Kellie Einck grew up in a semi, traveling coast to coast with her dad and her sister, Korrie. It wasn’t all sightseeing, but an opportunity for the young girl to ask her dad about anything and everything under the sun … including what it’s like to be a mechanic.
“We talked politics and landmarks and history and movies and celebrities and the list goes on to mechanics,” Einck said as she recalls asking quite often: “Dad, why does this happen? Dad, how does this work?”
When she wasn’t on the road hauling livestock with her dad, who operates Einck Trucking, she was home “playing” in her father’s shop around the trucks, learning how to change tires, fix brakes, and change the oil. The first machine she worked on was her dad’s 379 Peterbilt. Once Einck joined FFA, she signed up for welding classes and entered any ag mechanic competition she could.
So it should come to no surprise that Einck chose a career in mechanics or that the ambitious, industrious student took home this year’s National FFA 2017 American Star in Agricultural Placement.
The first Iowan in 19 years to win the prestigious award, Einck worked at a small car garage as a general mechanic and service technician in her hometown of Primghar, Iowa for her SAE. During her junior and senior year of high school, Einck studied diesel mechanics at Northwest Iowa Community College in Sheldon. Now she works full time at Icon Ag & Turf enterprise in Paulina as a service technician and service writer, getting her hands dirty on some big green machines.
“After being hired full time, the first tractor I worked on was in July of 2014 and was a John Deere 7800,” Einck said. “To be honest, I had never worked on a tractor prior to the John Deere dealership. Of course, I had been around them and knew some things, but never delved into the nuts and bolts.”
Now the 5-foot 3-inch 22-year-old has found her way around the machines, adding that her small stature has even helped at times.
“There are hard places to reach and fix and I am able to wiggle into tight spaces and use my small hands and fingers for delicate work that might come as a struggle to a larger male counterpart,” Einck said. “It’s gratifying that a senior technician will ask for my help because I do have those qualities.”
But Einck has also had to prove herself in a job that is stereotypically help by men.
“I cannot say it’s been easy, but it has been worth it. The younger farmers adapted quicker than the older generation more accustomed to the traditional gender roles. In time, most all have come around,” Einck said. “I think it’s more of a shock factor, something or someone they aren’t expecting to see when they bring their tractor in.”
Einck said it’s also been just as shocking for the women in the area.
“A lot of the ‘proving’ is merely just confirming I’m not here for the attention and looks — to show I love what I do no matter the stereotypes and gossip,” Einck said.
There have been some physical challenges to the job, especially when it comes to moving large parts and pieces. Einck said she’s learned to not be afraid to grab the overhead crane to help or use a bigger pry bar.
“Whatever gets the job completed is the ‘right’ way to do it, even when it’s a step extra from the technician next to me,” Einck said.
Another unforeseen challenge for Einck has been clothing and apparel. Tech pants don’t come in such a small size and the young mechanic has even rolled over her own ponytail while laying on a creeper. She also said it’s not easy keeping cuticles and nails clean – that’s why she often has her nails painted to hide the dirt.
The most challenging mechanical fix Einck is proud to master? Splitting a tractor for a clutch or seal, and rolling it back together without error.
“Take a 4430 or 4020, literally split the tractor in half, and bolt back together fixed,” Einck said. “It’s satisfying to see projects like that roll out the door.”
Einck recognizes that her profession isn’t for every female.
“I wouldn’t encourage just anyone to be a mechanic, but if you love it and that’s where your heart is – go for it,” Einck said. “Life is too short to hate going to work every day.”
And if you’re going to work on agricultural machines, Einck said you need to have a passion for the industry.
“Agriculture is everywhere. The milk at the grocery store, the chicken breast served at the fancy restaurant, the sticky notes at your desk, the leather jacket you took off this morning, the lipstick you need to reapply, it’s all agriculture,” Einck said. “My little measly job here keeps the beef producer producing, the dairyman milking, the feedstuffs hauler hauling. Because they rely on machines for their job, they rely on me.”