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An Entrepreneur's Story

By Lori Thielen

Ken Hake stands by the rare four-wheel steer Ford prototype jeep
Ken Hake stands by the rare four-wheel steer Ford prototype jeep he restored. Of the 1,500 Ford prototypes manufactured in 1941, only 50 were four-wheel steer. The jeep King Michael of Romania purchased was this same type.

Things have come full circle for native Tipton entrepreneur, Ken Hake. Hake’s business, KHK Company, Inc., is now located in the same garage where he began manufacturing his first product in 1945.

“My first product was a TV tower that I started manufacturing because I saw a need for a good strong tower,” Hake says.

Ken shows a portion of an airplane wing
Ken shows a portion of an airplane wing that is in the process of being restored at KHK Company.

Hake, who was born and raised on a farm southwest of Tipton, got much of his early business experience by working at his dad’s hardware store.

“I did all sorts of work for dad and that experience helped me in manufacturing my first product,” says Hake.

The TV tower business kept him busy for two years before being drafted to the Navy for two years. In fact, the steel building he constructed to house his TV tower manufacturing business created a lot of interest around town and led to creation of another business.

“People saw it and liked what they saw and started talking about how they could really use a building like it,” says Hake.

From that initial building, a business emerged that today is known as TREB Construction, Inc., which still has its headquarters in Tipton and is well known throughout Kansas and Nebraska.
Upon returning from the Navy, Hake started developing farm equipment and Kent Manufacturing got its start.

“Our first product was a springtooth harrow that was hydraulically controlled. We set up dealers and sold them throughout several states,” says Hake. “A grain dryer was next, then a fertilizer sprayer and then different tillage equipment.”

Hake’s son, Kent, joined the family business in 1984 and over time was able to buy out two of his father’s partners. In 2000, the father-son team decided to sell their business to Great Plains. Although the name has changed as well as the color equipment is painted, which Ken Hake quickly points out, much has stayed the same. Kent Hake remains manager of the Great Plains Manufacturing facility in Tipton and the company continues to employ many people in the small town. Tillage equipment remains the mainstay at the Tipton facility. Great Plains’ products are sold through over 2,000 independent dealerships across the United States and are exported worldwide.

“We still have six people in our engineering department and 35 in manufacturing at this facility,” says Kent Hake. “The business and employment opportunities have been good for the town.”

This sentiment is echoed by long-time Tipton mayor, Adrian Arnoldy.

“Kent Manufacturing (now Great Plains) and our school are the main reasons we are still here today and we have to keep growing on that,” says Arnoldy.

Ken Hake says other communities over time tried to entice him to move his business and offered incentives to do so, but he remained committed to staying in Tipton.

“I started here and after I built my first building I then had an investment to keep me here. Plus my dad was still here with the hardware business and I also had a group of loyal employees so I didn’t want to leave,” says Ken Hake. “I haven’t regretted that.”

The newest business to keep Ken Hake busy is KHK Company, Inc., which specializes in restoring World War II jeeps and airplanes. He says his interest began when his son was a teenager and needed a vehicle.

“I really wanted to be able to teach him how to restore and maintain a vehicle,” says Ken Hake. “We found a WWII jeep and restored it together.”
Kent laughs when he thinks back to when he was looking for his first set of wheels.

“I thought we were going to a car dealership, but instead we went to a junk pile and started from there,” says Ken Hake. “As we got going, dad found a niche and saw a need for things such as replacement parts, which helped lead him into his current venture.”

One thing led to another and soon Ken Hake found himself selling a couple of restored jeeps to Queen Anne and King Michael of Romania and hosting the couple in Tipton. Ken Hake and King Michael still remain in close contact. Ken Hake considers this a highlight of his business years.

Ken Hake, who had flown since he was 18, soon became interested in restoring WWII airplanes as well and what started as a hobby grew into a business.

“I started restoring a 1941 Boeing Stearman airplane about 20 years ago when I traded one of the jeeps,” says Ken Hake. “About 12 years ago we started restoring and building parts for Curtiss P-40 Warhawk fighter planes that were recovered in the Aleutian Islands in Alaska. We later recovered four more P-40 fighters from Russia.”

The P-40’s were made famous by the Flying Tigers, the American Volunteer Group of fighter pilots and fighter planes in China.

Jeep restoration is all done in-house at KHK, but only the part manufacturing and sheetmetal work for the airplanes is done at the Tipton business.

While Ken Hake is quite modest about his accomplishments through the years, he acknowledges it has taken a lot of hard work and dedication.

“The most challenging thing over the last 50 years has been the learning curve and doing it all without a college degree. I’ve had to figure things out the hard way in my businesses,” says Ken Hake.

He adds with agrin, “My wife Marcella has helped me with bookkeeping all these years and she says it’s time for me to retire.”

For more information on Great Plains Manufacturing, Inc., visit www.greatplainsmfg.com.

 

 

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Last Updated April 6, 2009
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