There may not have been many airplanes around in 1935, but seeing them land gave Will Hey an ingenious idea to put their tires on farm equipment. His company, Hey Machinery, is still doing it. The business that evolved from a new and used farm equipment store to a grain elevator operation in the 20s and 30s and to a McCormick Deering dealership until World War II still relies on synthesizing original concepts.
Today the company’s line of wheels and rims, tires and related products meets the agricultural demand for off-road uses.
Creating a Family Tradition of Invention and Innovation
Hey Wheels designed and manufactures a “two-piece bolt together wheel for aircraft tires to replace the dangerous lock ring style wheel,” according to General Manager Justin Carter. The fourth-generation family business has “customers who have been using the same tire and wheel assemblies for 25 to 30 years,” he said. “It might cost up front, but it almost always pays off in the long run because quality lasts.” Considering the company’s long history, Carter said that “we’ve been putting aircraft tires on farm equipment since 1935, by far the longest in the industry.” Will Hey started a family tradition that serves the American farmer, and his company continues it today.
The qualities of aircraft tires that inspired Will Hey to put them on farm equipment more than 80 years ago make them equally appropriate for contemporary work. “Aircraft tires can handle rough conditions because of their ply rating and dense rubber compound,” Carter explained. “They are usually between 12- to 32-ply where standard implement tires are usually only 4 to 12-ply.” The advantages of using them for agriculture that Will Hey envisioned produced economic benefits then as now. “They last longer, the heavy ply makes them stand up to harsh conditions and they resist damage from thorns and stubble.”
The Ford Slab Conversion is a practical innovation that the company invented as a replacement rim for the old Ford 600-900 series row crop or plowing tractors from the mid-50s and the 2000-4000 series from the mid-60s. “The original rim for these tractors is extinct,” Carter said, “so we make a replacement that works in place of the original.” The invention underscores the company’s dedication to providing maintenance capability for reliable off-road equipment whose parts are out of production.
Finding a Perfect Match
Colorful pictures of rims without centers, wheels with centers, center disc reinforcement rings, hubs, and spindles as well as tires make finding a replacement easy and accurate. Each picture links to a set of specifications that help customers find the right match. The website’s Useful Information tab offers guidance on getting the measurements for the rim diameter, the inside-to-inside width, the pilot hole, the center-to-center of bolt circle and bolt hole for wheels. The backset measurement determines the offset of the wheel, and the instructions for finding it appears on the tab as well as the procedure for ascertaining whether the aircraft bead has had any modifications.
Setting a Path for the Future
Will Heys’ first venture into selling equipment to farms started in 1923 with a remarkably extensive inventory of new and used steam and gasoline engines, boilers, threshers and attachments, road equipment and sawmills in addition to tractors, plows and baling pressers.
An entrepreneur businessman who was open to new challenges, he built an elevator in 1928 after the old one burned down and ran it as an enterprise. He ran the cider mill that he installed on the property as a business as well. By the following year, he was ready to leave his elevator and cider mill interests to focus on his machinery business and becoming an International Harvester/McCormick Deering dealer in 1930. Sons Lester and Bill joined him in the airplane tire and wheel business in the early 1950s.