The sun peeked through the clouds on a breezy September morning in Clarion, Iowa as Paul Beckstrand jumped out of his pickup truck, gas station coffee in hand, to greet Big Bud 747. The tall white tractor, weighing in at 95,000 pounds, is billed as the world’s largest farm tractor, and on that summer day in 2020, Paul and his team were tasked with giving Big Bud new life. Stretching 27 feet long and 14 feet high, Big Bud needed eight new custom wheel assemblies installed, and Paul and his five employees stepped up to the plate.
“I did not realize how big of a deal it was going to be,” said Paul, manager of Janesville Tire Service, recalling the only day camera crews were ever on-site to watch him install tires on a tractor. “I thought, ‘Oh, I hope all this fits. I hope it all works.”
Leading up to that day, it took three years to secure the tires and wheels—and help from Titan/Goodyear and Wold Rim & Wheel out of St. Ansgar, Iowa—to get the 1,100 horsepower Big Bud 747 up and rolling. That day at the Heartland Museum, an antique museum for tractors and farm equipment where Big Bud had been stored out of service for 10 years, Paul and his team installed the wheel assemblies with eight-foot tires on the tractor in about three hours.
“That was a fun project,” recalls Paul, whose shop garnered a bit of fame in the ag world when videos of the install went viral. “After a while, people would call me up and say, ‘Hey Paul, you know, I’m a little ways away, but we saw you put the tires on the big tractor. It looks like you know what you’re doing. Would you be willing to sell us some tractor tires?”
While that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity gave Janesville Tire Service a boost in business, Paul admits that he was just following his passion and the business’s motto: “Quality service after the sale, where the small farmer is just as important as the big farmer.” With 35 years in ag tire work, Paul has made a name for Janesville Tire Service in the 15-county area it serves as the go-to place for even the toughest ag tire assemblies. That’s why Paul and his team have been named a 2022 K&M Tire Mr. Tire/Big 3 Tire Top Shop Finalist.
While Janesville Tire Service is a small operation, the well-trained staff’s thirst for knowledge and pride in quality service for their community makes it stand out, and at the center of it all is their dedicated leader with a heart for farmers.
Small Farm Roots
Paul’s appreciation for farmers and their equipment started from a young age. He grew up on a dairy farm in rural Minnesota with family members that owned farms and became intrigued with tractors and combines. In high school, Paul would hang around the co-op where his dad worked, pitching in on doing chores like cleaning the floors and taking out the trash. The tire shop’s manager noticed his interest in agricultural equipment and took him on service calls to show him the ropes in repairing the equipment and its tires. While he worked a few odd jobs after high school, he realized tires “was kind of my thing” in the early 80s and began work as an ag tire technician.
He bounced around working at different tire shops until he landed at a shop in Waseca, Minnesota performing ag tire sales and service. After working there for 15 years and amassing years of experience, he was ready to go out on his own.
A casual conversation with a customer put him in contact with Tom and Cris Borneke, owners of a successful construction business in Janesville who were in search of someone to start a tire operation in the town about an hour and a half south of Minneapolis.
“In 2008, I was looking to go out on my own with a farm tire service business because that was my passion,” Paul says. “So I called Tom one Sunday afternoon, and said ‘It sounds like you might have an opportunity for me here.’”
Tom then gave Paul free reign to evaluate how much it would take the business to get going, and then got to work, buying the proper equipment and finding the right talent. When the business started in 2008, Paul had one other full-time staff member. Today, the staff consists of four other full-time technicians. Paul estimates that 80% of the business’s work is ag and commercial tires, while the other 20% comes from PLT tires and “farmers and their wives coming in with their pickups or their cars in the Janesville area.”
Although Janesville Tire’s appearance isn’t flashy, it’s outfitted with the latest equipment to give its customers top-notch service. Today, the business also operates two service trucks, one of which Paul custom built with a tire hand to handle work on larger equipment, and service calls 24/7, especially during harvest time.
Helping the Big Guys and the Little Guys
In servicing a 15-county area that covers at least two states, it’s not uncommon for Paul and his team to respond to a service call about an hour away for a half hour’s worth of work no matter if it’s a big or small customer. After all, that type of service stays true to the shop’s motto: “Quality service after the sale, where the small farmer is just as important as the big farmer.”
“When I go buy something, whether it be a pickup truck, tractor, washing machine or refrigerator, I always look for service after the sale,” Paul says. “The price isn’t as important to me because I want somebody to fix that darn thing if it breaks….So, that’s the way we treat our customers. Whether you’re a big farmer or a small farmer. The small farmer’s money is just as good as the big farmer’s money.”
Growing up in a small farm operation, small farmers mean a lot to Paul, and he has countless stories about how customers are shocked that his business responded to their call because they’re “the little guys,” as Paul puts it.
“They always ask, ‘Don’t you have bigger farms to deal with?’” Paul says. “But I always tell them, ‘you have to get things done just as much as the big guys.’”
For both large and small operations, Janesville Tire offers a host of services like on-farm tire service, ag track sales and installation, ag wheel conversations, semi-truck tire sales and wheel ballasting and scaling and ballasting of tractors to help farmers decrease soil compaction and improve yields.
Some of the “big guys” Janesville Tire services include three canning factories– Bird’s Eye Foods, whose products of peas or corn you’ll find in the frozen food section at the supermarket– is one. The business not only services their ag tire equipment but also their fleets.
“They’ll grow peas from Des Moines all the way south of the Twin Cities. That’s like 30-some thousand acres,” Paul says. “But we have the tools and the know-how to work on these things. Our trade area has expanded so much because there are fewer shops like us around that want to work on this stuff and have the tools to do it.”
Instilling & Sharing Expertise
In between sales calls, helping customers and paying bills, Paul works with his team passing on his knowledge to his four staff members. He trains them and teaches them about various aspects of tire and service work, but even with his experience, he still considers himself a lifelong learner and encourages his employees to adopt the same mentality. He and his employees attend manufacturer training when they can, and have participated in sales programs run by Titan/Goodyear, Firestone and Michelin.
“I’m 57 years old. I’ve been doing this for years, but when I go to these trainings, I always learn something,” Paul says. “I try to get my staff into as much training as possible.”
Paul’s expertise and his staff’s training have paid off as various tire and agricultural equipment manufacturers have visited the shop and asked for assistance in testing tires and products with the farms they service. For example, Paul has hosted Michelin corporate representatives from France, Firestone corporate representatives from Japan and has tested tires for both companies.
“They understand that this is Paul’s passion, the ag world. He kind of knows what he’s doing and he’s been in it long enough,” Paul says. “And he’s got his heart in it.”