What is Harlan: Big things come in small packages

Harlan helps haul the world-full story
Steve Everly, Kansas City Star, Staff Writer

KCK Company's tractors are compact,
but they move loads that are king-size

Commercial and military aircraft, automobile parts, ammunition, even trees and plants. When it comes to moving the biggest and heaviest commercial loads, standard tractors just don't make the grade. Airplanes. Ammunition. Auto parts. They all have to be hauled somewhere. And every day, across the world, tractors designed and built at Harlan Corp. in Kansas City, Kan., are getting the job done. These are no ordinary tractors. Airlines such as American and Qantas use Harlan tractors to push aircraft and pull baggage trailers. Auto manufacturers such as General Motors, Ford and Chrysler use Harlan tractors to transport parts. A Las Vegas casino recently ordered a Harlan tractor to move large trees and plants in an atrium. The U.S. government uses hundreds of Harlan tractors. The military uses them to move supplies and nudge fighter planes out of their hangars and NASA uses them in its work, too. The Egyptian air force has 250 Harlan tractors, and the country's army recently purchased 18 for supplies and munitions. Harlan tractors can be fitted with diesel, electric or gasoline engines and fitted with other options ordered by customers - including seat belts, turn signals, even air-conditioned cabs.

Getting the job done

Then there are the special touches that have helped burnish Harlan's reputation. I would say they go out of their way," said Jacobs of the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency. The U.S. Air Force, for example, likes a special pivot hitch that allows one person to attach a load to the tractor. Once the government asked for tractors to be sent to Alaska with snowplows. They got them. The Egyptian army recently asked for tractors that could safely go into underground munitions bunkers and be powerful enough to move over difficult terrain when they left the warehouse. The specially built Harlan tractors have electric and diesel engines, which the driver can switch between, depending on the situation. One reason Harlan can cater to these requests is because it makes the parts, Kaplan said. The Las Vegas casino order, for example, required a tractor that could move with a heavy load at a low speed up an incline. Harlan made a drive axle that could handle the stress of that assignment. The ability to build and design tractors also allows Harlan to go after more civilian business - in particular, supplying tractors for airlines. Harlan has about five to ten percent of the market for these types of tractors. Properly powered tractors are a crucial concern for airlines as they strive for on-time performance. "It's something that people take for granted, but I'm  the middle of it and I can't," said Bob Cool, national manager for ground support for Continental Express, a subsidiary of Continental Airlines. Continental Express recently needed tractors that could push at least 50,000 pounds, and much more in inclement weather. Large tractors made by Harlan competitors would do the job but at a cost near $100,000. The smaller Harlan tractors being made were cheaper but not large enough. Harlan ended up designing a tractor to push the load and still save Continental money. In the future, the company expects to bring in even more civilian orders while not ignoring its government work, said Jamie Kaplan. That means more Harlan models to meet various types of jobs. One of the latest renditions has features such as high-low beam headlights and a low profile. "They're really slick tractors," he said.