This week we will say a final “good-bye” to Mervel Wood, the last surviving founder of Wood Brothers Manufacturing Co. Mervel passed away on Wednesday, June 16, signaling the end of an era at Woods Equipment. What remains is a lasting legacy of hard work, ingenuity, and a commitment to people — an approach to business that Mervel and his brothers instilled when they founded the company in 1946.
I had a chance to visit with Mervel on several occasions. The first was in 2005 when we invited him and his wife Ruth to Oregon, Illinois, to celebrate the manufacturing of our one millionth product. To honor Mervel for his role in this accomplishment — and because he was 85 at the time and I had no idea of his driving ability — I arranged to have a limousine pick them up at their house in Rockford and drive them to Oregon.
Mervel Wood and his wife Ruth shared their first ride in a limousine when visiting Woods Equipment to celebrate the manufacturing of the company’s one millionth product in 2005.
When I called to share the details with Mervel, he was quite tickled, “I’ve never ridden in a limo before!” he told me. I too was tickled to be part of that small “first” in his life.
The next time Mervel visited the plant was for a family gathering, which we hosted for them, June 7, 2013. I was off to New York to enjoy a weekend of theatre with my mother (which turned out to be our last trip together), so I missed the joy of seeing the Wood family experience first-hand the legacy started by Mervel, Keith and Leonard.
Mervel (seated) and his sons Doug and Jim during the family visit to Woods in 2013.
I did, however, get to meet many members of the brothers’ families when the three were inducted into the AEM Hall of Fame in November 2012. A dozen members of the family joined Jerry Johnson, our president, and me in Los Angeles, California, for the Association’s gala induction celebration. It was a thrill for Jerry and I to hear stories of their first jobs in the manufacturing plant (who knew a grease gun could shoot all the way to the ceiling) and their memories of Keith and Leonard whom we had never met.
My most memorable time with Mervel was the afternoon I shared with Chad Elmore and Michael Ellis in Mervel and Ruth’s living room. Michael and Chad were both with Lessiter Publishing at the time and had happily agreed to conduct a video interview with Mervel. We spent hours listening to him talk about the start-up of the company, its growth through the 1960’s and 70’s, and the eventual acquisition by Hesston Corporation in 1969.
My favorite story from Mervel was about the transition from belt to gearbox driven spindles on the rotary cutters. Their father, also an inventor, had sent them the idea to use gearboxes instead of belts, along with a drawing for a gearbox design. Being independent-minded (or perhaps stubborn, as admitted by Mervel), the brothers decided to design their own gearbox. The project was a success and sales picked up. In fact, they started receiving orders for just gearboxes, 25 at a time, from a company “down south.” After filling a few of these orders, they decided to learn more about where they were coming from and discovered that their new customer was the manufacturer of a competitive brand of red rotary cutters — proof that the agricultural equipment industry has always been a tight-knit group.
While I am saddened by Mervel’s passing, I am ever grateful for having spent time with him and his family. It is an honor to have known him and to be a part of his enduring legacy as an employee of Woods Equipment.