If You Are Going to Make Buggy Whips…

Charles D. Schultz

President at Beyta Gear Service
Charles D. Schultz is President of Beyta Gear Service and one of Gear Technology's technical editors.

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If you are going to make buggy whips, they better be good ones. That is the lesson I took away from reading about hundred-year-old Wisconsin company Walsh Products (http://www.walshharness.com/walsh/Products).

Back in 1971 — on my very first day in the gear trade — I was warned that hydraulics and electronics were going to take over power transmission. Gears would be obsolete in my lifetime, they warned. Figuring I’d never be eligible for the very exclusive 100 Club, I took notice.

A few times since that day I thought maybe those naysayers were right. During the late 1980s we “lost” many gear companies; an even greater number either downsized or merged with other firms. Gears are clearly a necessary product, but there is no assurance the marketplace will continue to buy them in the same type or from the same sources (I wonder if Amazon Prime also includes two-day free gears delivery).

There’s no question some gear makers waited too long to adopt “hard gear” technology. Some companies did indeed implement that technology — but in an inefficient or clumsy manner — such as just putting ground gears in old products without improving the rest of the device. The marketplace is cruel to such missteps.

Others, much like our buggy whip maker, found a profitable niche product and “right-sized” their operations to service it. There is certainly money to be made servicing legacy equipment; but the marketplace insists that you be really good at it.

I recently saw a review of the brand new 3-wheelers Morgan is exporting from the United Kingdom to a nostalgia-embracing world; but instead of leak-prone British V twins, they now start with a Wisconsin-built S&S motor. This tells us we want classic design, but without the hassles of unreliability or short service life.

There is no reason modern equipment can’t build on the pedigree of great machines from the past. Just what makes a Morgan 3-wheeler desirable, anyway? It isn’t great gas mileage or a 100,000-mile warranty. Our buggy whip maker might still use 1880s sewing machines, but he doesn’t ship via Wells Fargo wagon or go after markets with low-cost competitors.

What technology and the marketplace are trying to teach us should be lessons learned for all engineers and businessmen — both of which are becoming increasingly interchangeable in a world economy.

Have to go now. Going to Google the demand for blinders these days.

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