McRae retiring after 50 years at Birkey's

Ford County Record correspondent

GIBSON CITY — While a lot has changed in farming in the past 50 years, one thing that hasn’t changed is Clyde McRae working the parts counter at Birkey’s Farm Store in Gibson City. 

That is about to come to an end, though.

McRae will retire from Birkey’s on July 1 after 50 years of service.

McRae, the longest-tenured employee in the Birkey’s organization, began working for the former FM McGrath on June 22, 1966. He said he was a farm boy all his life.

“I worked in elevators,” explained McRae. “When I got tired of handling bean bags and eating dirt, I looked for something a little cleaner. I applied for a job with McGrath’s, and that’s how I got here.”

When McRae started working in the parts department everything was done by hand as there were no computers. Everything was hand-written into books, page by page. The shop rate was $5.25 an hour, and farmers used four-row equipment. Parts had to be moved manually from place to place as a forklift didn’t fit into the equipment area. Farmers didn’t farm on Sundays so the shop wasn’t open on Sunday. The average farm at the time was 300 to 400 acres.

“We had to work hard at it,” McRae noted. “We used to do inventory by hand; we had to price it out by hand. We now print out an inventory sheet and go check things out. (Computers) made life easier all the way around.”

McRae has worked side by side with Tom Fairchild at the parts counter for 31 years.

“It’s been a pleasure to work with Tom,” said McRae. “Tom and I have had our discussions, but we never went home mad at each other. We can probably go back to 1985 and still recite parts numbers to each other.”

Fairchild said McRae is someone who doesn’t give up. McRae even talked to the president of marketing of International Harvester with a problem once.

“Clyde got on the phone and this gentleman said, ‘This is the number you call. You don’t tell him who gave you this number or where you got the number, but he can answer your problem,’” noted Fairchild. “Clyde called the number; the guy answered the phone and said, ‘Who are you and how’d you get my phone number?’ Clyde told him who he was and what the problem was.  In three minutes, we had the answer.”

Things didn’t always go as planned for McRae, though. There was a time when he thought he was ordering fertilizer hose by the foot and ordered what he thought was 100 feet of hose.

“We got a whole half a semi-load of hose,” McRae said with a laugh. “They sent 52 rolls and back-ordered 48. Instead of ordering 100 feet they changed the way it was ordered to 100-foot rolls. I had ordered one-hundred 100-foot rolls of hose.”

Gibson City store manager Todd Bohlmann knew McRae when Bohlmann was just starting with the company.

“Clyde was one of the guys that helped me learn this business yeas ago when I started in the parts department at our Urbana store,” Bohlmann said. “When I had questions on something, he was always more than willing to help me figure out an answer.  In my eyes he is what you look for in an employee, dedication to the company and to the customer. It has been a pleasure to work with him.”

Mike Carley, regional manager/vice president, agrees that McRae has been a loyal employee through the years.

“I have had the pleasure of working with Clyde over the years and appreciate his commitment to our organization,” said Carley. “Fifty years is a long time to work for the same company and shows the loyalty that Clyde has displayed in his years working for Birkey’s. Clyde has always been one we count on to do whatever it takes to ensure customer satisfaction. He will be greatly missed here at the Gibson City location.”

Several staff members at Birkey’s know McRae will be hard to replace.

“The customers will miss his knowledge of the farming industry and his knowledge of equipment in general,” said Rich Anstrom, service manager. “I’ve worked with Clyde for 28 years.  I’ll miss his knowledge of all the older equipment. It will be missed by everybody. You can’t replace that.”

Greg Rueck, a salesman for Birkey’s, agreed.

“Clyde knows a little bit about everything and lots of nostalgia,” Rueck said. “He knows a lot of things nobody else knows.”

McRae, however, says it’s time to retire.

“I have no regrets,” McRae said. “I hope they remember me as doing a job for them and giving them the right parts. One of my bosses told me he wanted eight out of 10 people to walk out of the door satisfied. We’ve been able to do that most of the time.”

Anyone wishing to wish McRae well on his retirement can visit the store on Friday, June 24, from 9 a.m. to noon. His last day at Birkey’s will be July 1.


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