Ben Stultz, 2010 SHS graduate has been named John Deere’s Technician of the Year for 2023, working out of the Syracuse location. In addition, he is one of American Implement’s top contributors to their internal Technical Communicator team, and one of American Implement’s first technicians to complete his Engine Capstone and John Deere Certified Technician Training.
The Technician of the Year was chosen out of 16 American Implement stores, but only one person can be nominated. Stultz explained, “They pulled the qualified technicians together and somehow I won, I don’t know how that happened because there are some guys that have thirty to forty years’ experience!”
To qualify for the nomination, he had to meet rigorous training requirements and be a proven performer. “After qualifying, they sent me to the blind peer, this involved answering a couple questions. I won, then, I went on the John Deere Review Group.”
This is where he was selected out of 3,000 technicians that moved on out of his area for the Divisional Championship which includes Kansas, Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa, and Illinois. Out of the hundreds of nominations across North America, 64 Territory Champions were named and 11 of those technicians rose to the top and were named Division Champions.
Stultz developed his mechanical ability and knowledge hanging out in the garage where his dad and uncles could be found tinkering on vehicles. After high school, Stultz chose to enter the workforce, working as a mill operator, making feed for the cattle, at Cactus Feeders, now known as Syracuse Feed Yard.
“They had some companywide issues and closed the mill,” explained Stultz, “Ed Moser and Brian Grilliot, who worked for Golden Rule (John Deere) asked if I wanted to go to work.”
Stultz decided to give it a try. “I did not go to a vo-tech school or have any type of training; I just started the hard way!” That was 2011, when he began as a trainee with Moser and Grilliot for one year, then they turned him loose to work on his own.
After Moser retired, Ben took over his job driving the service truck which continued for six years when American Implement took over the company. “That is what I still do today and where 90% of my work is done, out in the field,” said Stultz.
The first two years after the purchase were challenging for Stultz. “All of my work was done out in the field, even rebuilding an engine at the farmstead because there was not much of a shop in town at the dealership but fortunately the parts department was still functioning.”
He did not have a manager or an office but did have a boss from Garden City who came once a month and assured Stultz he knew what he was doing so go take care of it, “It was a long two years. I think I only had one day off, working 13-15 hours a day. We got it done, but it was rough.”
One might wonder, why a young man stuck with it, working long hours with little time off, except to sleep. Stultz said, “I was passionate about serving the customers, if I didn’t do it, they were going to have to travel outside the community to get service work done, that is what made me wake up every day and keep going, knowing I’m the one taking care of them.” While in high school, he worked at Ark Valley Oil, changing tires, delivering oil, etc., “Customer service has been my career.”
Stultz knew there was a need for a service department prior to American Implement taking over because for one, they were shorthanded, and he was far behind. “I had a legal pad front and back full of things I needed to do, and I thought, I don’t know when I’m going to get to some of the things on the list.”
But he knew for it to work, he was going to have to buckle down. “I didn’t like it, but the customer need was there, rain or snow, there is always equipment running.” He found himself prioritizing the list, taking care of the more important ones first, “Without the customers understanding, it would have never happened.”
At the end of the first year, American Implement began sending help from other locations during the busy times and he began to think he could get caught up. After two years, Stultz proved there was in fact enough service work in the area.
While we were sitting in the new building, he said, “A building of this scale was a big gamble to take and make sure it would work, I understood that.”
Although Stultz was self-taught in the beginning, American Implement continues to offer training which Stultz says has benefited him greatly, “Without the training, I would not know half of what I do today, this way, I learn about a product before it hits the floor.”
He explained the engine capstone training took a year and a half to complete and four days in Wichita in front of instructors to prove you knew what you were doing at the John Deere Training Center, but, it is information he uses daily. “Every engine John Deere makes; I am certified to work on. There is between thirteen and fifteen classifications and five to six in each classification.”
