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Cushman Joins the Outboard Marine Family


It seemed like a good deal when Outboard Marine bought Cushman....There were some benefits that started to come in that we had never had before. Longer vacations. Health plans. Pension plans. --Richard Pearce

Outboard Marine Corporation ( OMC), best known for its Evinrude and Johnson brands of boat engines, acquired Cushman from the Ammon family in 1957. Outboard Marine, was a corporate descendant of a small, turn-of-the-century boat engine builder named Ole Evinrude, son of a Norwegian immigrant farmer, who grew up in Wisconsin and loved tinkering with the then-new internal combustion engines. When Outboard Marine added Cushman to its stable of subsidiaries, its product lines included Lawn Boy mowers and lawn maintenance equipment and Pioneer chain saws, in addition to its marine engines. Cushman was then making two-and three-wheeled vehicles, powered by electric or internal combustion engines, for use in business, industry, and recreation. OMC believed this product line complemented its other operations.

In 1961, OMC closed the foundry and installed new assembly lines where the foundry had been.

That about broke my heart. They said we were going to an aluminum die-cast engine, and it is more profitable to make that die-cast engine than our old cast iron engine. --Bernie Dow

They were deeply into cast aluminum, die-cast aluminum. So therefore, they weren't interested in a foundry. --Stan Talley

old foundry conversion
Conversion of the old foundry into a vehicle assembly area, 1950s.

Truckster

The Truckster industrial version of the three-wheeled-and later four-wheeled-vehicles were used in dozens of industries. The small, fuel-efficient models filled an important niche in their operations. The little vehicles, it seemed, were everywhere:

On-Road Haulster
 Model 435 New Radial Frame
On-Road Haulster, 1977
police vehicles  
An ad for Cushman police vehicles, 1970s

Cushman Avenue

One year after OMC bought Cushman, it began eyeing South Lincoln as a site for a new factory. The Ammon brothers were still running Cushman. In 1958, they engineered the purchase of a 109.72-acre tract bordered by 40th and 48th streets, Highway 2 and Old Cheney Road. A zoning battle ensued and the company eventually secured heavy industry zoning designation in late 1958. But construction did not get underway immediately. A series of land trades culminated in April 1966 with a Cushman office building site in the Lincoln Industrial Park on 14th St. and Highway 2. There OMC consolidated its marketing, sales, and service divisions for all of its non-marine products.

Ultimately, OMC decided to invest in the existing Cushman plant rather than expand at the south edge of town, and relocated the administrative divisions back to the factories. In 1978, OMC sold the Cushman office building to the Nebraska Farm Bureau and sold the remainder of the land in parcels during the next several years. A street in the industrial park is still called Cushman Drive, a remnant of those expansionary years.

 map
Map showing potential Cushman plant sites in south Lincoln. The "old" site was traded to the city of Lncoln for the "new" site in the city's industrial park. An office building, now owned by the Nebraska Farm Bureau, was built on part of the "new" site by the Company. Eventually all the Cushman-owned land in the Industrial park was sold. The site is still marked by Cushman Drive. 1966


office building
The architect's drawing of the Cushman office building, now, the Nebraska Farm Bureau building, in the south Lincoln industrial park. When owned by the company, the building served as the headquarters for all non-marine products owned by OMC. 1972


office building
The office building in the south Lincoln industrial park when it was under OMC ownership, 1976


The Golf Car

Introduced in the mid 1950s, golf carts (dubbed "Golf Cars" by Cushman) got a boost from President Eisenhower, an avid golfer who took to using the little vehicles on the fairways after he suffered a well-publicized heart attack. Increased leisure time for Americans and a corresponding increase in discretionary income created new markets for recreational goods.

In the early 1960s, Cushman's three-wheeled golf carts and their industrial-purpose cousins accounted for about half of the entire U.S. market. In 1965 the company added a four-wheeled version of its golf cart and industrial vehicles to its product line.

An array of celebrity golfers and stars from the entertainment industry, including Jackie Gleason, Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, Glen Campbell, and Ann-Margaret, had Cushman golf carts modified to reflect their personalities, creating a publicity bonanza for Cushman.

I got into building custom golf carts, which was the highlight of my whole career at Cushman's. I got to build Jackie Gleason's....I made a miniature Mercedes for Jackie Gleason. Even had a wet bar in it. If we ever find it, my name is stamped in the frame. --Jerry Tucker

Golfster  
Former presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower
and Lyndon B. Johnson in a Cushman
Golfster, Model 735, 1960s.
Perry Como
Mr. and Mrs. Perry Como in a Cushman Golfster
Model 732, 1963.
 

