Big Iron Repair owner Scott Carroll has shifted gears in his career nearly as many times as he’s rebuilt heavy equipment transmissions and engines. His journey began in the late 1970s on his father-in-law’s Eastern Washington farm.
Carroll was born and raised in Ephrata, Wash. After high school, he found work as a truck driver. It was during this time he met his wife, Cindy, whose family grew wheat, bluegrass, garbanzos and barley on their farm between Wilbur and Odessa. After marrying Cindy in 1978, Carroll went to work on the farm.
“I was mechanically inclined, so I just got to working and doing a lot of repairs on equipment. That’s how it started. I wasn’t out on tractors that much or harvesting; I was always working on equipment and different things,” he said. The Carrolls, who welcomed son, Eddy, in 1980, spent the next two decades on the farm. Carroll eventually became a certified welder through Big Bend Community College.
Things started to change when Carroll’s father-in-law decided to retire. Eddy acquired ownership in the farm, alongside his parents, and took over the day-to-day operation. Carroll took a job working on heavy equipment with a road-building company in Ephrata, while still helping out on the farm, especially during harvest or when a piece of equipment broke down.
“Like I tell everybody, when you own a farm, you never really retire from it. You are always going to be there,” he said. “When something broke down, or something went haywire on the farm, I’d get time off to get it straightened out.”
The next career shift took Carroll to Southern California. He worked on construction equipment for a rental company. One of his coworkers was a former Caterpillar trainer.
“I really camped on that guy,” Carroll said. “I got to know Caterpillars pretty darn well.”
After a few years working in Southern California, Carroll returned to Eastern Washington and went to work for a road company in Spokane. He spent six months on a job in southeast Montana. He said he was filling up at a truck stop in Billings, Mont., when he struck up a conversation with a stranger who saw the tools in the back of Carroll’s truck. Turns out, the stranger worked for a company that was starting a big job in Escondido, Calif., and was looking for mechanics. After talking it through with Cindy, Carroll found himself back in Southern California, charged with hiring a crew to start a grading division and eventually becoming a service manager.
“I went from thinking I was just a mechanic to them sending me out to buy equipment. Heck, I was traveling all over the place,” he said. A large job in Henderson, Nev., required more crew and more training. “That really raised up what I was doing. By really paying attention to that Cat trainer, I learned a lot so I could teach them lots of stuff. Of course, I was still learning all the time.”
The Carroll’s settled around Las Vegas, and Cindy, who has a financial background, took a job with the same company as an office manager.
“There we were, just working away. I really liked the weather and loved the work. I’d still be down there, but my mother-in-law died. My father-in-law was getting older, and I needed to help Eddy with the farm,” Carroll said. Returning to Eastern Washington, the Carrolls successfully reopened and ran the NAPA store in Odessa before selling it.
“It’s one thing to stand on one side of the counter and complain because they don’t have parts and another thing to being the person being complained at because you don’t have parts,” Carroll said, laughing. Another stint running road crews followed, but Carroll found himself wanting more flexibility in his schedule to help his son with the farm. Throughout his years working on road crews or for construction companies, Carroll had continued to work on farmers’ equipment, so he transitioned into starting his own engine repair company around 2010. While he still works on a lot of construction equipment, he figures roughly 50 percent of his business comes from farm equipment. He specializes in mobile repairs.
“If a big dozer is broken down in a pit, that’s where it’s broken down. Most of my work is at other people’s places in fields,” he said. In fact, when Wheat Life spoke to him, he was out in a potato field repairing a truck loaded with spuds. “I have two service trucks that are overloaded with tools and cranes. I do a lot of motor and transmission work. If I can go somewhere and kick that motor out and take it back to the shop or farm and repair it there, that works better. But if I have to do it on the floor, that’s what we do. We are always packing a lot of tools, different things to break tracks and hubs, especially on older Cat equipment and other brands of crawlers.”
Big Iron Repair is mostly a family affair. Eddy helps out during the winter when work at the farm slows down. Carroll’s brother lends a hand, and Cindy takes care of the books when she isn’t working at her day job at Northwest Farm Credit Services.
“Sometimes I really wish I had a different bookkeeper who would give me more money to buy more tools,” Carroll joked. “But in all fairness, she’s usually pretty well right.”
Over his years working on farm equipment, Carroll said there’s been many changes in how they are built, including increasingly complicated electronics and the amount of plastic parts. He avoids working on machines that are still under warranty. He feels equipment built 20 years ago has fewer plastic parts and is easier to work on.
“If you are like me and are more about being efficient, some of these covers they put on these things, why do that? We just spent an hour getting the cover off to make a 10-minute repair,” he said. Another thing that bothers him is the lack of replacement parts for older machines. “You still see people farming with 1940s and 50s stuff, and it runs great. But there are a few dealers, when things hit a certain age, that they don’t carry parts for anymore.”
There’s a big push by big equipment manufacturers to limit who can perform repairs on their machines. Prohibiting a farmer from working on his own machine doesn’t sit well with Carroll.
“Tractors aren’t cheap, so when you spend that kind of money and the companies are telling you that you own the tractor but you don’t have the right to work on it? That’s not right,” he said. “They’re saying only dealers have the right to work on it, but call a dealer, and they’ll tell you they are two or three weeks out. How in the heck can they say you don’t have the right to work on it, but they don’t have enough people to work on it? It doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.”
Like many industries, there’s a shortage of skilled labor in Carroll’s field. He doesn’t see young people going into the trades like they used to.
“There’s a good living to be made out of this, especially right now. It just seems like it’s easier to sit at a desk and create something graphic with a computer than it is to go out, scrape away grease, climb under something and fix it,” he said. “I really enjoy what I’m doing. Some days, I’m as tired as you can believe, but when I sit back and look at it, I’ve helped people out, made some money for my living, and it’s not that hard. I’ve always said the hardest part is getting started. Doesn’t matter what it is. Once you get started, there’s not much to it.”
Reflecting back on his wheat farming days, Carroll said growing up on the farm with his family made for a great lifestyle.
“I wouldn’t trade it for nothing. We all grew up together, and it made us really close,” he said.
Big Iron Repair’s website is currently under construction, but Carroll can be reached at