Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association

Badger Common’Tater October 2015 Issue

Interview with Bill Zelinski

Lenco Harvester

Bill Zelinski, Big Iron Equipment, Inc., demonstrated the world’s first 8-row self-propelled folding windrower (Lenco 8RSPW Model) at one of Mortenson Produce, LLC. potato fields. Bill checks the unfolding of the side beds, which are easy to operate and service.

Advanced Farm Equipment, LLC (AFE), www.lenco-harvesters.com, manufacturers of the Lenco brand of potato equipment have once again proven that they are indeed on the cutting edge of agricultural equipment innovation by introducing the world’s first 8 row self-propelled folding windrower (8RSPW Model).

While the Lenco self-propelled Airhead Potato Harvester revolutionized the way potatoes were harvested, the 8RSPW Model self-propelled windrower contributes tremendous strides in productivity, efficiency and reliability.

Most importantly, it will do the job of two tractors and require only one driver, not two. Plus, it folds up to 19′ width for ease of transportation, even down country roads.

Lenco Windrower

A great view of the Lenco 8RSPW Model self-propelled windrower dumping all eight rows of potatoes into two rows ahead of the harvester.

While AFE is located in Vestaburg , MI, it has local Wisconsin ties through Owner/Dealer Bill Zelinski, who also owns and operates Big Iron Equipment Inc., Plover, WI, (Portage County),  www.bigironequipment.com, specializing in equipment for Midwestern potato farmers.

Greg Merrihew, Owner/Manager, runs overall operations in Michigan while Zelinski focuses on sales. Alan Sackett, Owner/President, a large Michigan commercial potato grower operation brings real-life field equipment experience to the equation.

Advanced Farm Equipment’s ongoing commitment to research and development contributes to their reputation as an innovative, forward-thinking organization. They listen to their customers’ needs and integrate their suggestions into the design and manufacturing process.

Lenco Windrower

Bill Zelinski and Jim Mortenson enjoy an excellent ‘birds-eye’ view of how the Lenco 8RSPW Model operates.

According to Zelinski, Big Iron Equipment, Inc., is not just a Midwest dealer for Lenco. It also handles, Spudnik, Grimme, Salford, Wil-Rich, Wishek Manufacturing, Great Plains, Demco, Versatile, FAE, Norwest Tillage and Ashland earth moving equipment.

I had the pleasure of watching the 8RSPW Model in action and photographing it for this article. I also had the unique perspective of following it as it traveled down backroads to the field in which it was to be demonstrated since my car ended up directly behind it.

With the folding ‘beds’, this amazing piece of equipment is narrower than a Lenco harvester and there were only a few spots where an oncoming car had to wait, or a semi had to pull over as the 8RSPW Model passed.

Lenco Windrower

A close-up of the Lenco 8RSPW Model in action.

If you did not have a chance to see it yourself, here is a link to an AFE video of this amazing machine folding and unfolding arms and operating in the field: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L4VI7IEQW_k

As one of the driving forces behind encouraging the development of this revolutionary 8 row self-propelled folding windrower, Bill Zelinski is the subject of this issue’s interview.

Please share with us a little about your business, how you got started and where you see your business in the future? 

I was involved in selling equipment for quite some time before deciding to start my own business. It was a big risk to step out on my own but I wanted to have more control over how I interacted with my customers, what I offered them and my overall future.

Zelinski and Mortenson

Bill Zelinski and Jim Mortenson

Faced with an opportunity to purchase the inventory of S&M Equipment, which was a Spudnik and Milestone company store, I decided to plunge ahead and follow my dream of having my own business.

My company, Big Iron Equipment, Inc., offers sales, service and a large well-stocked parts department for all of its lines plus Noffsinger and Broekema chains, sprockets, bearings, rollers and steel stock along with many hydraulic hoses and fittings and carries a large selection of clean used equipment.

Big Iron Equipment, Inc. has built a strong customer base over the years because we treat our customers the way we would like to be treated, deal with them fairly and openly and listen to their needs, then fulfill those needs with the right equipment at the right price and help them maintain and service their equipment after the sale.


Nothing sweeter than seeing all those potatoes roll out the shoots.

As far as future goals, I am building a new facility for a cryogenics setup where we will freeze metal to 300 degrees below zero to prolong its life, prevent breakage and provide stress relief and stabilization, all of which helps save maintenance expenses and reduces downtime and waste.

The cryogenic process, called cryogenic tempering, introduces metal objects to a dry, deep freezing process using flashed Liquid Nitrogen (LN2), which is measured and injected by a proprietary computer-controlled processing system.

This modifies metal’s molecular structure before it is brought back to room temperature or further enhanced through heat tempering.

Lenco Harvester

Jim Mortenson purchased this brand new Lenco harvester from Bill Zelinski, which arrived just in time for harvest season.