The Crisis

There has been a devastating market influx of golf carts from Poland into the United States in recent years. In 1970 no electric golf carts from Poland were exported to the United States. By 1973, at outrageously low prices that we believe are at "less than fair value," or dumping prices, 6,087 electric golf carts were imported into the United States, accounting for 15 percent of the U.S. electric golf cart market. In other words, we believe that Poland has taken over 15 percent of the U.S. electric golf cart market through dumping. However, we are in a dilemma because antidumping law does not clearly address the situation where a communist country and the United States are the only producing countries and the United States is the only true market in the world for the product in question. --Vaughn Border, Testimony before the United States Senate, March, 1974

The joke was that we lost money on every one, but we made it up in volume. --John Hicks

On June 27, 1975, Outboard Marine announced it would discontinue manufacture of its signature product by the end of the year. Some workers with more seniority, who could have avoided layoff, split the hours with coworkers who had less seniority. But hundreds of others simply lost their jobs. Some were eligible for unemployment compensation based on a federal law aimed at protecting workers who were victims of unfair foreign trade. Even those who were laid off, then eventually called back to work, felt the blow of the golf cart demise. Ironically, the Polish imports that brought down Cushman's signature product line were carbon copies of Cushman competitor E-Z-GO golf carts, which is now, like Cushman, a part of the Textron conglomerate of companies.

Part of Cushman's ongoing greatness during the last quarter of the past century probably stems from the fact that the company actually survived what could have been a crisis point. --Ron Anderson

The Trackster

The Trackster was a rugged little tracked vehicle with a low center of gravity and two wide rubber tracks that operated independently, giving the vehicle a zero turning radius. Cushman literature called it "a proven workhorse" and listed its maximum speed of 16 mph as "enough for getting around quickly, but not so fast it encourages irresponsible operation." The Lincoln plant produced Tracksters from 1970 to 1974, when production was transferred to a Wisconsin plant where production was halted and sales of Tracksters ended in by 1976.

This Trackster had a lot of power. It didn't go very fast, but they took it over to the gravel pile, over there at Ready Mix, and they would run it up the side of that gravel pile and they'd run it over the top, and they just run it all over that gravel pile. --Bill Douglas

Trackster
 An ad for the Cushman Trackster
featuring the line "Makes the
Impassible Possible." ca. 1970
Trackster  
Trackster ad, 1970
 Trackster
Trackster ad

OSHA

Congressional passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act in 1971 ushered in a new era for Cushman and other employers who faced a new array of safety mandates requiring changes in plant operations. OSHA inspection results included the requirement that punch press operators wear ear plugs and that the painting area be ventilated.

Fuel Economy

Like other U.S. industries that manufactured energy-consuming products, Cushman embarked on a variety of alternative fuel experiments in the tumultuous times following the first Arab oil embargo in 1973-74. One of those was a plan to use compressed natural gas as an alternative vehicle fuel. The company had developed vehicle conversion kits for its Cushman Haulsters-storage tanks and compressors to compress natural gas up to 3600 psi.

alternate fuel vehicle
The CNG Haulster, an alternate fuel vehicle. It ran solely on compressed natural gas. 1981

Ryan

OMC moved its Ryan sod cutting and turf maintenance equipment line from St. Paul, Minnesota, to the OMC/Cushman plant in Lincoln in 1977. Through much of the next decade, OMC invested more than $40 million on the Cushman plant, upgrading machinery and engineering new products. The biggest change was introducing computer numerically controlled (CNC) machining, in which the machines are computer-driven to automatically make parts according to how they are programmed.

CNC machining is just perfect for low volume manufacturing because you can jump from job to job in a hurry.. An operator can run more than one machine because they are pretty automatic with the tool changes. --Gerald Ogren

Larry Creraza
Larry Creraza at the laser machine in the welding department. 1980s

By the late 1970s the need for modernization at Cushman ushered in a burst of expansion. In the early 1980s Outboard Marine instituted a strategic planning process for its divisions, giving the management teams considerable leeway as long as the plans reinforced overall OMC objectives. Sales volume doubled between 1984 and 1989, which made the Cushman division an attractive property when OMC decided to sell the division in 1989.

 Aerial view
 Aerial view of the plant after closing 21st Street.
Plant exterior  
Plant exterior after the expansion. 1980s

We got a full line of gasoline and electric powered vehicles, which made Cushman unique at that time in the industrial product lines. We had competitors that were very strong with electric vehicles. We had other competitors that were very strong with gasoline vehicles, but we had no competitors that were strong with both gas and electric.
          Cushman manufactured nearly, probably 90 percent, 85 to 90 percent of all the components that went into our vehicles. ... We were a full line manufacturer...versus a lot of our competitors that purchased most of their components from other vendors. It gave us a lot of exclusives. The key thing was total control over our own quality.
--Daniel Hedglin

Cushman in the Classroom

Cushman's Gerald Ogren helped initiate vocational education programs in partnership with the Lincoln Public Schools. He served as president of the Vocational Foundation of Nebraska, a nonprofit group of educators and industry representatives who work to improve vocational training by increasing the availability of equipment and materials for vocational students. OMC/Cushman donated gasoline and diesel engines to high schools and technical community college programs. The foundation also raised money for grants and scholarships for vocational students and instructors.



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