and started with click pins and ball joints and bar rod ends and clevis ends and so forth, and that’s what sparked the OEM. You can interject any time here, I’m all over the board.
Janea Danuser: I was going to say that actually Henry was also a dairy farmer. He had a well-known dairy in the area, Skyville Farms and it was Skyville Farms, there was an airstrip often so it’s an airstrip to this day, and obviously we’ve been in business long enough before the standardization of the 3-point hitch, and that’s what Glenn was referring to making equipment to fit all of those tractors. And then obviously all of the serial number and model number tags that he was talking about, we have such an odd collection of tags for all the types of equipment that we’ve made through the years. Some of it as an OEM, and some of it obviously carried the Danuser name. But the OEM business, like for instance we’ve supplied John Deere for well over 50 years, probably over 60 years now. It’s primarily linkage type equipment and like Glenn said virtually all the majors and quite frankly a lot of the female members are a lot of our customers as well.
Mike Lessiter: So, that was very fortuitous that he hung in there and negotiated to have the Danuser name and then I imagine showed some courage at the time.
Glenn Danuser: I’m sure that was pretty big to go up against those 2 large companies, but I think he had a vision and he had a dream, and he knew that he needed to get the Danuser name somehow out there.
Janea Danuser: We just keep that Danuser hard-headedness alive today.
Glenn Danuser: Very much.
Mike Lessiter: And this was your grandfather?
Janea Danuser: Correct.
Mike Lessiter: And did his father start the business?
Janea Danuser: Yes, Kasper was Henry’s father, and it was officially established in 1910 in Fulton.
Mike Lessiter: And in the mid-40s was when — that was a big defining moment for…
Janea Danuser: For the takeoff of the attachments line and then it grew and I wouldn’t you say the OEM business really more flourished under Dad, although in the 80s, I mean it started earlier and then it really took off more in terms of the number of customers and people that we were reaching.
Glenn Danuser: Grandpa Henry had to develop the OEM line for his post-hole diggers and his other attachments, the click pins and the clevises and everything. So he needed those anyway. And then I think it was Dad that basically found that there’s a lot of people that could use those type of stuff.
Janea Danuser: Unfortunately we missed out on a lot of our heritage. My grandfather — I was less than 2 when he died. And we were the first ones that really have gotten to work with a parent for a long period of time. I think Henry probably worked on the task for a while, and then he bought the business from his siblings when Kasper died. But there was a lot of history that we missed — we talked to a lot of locals and like ‘oh, your grandfather did this,’ ‘your grandfather would say that,’ and we learned a lot probably about our own family history that way.
Glenn Danuser: And I learned a lot about Grandpa through one of the older employees that retired after 50 years, Jimmy Lawrence. And he drove the semis. We had tractor, trucks and trailers back then, that’s how you hauled it. Your old LTL the wire sea roadway and everybody else wasn’t really there.
Janea Danuser: And before that on the rail. Our warehouse location was actually on the railroad line because we shipped everything by rail.
Glenn Danuser: I did a lot of trade shows with Jimmy and I always enjoyed riding in the truck and saying, “tell me about Grandpa.” And so he’d tell me a lot of stories and I hear it from a lot of people that knew Henry that I have a lot of Henry traits, which I think is great. I never knew the man really, but I do like to have things nice and shiny before it hit the road. I think brand and image is everything, you got to have that.
Janea Danuser: I think the way we look at it, sort of like the photo baster in our front office. Our great grandfather it’s actually a working photo, he’s on a lathe, his hands are dirty, he’s a machinist. He’s in there. And then the Henry photo, he’s actually smoking a cigarette.
Glenn Danuser: He’s got his cufflinks and his 3-piece suit.
Janea Danuser: And the one of Dad he’s actually leaning on some product that was outside the paint line. And then we got our teeny, tiny photo.
Glenn Danuser: Yeah, we get this little picture on the wall.
Janea Danuser: But we’re building a new building this year, so we’ll replace those photos in there.
Mike Lessiter: Tell us the stories about Grandpa that you heard on those drives to the shows and some of the people in town.
Glenn Danuser: Grandpa was always in a full blown suit and tie.
Janea Danuser: I don’t think he’d like us calling him Grandpa. He probably wouldn’t fit a Grandpa.
Glenn Danuser: No, but that’s the kind of guy he was. I heard that he was dressed like that even on weekends, always thanking, always trying to get outside the box. His dairy that Janea spoke of was a first in the whole, was it Midwest I believe, that had stainless steel equipment. And he got that idea I believe from a trip to Australia, yeah, and then had all of it brought over and he knew that this would be a good thing. So he really was an outside of the box thinker.
Janea Danuser: He was very entrepreneurial.
Glenn Danuser: Right, and he could make things and I just imagine the man’s mind was constantly spinning and going. His favorite car was a Mercedes Goldwing and I heard stories that he always had his trips that he made, he had his same hotels, the same doorman, always called him by name, he called them by name, you know, it’s great to see you, oh it’s great to see you. He always knew — had that one-on-one relationship. So, when he found something he enjoyed he would stick with it. He wasn’t one to go out and say well I didn’t quite like that hotel, I think I’ll go here. No, he stuck with one and made it a home.
Janea Danuser: And it better be right.
Glenn Danuser: Yeah, it had to be right.
Janea Danuser: It would be clean one, it would professional.
Mike Lessiter: I’m picking up some traits that I know about you from this conversation is the quality control, lay it out paperwork.
Glenn Danuser: Detail oriented.
Janea Danuser: Our motto is the same to this today. It’s a quote from our great grandfather “Good enough won’t do, it must be right.” And it’s actually on a large crane that would have been Henry’s era of building, and we’ve moved it over — I mentioned that we’re adding on this year. We’re adding on new office space approximately 11,500 square feet, and it’s got this large crane that’s going to be on display, it’s part of our main feature wall. A lot of companies come up with mottos or mission statements or various things, but that really describes it, says it all for us “Good enough won’t do, it must be right.” That’s our heritage, that’s our brand. We enjoy very well respected brand around the world and we appreciate that and honor that.
Glenn Danuser: I think one of my best stories though is one about when he’d go out for dinner and he’d say “Can I see the dessert menu?” “Excuse me?” And he would always order his dessert first in these real nice restaurants because he said you never know when you’re going to die, so he had to have a good dessert.
Janea Danuser: Poor guy, actually he died in the middle of the construction of his office building because my current office would have been his garage. There’s an actual little inset because of course garage doors were smaller then, and so I was going to be where my office is what was going to be his garage and his was going to be upstairs. That’s where we got IT now. We’re spread out all over the place, not all over the place, we have a block and Glenn and I — this will be the first time we’ll be under the same roof in about 15 years.
Glenn Danuser: Yeah, scary times.
Janea Danuser: So, he’s at opposite ends of the building, but it’s a really long hallway, we’re trying to figure out.
Glenn Danuser: Separation will be key.
Mike Lessiter: So was Henry a manufacturing type, a sales type?
Janea Danuser: I think he was both.
Glenn Danuser: Both.
Janea Danuser: Because I think he had a very clever engineering type mind. You see little notes, I found little notepads and things with drawings on it. Apparently, he was always making notes.