“When you have the same problem over and over again, you figure out there must be a better way … so I tried to help myself by making things easier.”
That’s how Everett Rankins describes his approach to finding “a better way” to improve farm equipment over more than seven decades.
Thursday evening, the 91-year-old Tracy resident will be recognized for his unique contributions to making farming operations in this region more efficient and cost effective when he is inducted into the San Joaquin County Agricultural Hall of Fame.
The evening in the Robert Cabral Ag Center off Arch Airport Road will begin at 5:30 p.m. with a social hour, followed at 6:30 p.m. with dinner and induction ceremonies.
Rankins has been described as “the greatest living authority on hay baling in San Joaquin County,” and indeed many of the improvements he designed and applied to existing farm equipment have been centered around hay baling.
The native of Texas first gained recognition in late 1940s and 1950s as a hay baling innovator in California’s Central Valley. In partnership with his uncle, George Jay, he led the way in reducing the four-man hay baler to a two-man operation by turning hand operations into mechanical processes. Over the years, it’s evolved into a self-propelled one-man hay baler.
Rankins also invented and patented a detachable one-wheel power system, which could be connected to a piece of equipment to make it self-propelled, eliminating the need for a tractor.
Moving basket-type hay rakes from one field to another was another problem Rankins solved by developing the “Tow and Go,” which allows two rakes to be positioned one behind the other for transport and then returned to field position to resume raking hay.
At the request of the San Joaquin Valley Hay Growers Association, he and his uncle manufactured the first double-compressed hay press for shipping hay to Hawaii and Japan.
Rankins designed and built countless other improvements of various complexities and sizes, along with a system of stacking 56 bales of hay, the right size for retrieving bales and shipping. He and his uncle collected 15 patents.
They had work places at first near Manteca and later on Tracy Boulevard and then Bethany Road in the Tracy area.
He “more or less” retired two years ago but can be found in his machine shop on Naglee Road most days.
“Some people call me a workaholic, but I really like working on a problem and then finally seeing the results,” he said. “For me, that’s not work; it’s a lot of fun.”
Rankins was born on a farm near Melissa in north-central Texas and, after serving in the Navy for two years, came to California in 1947 to join his uncle in baling hay.
Jay & Rankins became one of the largest hay baling operations in the Central Valley, and that involvement led to the firm’s entry into modifying and improving hay baling equipment and other farm implements.
Wanda Rankins, Everett’s wife of 64 years, died in 2016. He has a son and a daughter and five grandchildren.