From Stultz’ beginning working with John Deere to today, he said the biggest change is everything has gotten bigger and heavier! But the most challenging is the electrical or technology part. “Today you can link your phone to that tractor out there while sitting here in the building, back in 2011 we barely had auto steer!” He figured by now they would be utilizing phones and iPads linked to the tractor, “But that was four to five years ago and now we are beginning to see autonomous tractors starting to run.”
He also explained a customer can sit at the house while using their phone and see every piece of equipment, what it’s doing, how fast it’s going, if it has any codes. “All this without having to get in a vehicle to go check the equipment,” said Stultz, “I can help train customers, but sometimes they train me because they use the technology a lot more than I do.”
One of those customers is Jess and Laryce Schwieterman of JL Farms, who have been customers of American Implement for many years and watched Ben go from a beginning technician to highly experienced mentor and problem solver.
They commented, in this time of high-tech farm equipment there are many things at their disposal to be problem identifiers, but it takes a great technician to be able to use all of that to get the equipment up and running in the shortest amount of time.
They have seen him at their farm early in the morning and sometimes late into the evening, always with a great attitude and willingness to do what it takes to get the job done, whether it is mechanical, programming, electrical, hydraulic, he never seems overwhelmed no matter what the issue is. They are thankful and appreciative of what he has done to keep them in the field and ended by saying, "Thanks Ben, great job!"
Stultz’ day begins when the orders from Thad Rash, service manager, pop up on the screen. The order will show the problem, as described by the customer, what time the equipment is available, and that is how he plans his day. His service truck is equipped with the tools necessary to service the customer and has a crane which allows him to pull an engine out of a combine, bring it back to town for service.
Another customer is Ken and Denise Keller, who, along with their children, Chase, daughter in law Karly, sons Kyler and Charlie, daughter Kendi, farm in Hamilton County. Ken has known Ben since he was in high school and remembers him saying he wanted to be a John Deere mechanic.
“Ben has always strived to be the best, if something stumps him, he works until he figures out the problem,” said Ken, “He has done all kinds of work for us from electrical to a complete engine overhaul.”
Ken recalls when a combine went down during wheat harvest and called Ben, who worked until 1:00 a.m., to get it running so they could get the grain bin empty and the combine out of the field.
Another example is when they purchased a Shelbourne Reynolds stripper header from a dealer out of state. “I told Ben and asked for pointers in running it. Ben came out to the field, helped us set the combine and rode a few rounds, helping us figure everything out,” said Ken.
“Ben always calls and checks on us after he has worked on something. No matter how bad your day is going, he always has a smile on his face and tries to make your day better,” said Ken. “Ben’s enthusiasm, talent, and knowledge make him the perfect fit for this recognition, I can’t think of anyone more deserving than Ben!”
Stultz is not one to let the grass grow under his feet, but rather he enjoys a little mud under them in the form of a demolition derby ring when he has some time off. “It’s like a stress reliever.During wheat harvest it can be very stressful and on the heels of that is the Hamilton County Fair’s Demolition Derby. I can let it all go, not get in trouble for tearing things up, move on, and have fun.”
He is also a volunteer firefighter and now the chief, making it trickier to find some free time. “This community is willing to help everyone. I work in the county and a lot of the fires are in the country. The farmers are very understanding, fighting the fire comes first!”
A slow time? Well, that comes in the form of a snow. “That slows things down but with the nice weather we have been having, it has been a lot busier.”
Stultz is looking forward to traveling to Moline Illinois January 21-23, along with management from American Implement, Steve Pickel, Roman Lane, Syracuse location manager, and Rash, where he will receive recognition at World headquarters.
They will also tour the factory and parts warehouse, “It will be exciting to meet the owners of John Deere in addition to the CEOs,” said Stultz.
Ben appreciated the customers and community who suffered through the two years, not having a shop, and those who have been with the process from start to finish watching him grow as a technician and learn. “I do not know everything but now I feel like I’m more consistent, and I want to say thank you for dealing with me through the training process!”
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