Since you deal direct with potato harvesting equipment buyers and operators, I understand that you were instrumental in convincing your fellow AFE shareholders to introduce this new 8RSPW Model. Please share with us your road from original conception for the model to conception and release.

The 8 Row Windrower is not a new concept. We have had a number of them in the field but they do not fold up and therefore are more difficult to transport.

Since we listen carefully to our customers, we knew we had to figure out a way to adjust the width to travel down backroads more readily. We played around with the folding idea for approximately five years.


Nice double rows of potatoes just waiting for the harvester. Note the Lenco 8RSPW Model side beds folding up as this demonstration nears its end.

Folding each complete 4 Row Windrower was the only way it could work. The crew at Advanced Farm Equipment, LLC worked long and hard to figure out how to accomplish the task of creating beds that could readily fold and unfold and were easy to service.

Tell us about the 8RSPW Model’s benefits, particularly in comparison to standard windrowers.

The benefits are tremendous, particularly in labor savings. One of the first things most farms say is that they cannot find good, qualified help.

Since one 8RSPW Model will do the job of two tractors and requires only one driver, not two, you save on labor wages and training hours while also enjoying reduced fuel costs. In addition, it is no harder to learn to drive than a standard tractor with a windrower.

With the 8RSPW Model, you also dramatically decrease tire damage to potato hills because you only have two tires doing down the rows versus 12 tires.

Greg Merrihew

Greg Merrihew, Owner/Manager of Advanced Farm Equipment, LLC, manufacturer of the Lenco line of harvesters and windrowers, stands in the plant’s main construction area. All Lenco equipment is “scratch built” to each customer’s specific needs, a long and complicated process.

Compatible with 4 row harvesters, the 8RSPW Model is very user friendly and ergonomically engineered because you look forward, not twisted backwards watching the windrow behind you all day.

Here are some additional perks:

  • Transporting width; 19′ width for ease of transportation with (2) 4 Row Folding Beds
  • Completely folds and unfolds in under three minutes
  • Saves wear and tear on tractors
  • Independent 4 row digging beds
  • Positive digging on uneven terrain
  • Comfortable cab with 360-degrees viewing angles
  • Powerful Tier 4 compliant SCANIA diesel engine
  • Dependable Estridge planetary ground drives
  • Clean digging for a 12 row harvest
  • Easy maintenance with tilting beds
Bill Zelinski

Bill Zelinski not only sells equipment fut also offers full parts and service capabilities.

Are the new Lenco 8RSPW Model self-propelled windrowers “scratch built” to each customer’s specific needs like the Lenco potato harvesters and if so, how long does it take to build one, what features and configurations can be chosen and what is involved in the process?

All the AFE machines, including the 8RSPW Model, are custom built.

It takes approximately 2,000 hours to build each 8RSPW Model. The one we currently have in the field is the first one built so we wanted to keep it simple like a typical 4-row. However, options like AFE dirt table will be added later.

How does a grower know if purchasing this piece of equipment would be right for their operation and compatible with their current equipment?

All of us at Big Iron Equipment recognize the importance of choosing the right equipment and offer useful input to help you identify your needs.

We caution people that when choosing equipment that may have multiple operators, be sure to target one that is user-friendly to operate.

No matter what you buy, seek out industry leaders known for reliability, quality and versatility. Find equipment with rugged durability and proven records of accomplishment in the industry.

We encourage potential customers to check with our current customers to see what they think of our dealership’s products and service.

Since the 8RSPW Model self-propelled windrower is a major capital expense, how does a grower finance a purchase and is it available on a lease for purchase option?

Most growers go through their own banks but leases are available.

What kind of a warranty and service agreement do you provide?

We offer a one-year warranty and work together with our customers to develop the type of service agreement that works best for their operation. Since we have a fully equipped shop and skilled service technicians, we do our own servicing and repairs.

Farmers looking to get the most out of their equipment at trade-in can often be rewarded by paying attention to regular maintenance and equipment upkeep. Farmers and dealers are usually willing to pay more for machines with well-kept internal workings and good outside appearance.

Can GPS systems be incorporated into the Lenco products to implement steering mechanism and tractor to operate on the same guidance path in straight, circle and curve track modes to help reduce potato bruising during harvest? If so, do you have recommendations on what systems would work best and do you handle these systems yourself through Big Iron Equipment, Inc.?

I am sure GPS could be installed because they are similar to regular tractors. As far as the 8RSPW Model goes, since this is our first machine produced, as I mentioned, we wanted to keep this one simple and did not explore that option.

My own business does not handle GPS equipment. It is possible some growers have incorporated it into their Lenco harvesters but I have not seen any myself.

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Badger Common'Tater October 2015

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