To commemorate their 40th Anniversary, Great Plains Manufacturing recently completed restoration of the company’s very first 30-foot folding press drill.
Employees Jeff Hlad and Luke Schoenecker were commissioned to complete the project last year. Hlad is the grandson of Great Plains’ first employee, Bob Hlad, who worked with founder Roy Applequist to construct the first Great Plains drill in 1976.
“My grandpa is the one who wanted to redo the original drill,” said Jeff Hlad, a manufacturing engineer. Applequist agreed to the restoration project, and Hlad knew he couldn’t do it alone. “I knew Luke (Schoenecker) could do everything we needed to do, so I asked him to help,” he said.
Schoenecker, who works in weld fixture repair, eagerly accepted the challenge. “I was all for it,” he said. “This was an opportunity to take something that was once a huge part of somebody’s life that’s kind of been left to rot, and bring it back, because you know it still means something to them.”
After the drill was towed to Salina from Assaria, Kansas, the two realized the challenge they were up against. “There was hardly anything left,” said Hlad. “We got the machine with the boxes and the frames and that’s it. It had the openers, but no feeder cups or drive shaft.”
Old manuals and photos helped them figure out the drill’s mechanics and piece things together.
“The main ideas are the same, but everything else has changed so much,” said Schoenecker. “It would only work one way, but didn’t always look right to us at first, compared to how we build them now.”
A big challenge was replacing missing parts. While some were recreated from original castings, Schoenecker built many parts from scratch. The attention to detail paid off. “I’m glad we found everything, because otherwise it would look unfinished,” he said.
The drill is painted to match the original color scheme of green, buckskin, and black. “We didn’t want it to be too glossy, like today’s drills. We went for the retro look,” said Hlad.
Hlad and Schoenecker worked on the restoration for a couple of hours every week, from January through December 2015. Most of their work was completed by hand, the same way the drill was originally built.
“My grandpa welded that whole thing up with a stick welder, so it’s pretty important to him,” said Hlad. “They didn’t have a lot of tooling, but they got the job done.”
Hlad and Schoenecker are quite pleased with the result of their efforts. “To us, it is worth more than any of these other machines, because this is what started it all at Great Plains," Hlad said.