Havre Daily News - News you can use

By Alex Ross 

Big Equipment rising up from the ashes


January 23, 2018

Havre Daily News/Ryan Welch

Big Equipment owner Ron Harmon points while speaking at the burned remnants of his business. Harmon has moved quickly after the fire the day before Christmas that razed the property, working in a temporary office, finding temporary places for his employees to work, and setting plans for two permanent locations for his business that sells new and used equipment and repairs and upgrades equipment, specializing on the Big Bud tractors Harmon manufactured in the 1970s and '80s.

A month after a Christmas Eve Day fire razed his business and left him with millions of dollars in losses, Ron Harmon said Friday that Big Equipment Co. LLC is back in operation and looking to expand.

"We might still be limping a little bit, but largely we are up and running," he said.

Harmon's Big Equipment Co. focuses on selling, servicing and upgrading tractors, especially the the Big Bud tractors built in Havre between 1969 and 1984. Big Bud built the Big Bud 747 in the 1970s, the largest tractor in the world.

Harmon purchased Big Bud in 1974. The company continued building Big Buds until 1984, when difficulties getting tractor transmissions forced it to close. Harmon later started Big Equipment.

Though he was unsure after the fire, Harmon said Big Equipment will be able to meet all of the spring delivery commitments that had been made, something that he said is crucial when doing business with farmers.

Big Equipment is being temporarily operated out of three locations. Harmon has rented a space at 220 2nd St. in the Atrium Mall Annex for his office workers.

Big Equipment is temporarily servicing machines out of the Bibeau's Compressor Service at 810 24th Ave. East.

Harmon is also in the process of purchasing The Storm Water Construction Co. building west of Havre where the rebuilding and customizing of tractors is taking place.

"So between those two facilities east and west of town, we are up and operational in terms of service as well as rework and rebuilding tractors on the west location," Harmon said.

All of Big Equipment's 32 employees have been retained, and its customer base is strong, he said.

Big Equipment's dealership at 1287 U.S. Highway 87 West of Havre caught fire Christmas Eve Day. Plumes of smoke that rose from the building were so thick that sections of Highway 87 had to be closed due to poor visibility.

The fire was large, Harmon said, fueled by oils and other fuels stored within the building. Temperatures were so hot that cranes used to work on the equipment were warped by the flames.

Three people have examined the fire, but Harmon said a cause has never been determined.

Nobody was inside at the time of the fire.

Harmon said the building was gutted and nearly everything was charred. Customer files from the last 45 years, many of which were not digitized, were destroyed as were parts, memorabilia, and personal items.

"A lot of history has been lost, to a degree," Harmon said.

Despite the devastation, Harmon said, he soon shifted from grieving to figuring out how to rebuild. Within two weeks, Harmon said, individuals and owners of equipment repair shops around Havre offered him space where his employees could work on equipment.

Harmon, though, said he soon realized that the fire while a tragedy, also represented an opportunity for Big Equipment to expand.

Big Equipment, he said, has essentially been two businesses - one for service and dealership, and another for rebuilding tractors.

In the future, Harmon said, those two parts of the business will be separate, The dealership and service duties part of the business now being carried out in facilities east of town at 810 will eventually be done where Big Equipment's shop was before the fire.

Harmon said one building was not damaged by the fire and will be used until a new facility can be built

Mobile offices will also soon be brought to those locations for office workers.

The building west of town at 647 Country Road 860 NW will continue to be where tractors are rebuilt, updated and customized.

The new arrangement, Harmon said, will be better in the long run and create more job opportunities,

"It is going to be a very good thing to separate that out for our customers and efficiency," he said.

Havre Daily News/Ryan Welch

A partially burned copy of "The Big Bud Tractor Story" lies in the torched remains of Big Equipment.

Harmon said that since the fire he has been humbled by the concern he has received from customers around the globe and locally. He said that his bank and Bear Paw Development Corp. have helped him, and equipment repair shops have offered him space for employees to do work.

"We went from seemingly not having any good options, to having a lot of options." he said.

The fire took a lot, he said, but at least one item was able to be salvaged. Harmon said his son Tim, also a Big Equipment employee, was searching through the charred remains when he found one of the original toy replicas of the Big Bud 747 sitting on a steel table outside of what had been Harmon's office.

Harmon said that though it has been scorched, it sits in Big Equipment's temporary office in the former Buttrey Grocery Store next to the Atrium Mall - a reminder of what had once been as Big Equipment looks to start a new chapter in its company's history.


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