In 1937, Wilbur Oversteg established Delta Implement at 112 West 3rd Street, now the parking lot behind the Delta Area Chamber of Commerce building. In 1959, he sold the John Deere dealership to a family from Texas by the name of Mangum.
In February 2009, that hard-working family celebrated its 50th anniversary of ownership of Delta Implement. This month, another milestone was reached when the sale of the business was announced. On September 1, Delta Implement begins doing business under its new corporate name, U.S. Tractor & Harvest Inc.
Last week as they were cleaning out their offices, Ralph and Pat Mangum reflected on the business that’s been part of their lives for five decades.
Ralph was 14 when his parents, L.T. and Margaret Mangum, purchased Delta Implement. Ralph and younger brother David grew up in the business — sweeping sidewalks, washing windows and delivering equipment as soon as they were old enough to drive.
“I was a pioneer of some of the distributive education programs before they even had those programs,” Ralph recalled. “My dad would call school and at 1 or 2 p.m. I would come down and go to work.”
John Deere was the primary line of equipment, with New Holland haying equipment, Farmhand loaders, manure spreaders and feed wagons rounding out the product line.
In 1962, the Mangums bought the “dirt” on Highway 50, but because they had a five-year lease on their downtown location they initially displayed only used machinery on the new lot.
Ralph confessed, “I don’t know how my folks afforded to have me around. I tore up a lot of stuff.”
On the Labor Day weekend before he left for college, Ralph was unloading a beet harvester down at the railroad dock. His mind was probably on Pat Alexander, the pretty brunette on the seat beside him, when the tractor tipped over. “And she still married me!” he said.
After he graduated from college, Ralph worked for the John Deere company for six years. For much of that time, he and Pat lived in Sterling and Ralph made sales calls on dealers in eastern Colorado.
In 1966, Ralph realized he wasn’t a corporate kind of guy and he and Pat moved back to Delta. They bought the business from his parents in November 1973.
“This coming Jan. 1, it will be 45 years since I went to work for John Deere in some capacity,” he said.
At 6:30 a.m. six days a week, he’s opened the gate to the dealership at 655 Highway 50. Most days he worked until 6:30 or 7 p.m. Recently he began heading home around 5:30 p.m., cutting his workday back to 10 hours. But as he says, “This is the kind of life I was meant to live.
“We’ve had a real enviable position, having Gina (their daughter), her husband and the kids here. Not everybody gets to watch their grandbabies from the time they’re tiny. Julie is 12 and Sami is 8 and they started coming to work here when they were just infants. We’ve been so blessed, and we’ve made so many good friends over the years.”
Among those friends he counts the second, third and fourth generation farmers like the Ahlbergs, Sheas and Hines who have “graced the doorway” of Delta Implement.
Unfortunately, family doesn’t always hold sway with business decisions, particularly those made at the corporate level. It’s been John Deere’s goal for ownership groups to reach a certain level of volume, which prompted the purchase of the Montrose dealership in 2003. The Mangums had already established a John Deere dealership in Grand Junction in 1988.
Continued efforts to expand to meet John Deere’s corporate goals fell short, Ralph said, in part because of geography. Any new acquisition would likely have been hundreds of miles from Delta. At the age of 66, he and Pat were tired of trying to make a deal come together. Gina and Carl have both been involved in the dealership but were reluctant to assume additional responsibilities with two young daughters at home. So the business was sold to U.S. Tractor & Harvest, which operates John Deere dealerships in Alamosa and Monte Vista.
Ralph, Pat and Gina are stepping out of the picture; Carl’s future with the new owners is undetermined. The remainder of the staff will stay the same in all three locations.
Ralph says the real estate was not part of the deal, and U.S. Tractor & Harvest has signed a one-year lease on the buildings and display lot.
The Delta County Commissioners have proclaimed Saturday, Sept. 4, as the Mangum Family and Delta Implement Day. According to the proclamation, “This day is recognized in the spirit of appreciation by the Delta County Board of Commissioners for the many years of service by the Mangum family.”
A retirement party is planned Saturday, September 4, from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Delta Elks Lodge. Friends are invited to stop by to wish Ralph and Pat the best on their retirement. Snacks and a cash bar will be available.