SPEARVILLE – Don Hornung drove his pickup down the street in this small Ford County town, stopping to point out an empty lot.
His family’s presence in Spearville, population 800, is evident from the large buildings on the outskirts of town and the yard full of agricultural parts and products. But this spot is where, in essence, it all started, he said.
In 1954, his entrepreneurial father, Michael, and a fellow school board member, Victor Claussen, saw a need.
The school was building a new gymnasium. But the school board wasn’t satisfied with the manually folded basketball goals on the market. Both men, involved in production agriculture in the region, decided they could build retractable goals operated by electricity.
According to an article in the Garden City Telegram, the goals were built and installed and were deemed a success.
The two men figured that was that and returned to the farming and cattle business. But orders were trickling in from other school boards that had heard, by word-of-mouth, about the new goals. The two producers started E-Z-Fold and left their agricultural operations.
“And that grew to about a 25-, 30-employee business,” Don Hornung said of the basketball company.
In 1958, his father sold his interest to his business partner and other investors. Investors eventually sold to Universal Bleacher in Illinois.
But Michael Hornung didn’t sit idle. Now in his 50s, he decided to use his manufacturing skills and go back into the agriculture industry.
He started American Products in 1960, with the first product a folding springtooth.
From there, Michael Hornung began to develop products to fit farmers’ needs for the given season.
Tillage tool is born
“At the time, the government had idled a lot of acres out of production,” Don Hornung said. “Then, you produced on just half your ground. To keep the weeds clean off this, during the summer fallow period – that’s when the ‘Crust Buster’ came into play. It broke the crust, kept the weeds from growing.”
The product had a low draft, pulling easily. Thus, it gained in popularity through the late 1970s.
“And that was really what built the company, that tillage tool,” he said.
“Eventually we changed the name to CrustBuster because of its reputation,” Don Hornung said. “It was such a recognizable name, and a name you remember.”
Staying afloat through the ‘80s
Michael Hornung’s died in the 1980s, but Don, along with his sons, Matt and Christian, and other dedicated employees continue with the same entrepreneurial vision – finding ways to change with the times and offer farmers the products they need to do their job.
But CrustBuster/Speed King products of today don’t bust any crust, Don Hornung said.
“Today we don’t build a single tillage tool,” he said.
Like most agriculture-based companies, CrustBuster took a hit during the 1980s farm crisis.
“It was a difficult time period,” Don Hornung said. “I compare the 1980s, for me, personally, was like my dad’s ’30s were. Nothing worked. It was tough, tough, tough.”
CrustBuster’s management was faced with readjusting and reorganizing its business to reflect this decisive drop in sales and revenues. CrustBuster found its survival by purchasing the assets of other failing agricultural corporations, which included a bulk fertilizer handling and blending equipment company called Speed King.
In 1987, the company took over a Plainview, Texas, company’s boll buggy product for the cotton industry.
Movement into no-till
In the late 1980s, Don Hornung attended a no-till conference in Nebraska and realized the farm landscape was again changing.
“No-till was just on the horizon at that time,” he said. “I felt so strong about what I saw (at the conference), about reducing tillage and going to no-till operations, that we started going gradually out of tillage.”
Today, the company develops products centered on three categories: planting, which includes grain drills and planters; material handling, which includes bulk fertilizer products and grain conveyors; and harvesting, manufacturing products like grain carts and the cotton products.
CrustBuster continues to be innovative. Last year, the company released a 60-foot center-fill grain drill, one of the first of its kind in the industry.
Hornung said his goal is to take the company to the next generation.
“We have had opportunities to sell the company, and we’re not interested,” he said. “We are very much dedicated to the locale.”
“We want this thing to go down the road,” he said of CrustBuster.