Born in a cinder block building in 1951, business grows into powerhouse northeast dealer
Husband and wife team Henry and Dorothy Hansen opened their Case tractor dealership in Henrietta, N.Y., in 1951. Seventy years later, the dealership still in the family, has expanded to 15 retail locations plus a corporate headquarters and is flourishing.
Henry Hansen was raised on a farm near Bellona, N.Y., a Finger Lakes community some 40 miles from Henrietta. He attended Rochester Institute of Technology and served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. Four years after he and Dorothy married in 1947, Hansen took his machinery and technical skills to Henrietta in Monroe County and partnered with manufacturer J.I. Case Company to open a dealership, soon named “Monroe Tractor.”
Case had been around for a hundred years and was credited with building the first steam engine-powered tractors. In 1951, the longtime, widely respected company was selling such tractors as the 27-hp Model SC and 51-hp Model LA.
The dealership was started in a 30-ft. by 40-ft. cinder block building with a wide roll-up door. Heated during New York winters by a coal-fired pot-bellied stove, the building was home base for, essentially, a one-person operation. On days when Hansen was out making sales or service calls, Dorothy Hansen would answer the phone. She also was the company bookkeeper.
“As a family, we sacrificed quite a bit,” recalled Monroe Tractor CEO Janet Felosky, daughter of the company’s founding couple. “We lived a simple life in the early years and anything extra was put back into the business.”
The sacrifices on behalf of the company — not an uncommon entrepreneurial experience — were shared, but Henry Hansen probably bore the brunt of them. “One of the things that really stands out in my mind is how hard Dad worked,” Felosky said.
“It seems like he did everything himself and that went on for quite a number of years. He would come home for dinner, take a 15-minute nap and then be out the door and back on the road again. Whether it was picking up telephone poles to build a ramp to unload equipment or whatever, he did it all himself, day after day, six days a week.”
Other factors besides hard work sparked the dealership’s growth. One was the backhoe attachment. A Vermont company, Cone Automatic, developed an all-hydraulic digging attachment for tractors, including Case. This Pippin backhoe introduced Hansen’s Case tractors to the construction market.
Then, in 1957, Case purchased an Indiana company, the American Tractor Corporation, primarily to gain rights to its backhoe. It soon began marketing Case tractors with an integrated backhoe and front-end loader, thereby creating and dominating the backhoe/loader market.
“The construction equipment market began to explode for us,” Felosky said. “We would have 20 or 30 backhoes sitting in our lot at any given time. Locally, we were referred to as ‘Backhoe Park.’”
Another factor propelling growth was Hansen’s decision to rent equipment. Commonplace now, it was a pioneering concept in the early 1960s.
“I don’t even know if they rented cars then,” the founder said in retrospect. He first proposed renting a tractor to a powerline construction contractor who had approached him. Case executives were not thrilled.
“You can’t do that because the machine is collateralized,” Hansen was told, according to Felosky. She said her father responded that he would send 80 percent of the rental money to Case and pay down the note.
“Case agreed and it wasn’t long before we had a rental fleet of eight or 10 machines, decades before equipment rental was even a thing,” Felosky said.
Hansen’s vision and hard work continued to build out the company. It separated into ag and construction divisions in 1973 when agricultural product sales began in two locations, Batavia and Canandaigua. The Henrietta store then catered to construction contractors and government agencies.
A decade later a second construction products store was opened in Buffalo, and a third in Syracuse in 1986. A Monroe Tractor ag dealership was added in Adams Center in 1988 and then the proliferation of Monroe Tractor stores ended and the company focused on strengthening its footprint over the next 20 years. Not until 2008, did company branches again multiply.
It happened when the company purchased the Case dealerships of S.C. Hansen, an entirely separate New York State company founded in 1947 by Henry Hansen’s brother, Stewart. With the merger of the two Hansen family-owned enterprises, Monroe Tractor absorbed construction equipment lines offered by S.C. Hansen and added four locations — Elmira, Binghamton, Albany and Hornell. The Elmira and Hornell stores became a single facility in Campbell.
Monroe Tractor’s footprint crossed the New York State line in 2017 when it acquired two Case of New England dealership locations — one in Worcester (covering Rhode Island) and another in Woburn, Mass. A year later, Monroe opened a location in Hartford, Conn. and in 2019, two ag branches were opened in New Haven, Vt., and Derby Vt.
In 2021, with a third generation of the family firmly in place and a strong group of loyal associates at Monroe Tractor, the 70 years of company growth feels more like a beginning than a culmination. The company continues to strengthen its reputation for excellent service, adhering to a philosophy first voiced by Henry Hansen clear back in 1951: “If you take care of the customer, the business will grow.”