When JD Miller’s cell phone rang on a summer Saturday three years ago, he answered it out of habit.
The Peshastin farmer making the call wanted Miller to come to his farm and fix his broken orchard tractor.
On the weekend.
Normally, dropping everything to help a farmer keep his operation going is not a problem for Miller. In fact, he thrives on the challenge.
But that service call was impossible for him to make from a tropical beach nearly 3,000 miles away. Miller was enjoying a long overdue vacation in Hawaii with his wife, Dennice.
“I told him the travel time was going to be expensive,” Miller quipped. “That was the first vacation we had taken in five years, and we had to force ourselves to take it. And it was the first service call I was unable to take care of in a timely manner.”
The farmer, of course, understood, and Miller fixed his tractor shortly after returning from vacation.
JD and Dennice Miller, owners of Iron Horse Services, 5970 Sunburst Lane, Cashmere, have developed a reputation of being available to take care of their farming customers’ needs — whenever and wherever.
“Our goal is to provide timely, exceptional service,” he said. “We will do whatever is needed to keep farming equipment running well and safely. Farmers need their equipment to make a living.”
Miller should know. He’s a third generation farmer with 14 acres of pears near Cashmere. He developed a knack at an early age for fixing things around the farm. As a farmer, he understands how important his service work is.
“People’s lives actually depend on the service we provide, so we’re very careful to do the job right,” Miller said. “If we can’t fix the equipment in the field, we’ll haul it to our shop. We err on the side of caution, and it doesn’t leave the shop until it’s right.”
Miller had been doing service on farming and heavy equipment for years, working for an equipment dealer. He left that job when it came time for him to take control of the family farm. But when his old customers kept calling him to fix their equipment, he decided to start his own business.
Iron Horse Services hit the ground running in 2008 in a small office on Sunset Highway. The Millers had been in business less than a year when they were approached by the ARGO Company with an opportunity to become a local dealer for McCormick farm equipment.
“It was a big step for our little business,” Miller said.
The couple moved the growing business to its current location, and appreciate being closer to Highway 2. Its service area covers from Yakima to the Canadian border, and from Cle Elum to Quincy and beyond. It’s also a local dealer for Rankin Implements, Stoll Loaders, Edwards Implements, McCormick by Woods Implements, A&I products, Hy-Capacity and Interstate Battery. And it has access to a sprayer line of equipment. It generally deals in machines up to 250 horsepower.
In addition to the two owners, the business has one mechanic.
“Mark Lyons has been with us since about day two, and he is an invaluable asset to us,” Miller said. “He can handle the business when I’m busy doing other things.”
Those “other things” often make Miller wish he could clone himself and Lyons.
“I do all the sales of new and used equipment, most of the parts look-up and ordering, and 95-percent of field calls,” he said. ”I’m usually a pretty busy guy.”
As a businessman and a farmer, Miller, whose hands are, more often than not, dirty with grease from his work, lives by the golden rule.
“I want to treat people the same way I want to be treated,” he said.
Dennice, a Mary Kay Cosmetics consultant, is also the bookkeeper for the business. Her heritage includes Native American blood, and she came up with the business name.
“Tractors replaced horses on the farm, and were called ‘iron horses,’ ” she said. “And we’re all about providing great service to our farming community, so the name fits our business well.”
Service makes up about 60-percent of Iron Horse Services’ business.
Phil Guthrie, a pear grower near Dryden, has purchased two tractors from Miller and has been doing business with him for more than a decade.
“It’s always good to have someone who can help on short notice,” Guthrie said. “If I ever have a problem with my tractor, I know JD is there. He has always provided fantastic service.”
That’s music to Miller’s ear.
“We have a good reputation, and we want to keep it that way,” he said. “Ninety-percent of our new customers are referrals.”
Iron Horse Services has seen an increase in equipment sales because of the Global Agricultural Productivity (G.A.P.) Food Safety Initiative. The new regulations are causing grief to farmers across the nation, in many cases requiring them to change the way they do business. It has prompted some farmers to upgrade their equipment for better ergonomics, more efficient motors, better safety and more weight to provide better stability on slope farming.
The G.A.P. initiative regulations are driving up production costs for all farmers, big and small, Miller said.
“With my orchard, as small as it is, we invested $10,000 the first two years to stay compliant with the new regulations,” Miller said. “We had to install new safety signage, and repair or replace some of our farm equipment.”
All orchardists face the same hurdles to compliancy of the G.A.P. regulations, and they have some tough decisions to make, Miller said. One of the main decisions is to fix old farm equipment or upgrade to new.
“We’re here to help farmers meet the requirements of the G.A.P. regulations in any way we can,” Miller said.
Growth is banging on the door with a greasy fist at Iron Horse Services.
“We’re growing almost too fast,” Miller said. “We’re doing OK now, but at times we need two more people. Good parts and mechanics people who know their way around heavy equipment are hard to come by.”
It’s personal relationships that have been developed over the years with area farmers that keep JD and Dennice Miller moving forward with optimism at Iron Horse Services.
“Our customers want a quality piece of equipment at a fair price, and the service to back it up,” the no-nonsense Miller said. “And that’s what they deserve.”