One of the mainstays of Ag Days is the rows and rows of gleaming tractors, combines and other equipment.
To the show visitor they’re just part of the expected view. But getting them there in such pristine shape takes a lot of hard work.
One of those hard workers is an entrepreneurial 15-year-old from Elgin.
For the past four years Foster Perkin has been earning a little extra cash for his efforts to make that equipment shine.
It all started during one of the show’s massive setup efforts a few years ago, when Foster accompanied his father Scott, a longtime volunteer for the show who currently sits on its board.
That’s when he noticed that several equipment dealers contracted outside groups to clean their equipment, freeing up their own staff and easing the last-minute rush.
With dozens of combines, tractors, balers, grain carts and other machinery rolling in and anywhere from 36 to 48 hours to get them display worthy, the teen figured there was room in the labour market for one more.
“We’d seen a couple of groups doing cleaning the past couple of years and we’d been in the facility and watching everything go up and we thought it would be a good idea, just to make a couple of dollars with a couple of friends, and that’s what we decided to do,” he said.
Perkin, along with two of his friends, offered up his own equipment cleaning services. Botterill Sales of Portage la Prairie became a repeat customer, although Perkin says the company has since stepped back its machinery display, and gave the group a glowing review over Twitter when it announced it was open for business again this year. News of the teens’ service spread through the province by word of mouth.
In the four years since, the group of teenagers has earned both a steady following and new customer list, with companies including SeedMaster, AGI and AgWest.
The teens bill their services according to the size of a machine, and a large piece typically takes an entire day to clean. The group typically takes on two to three large pieces of equipment, as well as an assortment of smaller display items, Foster Perkin said.
“We usually let the outfits pick what they want to pay us and then we’ll agree or disagree,” he said.
The enterprise has been a financial success. Each member of Perkin’s group typically takes home about $650 each year, the teen estimated.
“I think Foster’s a bit entrepreneurial,” his father, Scott Perkin said. “That’s how I was when I was a kid too. He’s always looking for a way to make a buck, and I was completely in agreement of it because I’m heavily involved in the ag industry.”
The work serves the dual purpose of getting work for his son, as well as getting his family name out in the industry, he added. Scott Perkin is one of the names behind Perkin Land and Cattle Co. The family farm operates 8,000 acres of grain land, a 125-head purebred Simmental herd as well as a soybean and corn seed business.
The elder Perkin is the normal point of contact for companies looking to hire his son’s group, he said, noting his connections to local industry.
He has also insisted on some precautionary guidelines. The companies must provide their own cleaning supplies, something the elder Perkin says is to protect the teens in case they accidentally use a different cleaning agent than the client prefers, causing streaks or other issues.
“The biggest challenge with the job though is that everything gets moved into Ag Days in a very short period of time… Saturday, Sunday, Monday, everything is moved in and then the show starts on Tuesday,” he said, “but you can’t clean and polish equipment when it’s cold. The polishes just freeze to the metal. So it’s a very tight timeline because the machinery moves into the building, then it has to warm up, then they can clean it, and then the show starts Tuesday morning.”
This year, the timeline is even tighter. Many of his son’s customers did not move their machinery in until Sunday afternoon.
“So he’s going to have to work pretty late Sunday night and then all day Monday to get the jobs done,” Scott Perkin said ahead of the show.
This year will likely not be the last for the group, Foster Perkin said. The teen plans to return to the show until he secures a regular job of his own.