Note: In the months leading up to the 2018 National No-Tillage Conference in Louisville, Ky., I made arrangements with Howard and Steve Martin, the father-son duo behind Martin Industries, to sit with me for a video interview. I was preparing a documentary series on ag equipment’s entrepreneurs, which would be aired in Part 1 as well as a larger longer-tail podcast recording. Our plan was to do the interview during a break in the conference in a board room at Louisville’s Galt House.

But when conference-time came, Howard wasn’t feeling up to making the trip. He apologized for backing out, but he sent me an email at 2:15 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018, that covered what I’m guessing he most wanted to say in such an interview. 

Every son wants his father’s approval, and after digging the correspondence out of my 2018 file cabinet, I sent this personal correspondence to Steve. I also wanted to share with you the role of Steve in a powerful story of a father-son duo who made a profound impact against the odds in their early days.

— Mike Lessiter, President

Here’s the email itself, unedited and in Howard’s own words, which supplements much larger coverage on the late No-Till Farmer Legend, Innovator & Hall of Famer who died in February 2024 at the age of 79.

Mike Lessiter, Steve & Howard Martin

Thanks for giving Steve and I the opportunity to share some of the history of Martin Industries. I think my son would feel awkward if I were there in person bragging on him. Here are some talking points you might want to use.

Steve has a natural mechanical ability. As a teenager he taught himself how to repair automatic transmissions to earn spending money.

His interest in the row cleaner began when he helped the Deere and Company engineer test prototype units. We put two row units on a Tobacco setter frame so that testing could take place any time we could find a trashy spot.

When I went to the shop to try to put together the original model Steve was quick to see what I was trying to do and he designed a fixture to hold the parts and used his welding skills to join the axles directly to the stem. From that day forward he was on a steep learning curve that included:

  • Learning to program his own CNC machine tools
  • Installing and learning to operate his own plasma cutting table
  • Learning the basics of CAD drawing
  • Programming our robotic welders
  • Installing a accounting system
  • Overseeing several building projects
  • Designing improved versions of the row cleaner
  • Training unskilled workers to operate the machines and assemble the parts

All of this took place during the most stressful time our business has ever experienced. A competitor started a frivolous patent infringement lawsuit against us. This was drug out over a period of almost five years and went all the way to the Appeals Court in Washington DC where a three judge panel of patent experts ruled in our favor. They even wondered aloud how they could prevent such injustice in the future since it was clear that it should have been thrown out of court at the beginning. It cost us hundreds of thousands of dollars

During the time of the Federal District Court trial Steve was there to watch the proceedings. I was very proud to see him show up. That injustice was a big lesson for all of my family, because our farm background and church training had not prepared us for such an event.

That experience and other stressful experiences in the manufacturing business is why I think Steve is well qualified to lead Martin Industries through the next generation. 

Thanks again,

Howard Martin