Standing the Tests of Time

Reborn out of the rubble left by an April 3, 2017 tornado that struck Mansfield, the generational, family-owned Hays Tractor & Equipment company carries on the legacy of its founder and continues its customers-first approach at a spacious new campus just south of The Hub.

by Nat Harwell

The voices still echo for those who listen closely enough. “Well, why don’t you just go ahead and put a bed up there?” she asked. “You spend more time there than you do at home, and for goodness sakes, why go there on Sundays?” Lamar Hays had the answer ready for his wife, Carrie: “I don’t mind tellin’ you. I’ve got to take care of my customers. Yes, sir.” 

So went the conversation back when Hays Tractor & Equipment rested at the State Highway 11-County Road 213 intersection in Mansfield. The two-story brick building was a landmark until 1:36 p.m. on April 3, 2017—the exact time a tornado ripped through eastern Newton County and took part of the venerable structure with it. Hays Tractor’s story runs much deeper than a natural disaster. Today, the company has settled into a newly designed, functional and spacious campus just south of The Hub—the once-thriving and now revitalized crossroads where U.S. 278 meets State Highway 11. 

Sheila Hays Massey and Brian Massey

Back in 1951—those golden years between the end of World War II and the beginning of the Korean War—E. Lee Hays had partnered with W.C. Benton in Covington to sell international trucks and Farmall tractors. They operated out of a building that still sits on U.S. 278, adjoining Newton Electric Supply and across the street from United Bank. That same year, Hays bought the Farmall tractor side of the company and founded Hays Tractor & Equipment. His son, Lamar, took over the operation in 1973, and the family aspect of running a business took off. 

Lamar wed Carrie on March 4, 1962. They were married for exactly 47 years, until his death on March 4, 2009. Over the last quarter of the 20th century, Lamar’s daughters played vital roles as administrative assistants. Susan Hays Boss was his secretary for 16 years, and Sandra Hays Johnson—“the tomboy of the family”—served in that capacity for 15 years. Sheila Hays Massey arrived on the scene in 2002, and today, she owns Hays Tractor & Equipment. 

“It was just like you’ve heard folks say. We heard the railroad train sound at 1:36, and it lasted for exactly three minutes. Parts of the building were torn off and some bricks did some damage, but not a one of us was hurt.”

Hays Tractor & Equipment Owner Sheila Hays Massey

Farmall tractors and farm implements, with all the associated equipment any farmer could ever need, was sold and serviced by the Hays family. Lamar’s penchant for taking care of his customers and the foresight to put them first built a loyal and ever-growing base. The company flourished. Then came the fateful day in April 2017. 

“My husband is Brian Massey,” Sheila said. “At the time, he was acting fire chief, although today he’s a full-time fireman for Newton County, as well as the general manager here. He called on the phone and told us the weather was really going to be rough that afternoon and to be ready to take shelter.”

Sure enough, the civil defense sirens started to sound just after 1:30 p.m., and the employees took shelter as the tornado approached.

“It was just like you’ve heard folks say,” Sheila said. “We heard the railroad train sound at 1:36, and it lasted for exactly three minutes. Parts of the building were torn off and some bricks did some damage, but not a one of us was hurt. We were truly blessed.”

Not long after the damage was assessed, the decision was made to relocate the business. As much of the old building as possible was salvaged and can be seen on “the history wall” at the new facility and on the exterior brick sign. Parked out front sits the Farmall Cub model, which was sold to Oxford College years ago. Sheila recently repurchased the tractor.

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“Daddy’s favorite model tractor of all-time was the Farmall Cub,” she said. “This one doesn’t run any longer, but I’ve got it outside my office window and can sort of feel his vibe when I look at it.”

Despite beginning with the Farmall line, Hays Tractor made a switch to Kubota farm equipment in the early 1990s. The engines for the Kubota tractors are made in Japan, but the other components are manufactured in America, and there are distribution warehouses and sales centers spread across the nation.

“We like Kubota for a number of reasons,” Sheila said. “Our sales and management staff attend annual conferences to be apprised of the latest advances and models, and our service technicians take classes and are certified to work on all of the equipment we sell.”

Two important elements of that sales staff and service department appear in the form of the fourth generation of family members at Hays Tractor & Equipment. Andrew Hays recently graduated from Georgia State University, having worked on his business administration degree. Andrew is focused on sales and digital marketing, and his resume includes having been a national finalist and first runner-up in agricultural sales proficiency as a Future Farmers of America member. Not to be outdone, younger brother Alex, 14, just finished his freshman year at Eastside High School. Alex has been interested in the service side of the business for years, belying his age, and the straight-A student credits Eastside FFA Advisor Katrina Pollard’s FFA tutelage as a major boost.

Hays Tractor & Equipment’s new campus sports fully staffed sales, parts and service departments and employs 14 full- and part-time workers. The company sells the L series Kubota tractors and associated implements, and it also boasts a turf division, with lawn mowers and RTV side-by-side vehicles.

From its beginning in 1951 to the present day, Hays Tractor & Equipment has been and continues to be a family affair. The customer always comes first tenet has propelled the company through the years. Lamar Hays’ favorite model now stands guard outside Sheila Massey’s office, day and night. It seems totally within the realm of reason to picture that gentleman standing up on the shoulder of State Highway 11, near The Hub, while he looks down on the glistening, modern campus of Hays Tractor & Equipment. 

Click here to read more stories by Nat Harwell.

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