Fitzgerald Glider Kits finds its niche
Liz Engel Clark
Friday, Jun 1, 2012
Charles Erwin, a diesel mechanic at Fitzgerald Truck Sales, preps a transmission.
For more than 20 years, Fitzgerald Glider Kits has ranked among the largest glider kit dealers – gliders meaning new trucks minus the engines and transmissions – in the country. The company that started as a small outfit is now outfitting more than a dozen trucks a week with refurbished engines and transmissions.
And, these days, it’s Byrdstown that’s benefiting.
Fitzgerald Glider Kits first expanded its operation here, to Pickett County, in 2011. It still maintains an outfit in Crossville but assembles all its Freightliner glider kit trucks at the newer site.
And things have been going pretty well, too. In Crossville, workers were outfitting three trucks a week with the refurbished engines and transmissions, all assembled there. In Byrdstown, it’s more like three trucks a day, or 15 a week. Outside of the Army, Fitzgerald buys more glider kits than any other company in the country, says Ricky Fitzgerald, one of the company’s partners. There’s demand because a rebuilt truck, he says, offers not only significant upfront savings but also better fuel efficiency, too.
And Fitzgerald is expanding further still, recently leasing an additional site just up the road in Byrdstown, at the former OskKosh building near downtown. That means an even bigger tax base for the town, more income for utilities in terms of water and electric bills, as well as other cost benefits.
“It goes on and on for the whole community,” said Byrdstown Mayor Chris Thompson. “They’ve found a nice niche in the market.”
Assembled to size
The Fitzgerald facility in Byrdstown, located on Livingston Highway, spans about 18 acres and occupies roughly 150,000 square feet between two buildings, north and south. The site used to be home to Hutchinson FTS, once Byrdstown’s largest employer. That company still maintains a presence locally in Livingston.
The Fitzgerald process, overall, has improved with time. New equipment and more streamlined processes can account for some of the extra growth. The manufacturing process starts with a shiny, new Freightliner truck – plastic still wrapped on the seat – minus its engine and transmission. Fitzgerald then purchases old engines, a 12.7-liter Detroit series in particular, which comes from wrecking yards, auto salvage outfits and the like. Those are completely disassembled in the north building. Old core parts, like the pistons, manifolds and cranks, that are still usable, are set aside to be sold to vendors, who then recondition those pieces and resell. Those that aren’t usable are scrapped.
The engines are then rebuilt with completely new parts: the engine’s painted, the transmission, which is also remanufactured, fuel system, water pump, etc., are attached.
Once ready, the engines move to the second building, the south side, where they’re installed and hooked into the truck. The finished trucks are then driven to Crossville and inspected. After, they’re delivered to the customer, who, through this process, has likely realized some substantial savings.
“If you go to a (retail) lot and buy a truck that’s ready to go, it would cost you $160,000,” Fitzgerald said. The refurbished Fitzgerald trucks, as a comparison, cost roughly 25 percent less upfront. Not to mention, the refurbished engines get better fuel mileage – “around 1.5-2 miles better per gallon,” Fitzgerald said. There’s also warranties attached.
“Over the course of 1 million miles, you’re looking at substantial savings,” Thompson said. “It’s a win-win. There’s no downside to it.”
Since Fitzgerald expanded to Byrdstown, the employee payroll has ballooned to 55 workers, which includes the Crossville operation. Fitzgerald says there’s another 500 resumes sitting in the front office, people looking for work. They have very little turnover.
Thompson estimates the Byrdstown operation handles nearly $2 million worth of business a week, based on the aforementioned estimates and number of trucks finished each day. That fact alone was cause for celebration.
In late April, state Rep. Kelly Keisling (R-Byrdstown) and state Sen. Charlotte Burks (D-Monterey) joined Kingsley Brock, Tennessee Economic and Community Development commissioner of business development, for an official grand opening and open house event at the plant. All said they looked forward to great things to come.