Horsepower stays hidden

Paul Gaspar, a mechanic for Cummins Natural Gas Engine Co, puts the finishing touches on a ratchet job for an 1,100-horsepower engine Friday afternoon. The company sold approximately 1,500 engines in 2006. (CNJ Staff Photo: Kevin Wilson)

By Kevin Wilson: CNJ staff writer

It might be a generator that keeps a hospital running in a power outage. Or an irrigation system for farmers throughout the Texas panhandle. Or even a fan that displaces methane gas and keeps coal miners safe.

The products and their power demands are varied, but the engines that drive them come from a somewhat anonymous company on the outskirts of Clovis.

Located on South Norris is the Cummins Natural Gas Engine Company. It has been in Clovis for nearly 32 years, and has been associated with Cummins for the last 20.
“When I arrived here,” General Manager Bernie Koczaja said, “I was surprised how few people knew about the operation.”

It moved about 3 million pounds of products in 2006 — about 1,500 natural gas engines at an average weight of 2,000 pounds — but did so as a wholesaler instead of a direct seller to the public.

“Our customers are Cummins stores,” said Don Hopingardner, who works in the company’s sales support division. “If you want a drain plug for your Dodge engine, I’m sorry, I can’t sell it to you. We are an original equipment manufacturer. We sell to a distribution network.”

The best way to explain the company, Hopingardner said, is they make the “brothers and sisters” of the Cummins diesel engines that are in the Dodge trucks Clovis residents drive.

The company employs about 60 people, from the assembly technicians that make the engines to the engineering teams to the quality assurance employees who test each engine before they’re shipped to Cummins distribution companies across the world.

What the engines power is up to the consumer — Hopingardner said the company produces horsepower, with power ranging from 49 to 1,330 horsepower and sizes ranging from an average truck engine to a 10,000-pound engine the size of a truck.
Hopingardner said natural gas engines have advantages over electric and diesel in agriculture. They costs less to operate than electric engines and natural gas is more accessible than diesel in many areas.

“If you have a diesel engine, you have to have a tank on site. You can bring a natural gas line into a corn field, and as long as that line’s still pressurized (a natural gas engine) can sit there and run non-stop,” Hopingardner said.

The company formerly operated as a standalone for Cummings — as long as the Clovis company handed Cummins a profit check at the end of the year, Cummins didn’t ask many questions. In 2000, Hopingardner said, Cummins created a business plan and a product line to move into the gas compression market.

“Fifteen years ago, this facility produced about 225 units a year,” Hopingardner said. “I remember the hoopla over a 20-unit month.”

Teresa Felix, chief accountant at the company, added that the company produced 1,508 units in 2006.

“Now we shoot for 100-unit months,” Felix said. “From an overall Cummins standpoint, that’s still insignificant to the diesel market that we produce.”

Big resources
Because it’s a small part of Cummins’ business and there are so few plants like the one in Clovis, the business support structure is much different.

“We can run this like a small business,” Felix said. “But we have all of the resources of a huge company because we are a huge company.”

One of those resources, Felix said, was community service funds available from Cummins. Last year, Felix said, the company gave $2,100 to Bella Vista Elementary and $2,900 to Oasis State Park. In addition, Felix said employees regularly take part in Relay For Life and fund-raising drives for United Way and the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

Another resource is access to the Cummins computer system. Hopingardner said he would only need a few minutes with a Cummins engine to tell the customer where it was created and when any modification or repair was performed. With that computer system, he has been able to tell a customer everything he needed, down to the part numbers.

He may never sell somebody an engine directly, but Hopingardner said it helps create brand loyalty.

“We’re a wholesaler, (but) we assist people and we assist dealers locally. We’ve never been known to turn down support. It’s like any industry or market. If you can’t get support, you won’t buy that product again.”