Stowers Machinery Corporation first opened its doors on October 3, 1960. On that day, three brothers from Bluefield, West Virginia – my father Harry and his brother Bud and Dick – took over East Tennessee’s Cat dealership from the R.L. Harris Company, one of the original Cat dealers that had been in business since 1925. On that opening day 55 years ago, Caterpillar had a relatively small product line of about 30 different models – bulldozers, scrapers, motor graders, track loaders, and a small assortment of diesel generators – and its main competitors were all U.S. companies: International Harvester, Allis-Chalmers and Euclid (owned by General Motors). While Caterpillar had built a stellar reputation for quality and performance, it was still a much smaller company than its main competitors. It’s exciting to reflect on how far both Stowers Machinery and Caterpillar have come in the past 55 years.
Our family’s relationship with Caterpillar actually began in 1954, when my father Harry, the youngest of the three brothers, went to work for Caterpillar as a field representative. After earning a degree in mechanical engineering, Harry interviewed with several heavy equipment manufacturers. He liked what he saw at Caterpillar, so he accepted a job there and began a lifelong relationship with this great company. Meanwhile, my uncles Bud and Dick Stowers were in the automobile business. Bud Stowers owned Stowers Motors, the family Chevrolet and Buick dealership in Bluefield, and Dick Stowers had started his own Ford dealership in Kingsport. By the mid-1950s, President Eisenhower’s interstate highway program was in high gear, and as Harry’s career progressed with Caterpillar, Bud and Dick became interested in the Cat equipment business. They agreed that if the right Cat dealer territory became available, they would sell their car dealerships and go into the Cat equipment business. That opportunity came in 1960 when Caterpillar offered them the East Tennessee territory, and Bud and Dick brought Harry into the business as their partner.
Many people who were around for the next 20 years know the stories of those times. The 1960s brought the interstate highway program to East Tennessee, and the people at Stowers Machinery worked hard to build a strong reputation for superior products and support. The 1970s marked continued success serving both the highway construction and mining industries, resulting in tremendous growth for our company. There were plenty of challenges, though, including the 1973 Arab oil embargo as well as skyrocketing inflation and interest rates in the late 1970s. The resulting recession in the early 1980s hit our company hard, since it impacted the mining and private construction sectors the hardest. Bud Stowers retired in 1982, and Dick Stowers announced his intention to retire in 1987. I was fortunate to be invited to join the company in 1988 after my career in the Air Force. During my early years with the company in the late 1980s, Caterpillar introduced many new products, including backhoe loaders, articulated trucks, paving products, and a broader line of generators. In the late 1990s, Caterpillar introduced a complete line of compact construction equipment, including skid steer loaders and mini excavators. With the expanded product line and a growing economy, Stowers Machinery saw another period of rapid growth in the 1990s. The 15 years since 2000 have been punctuated by periods of rapid growth and contraction as our business reflected the changes in the economy.
Caterpillar’s expanded product line and our aggressive entry into the rental business have allowed us to significantly broaden our presence among the industries that we serve in East Tennessee. The single most important factor contributing to our growing success, though, has been our continued commitment to customer service, treating our customers the way we would like to be treated ourselves. Our genuine commitment to you has been our hallmark since 1960, and this commitment has been made possible by the hard work and dedication of our team of exceptional people.
Today, all of us at Stowers Machinery stand on the shoulders of hundreds who have come before us, who have built our long-standing relationships with customers and trained us as we have progressed in our own careers. I thank you, our customers, for the continued trust and confidence that you have placed in us for the past 55 years. Now in our third generation of family ownership, we are in a great position to continue serving you for many years to come.