Q&A: Maralee Tucker Sullivan
By Jan Mitchell
Describe what your company does. How many employees do you have?
Tucker Sno-Cat Corporation designs, manufactures and sells machines for snow grooming, snow removal, search and rescue, ambulance, avalanche control, oil and gas exploration, mining, telecommunication operations, and personnel and cargo transport. We are recognized as the oldest successful snow vehicle manufacturer in the world. We have various configurations of cabs and tracks, depending on the intended use. Our newest model in production is the Tucker-Terra, with four articulating, all-rubber tracks that provide traction advantages in steep terrain and blizzard conditions while leaving a gentle footprint over snow-covered ground.
Tucker also manufactures agricultural machines for soft ground farming applications. And, our Classic Cats by Tucker division buys, restores and sells old Sno-Cats, creating a market much like those for classic cars.
Tucker Sno-Cat has approximately 45 employees. It is seasonal because we’re primarily in the snow business, but our other ventures help keep employees busy year-round.
How did your business get started? Why Oregon? How long have you been in operation?
My grandfather Emmitt M. Tucker, Sr., started the business in 1942. He was born near Grants Pass in 1892, and even at a young age trudging through snow on the way to school, he started to work on options for transportation over snow. His business initially started in California, but he wanted to come back home to the Rogue Valley, and so moved the business here a few years later.
We are proud to be a fourth-generation family business, with my late father Emmitt Jr., and now me leading the company. My two sons also work here – Marcus McNeil is president and general manager, and has worked here 20 years, and younger brother Jeff McNeil is parts and warranty manager. My second cousin Steven Tucker also works here, as purchasing manager.
What makes your product unique?
We have the only four-track vehicles built in the U.S. We hire Oregonians and we buy locally as much as possible. Our competitors are German and Italian, and they do very well with two-track vehicles, primarily used in ski areas.
Our four articulating tracks don’t disturb the snow, unlike cleats that dig into the snow. This technology has transferred well to agriculture products, beginning about 10 years ago when growers in the Willamette Valley were looking for options to minimize soil and crop impacts when driving farming machinery over wet, soft soil.
Our product is also unique because in 1957-58, a Tucker Sno-Cat was used to make the first motorized crossing of the Antarctic, as featured in National Geographic!
What other businesses are dependent on what you do? How has the local community benefited?
Our vehicles are used for everything from local search and rescue to trail grooming for recreation. Utilities also use them to access microwave sites and other remote facilities in adverse weather.
How has your business changed since it began?
The addition of agriculture products and the Classic Cats by Tucker division have added more year-round business for our employees.
Competition is tougher today, and we always strive to do the best we can in our application. We now sell all over the world, though mostly in the U.S.
What do you think your business will look like in five years?
I hope my sons are doing well, keeping our employees busy and continuing to find new ways to meet customer needs.
What are your thoughts on the current state of manufacturing? Thoughts on the future of manufacturing?
With the current economy, some of our vendors are so busy we need to order materials three to six months ahead. It’s also hard to find skilled welders and machinists; everyone is busy. That’s a good thing. We hope it lasts; it’s been so nice for us.
Overall though, it’s tough in Oregon. The taxes and regulations can end up chasing manufacturers out of the state. It’s a burden, but it’s hard to leave here. My hope is that in the future more people will understand how important manufacturing is for Oregon.
Why is it important to have manufacturing in Oregon?
It brings in revenue. If it’s too hard to make a living here, people go elsewhere.
We try very hard to build our vehicles with local materials – looking in the Rogue Valley first, then Oregon and then if that’s not possible, we purchase in the U.S.
What makes you excited to come to work every day?
I love coming here every day to work on a product we’re so proud of, and I love working with my sons and our great employees. We’re a small business, so you get to know employees and their families.
And I love the Rogue Valley. We’ve been very lucky here. Everyone working here knows we want to keep them safe, and we’ve won awards from SAIF for our many safety programs.
One of the big things I appreciate is when we get thank you letters from people who were stranded in the snow and glad to see that Sno-Cat come through to assist them – we’ve even heard of a baby or two named Tucker as a result!