From uncertainty to prosperity: Jamestown Cummins plant turns 40

JAMESTOWN, N.Y. — Cummins last week celebrated the 40th anniversary of its Jamestown Engine Plant, which produces heavy-duty truck engines for the North American market.

The milestone stirred strong emotions among those with ties to the plant, since just 10 years ago the future of the plant was very much in doubt. Cummins was struggling with excess engine-building capacity in 2002 and needed to consolidate production in either Columbus, Ind. or in Jamestown. With Columbus serving as the corporate headquarters for Cummins as well as its founding location, a betting man may have written off the Jamestown plant.

However the company decided to consolidate production in Jamestown, which during speeches last week, executives past and present said has turned out to be the correct decision.

“At the time, there were a few critics both inside Cummins and outside Cummins,” recalled Dana Vogt, who served as plant manager from 2003 to 2007. “But we really nailed it and we blew those critics away and really have confirmed this was the right decision for Cummins.”

(The Columbus plant now houses production of the ISV5.0 engine Cummins introduced last year).

Among those who cast a vote for Jamestown was Jim Kelly, who was plant manager from 1989 to 1992 and the president of Cummins’ engine business from 2005-2010. When Kelly oversaw production in Jamestown, it was churning out about 65 engines a day, four days a week. Today, it produces 400 engines per day.

“There were many of us who didn’t think the plant would ever see its 40th anniversary,” Kelly admitted. “I’m delighted to be here and be a part of that. We persevered.”

Kelly, now retired, said the attribute that makes the Jamestown plant special is its “can-do” attitude.

Ignacio Garcia served as plant manager from 1998-2003, during the time when speculation of the plant’s closure was omnipresent.

“When I was here, there were a lot of times we were really concerned about the future of heavy-duty engines for the company,” he said. Garcia credited the introduction of the ISX engine platform and the company’s decision to move production to Jamestown as the key decisions that have resulted in the company’s turnaround.

The Cummins ISX15 is produced at the company's Jamestown Engine Plant.
The Cummins ISX15 is produced at the company’s Jamestown Engine Plant.

Garcia said the move to Jamestown occurred over the Christmas holidays, with 90 trailers of equipment being relocated and many employees working through the holidays to ensure production was ready to ramp up in January 2003.

Dave Crompton, current president of Cummins engine business, noted the move to Jamestown “wasn’t a vote against where we came from; it was vote for the future and where we could go.”

Crompton noted that since the plant’s opening in 1974, 8,500 inches of snow has fallen on Jamestown but the plant has not shut down for a single snow day. About 40 trailers full of Cummins engines leave the plant each day, destined for truck plants across North America.

The Jamestown plant produced its 1.5 millionth engine in 2013 and today employs about 1,500 people.

“The Jamestown Engine Plant plays a critical role in our company’s ability to produce a broad range of diesel and natural gas engines for different customers around the world,” said Crompton. “This anniversary is a testament to our more than 1,500 employees at JEP who produce reliable, clean and fuel-efficient engines that enable our customers to be successful in all of the markets they operate.”

In addition to the ISX, the Jamestown plant also builds the ISM, which is exported to Mexico, as well as the Cummins Westport ISX12 G natural gas engine.

On Saturday, members of the community and employees’ families were invited to tour the pant, which is the region’s biggest private employer and the largest contributor to the local United Way. Employees there are allowed to work at least four hours per year on public service projects while on the clock.

“We take Cummins commitment to community service and improving the communities in which we live very seriously,” said Mike Abbate, JEP plant manager. “I’m tremendously proud of what our employees are doing inside and out of our plant to make western New York a better place to live. This anniversary is a great time to celebrate and salute their many contributions to our company and the community. We owe gratitude to our former and current employees, who have been and continue to be the reason why we are a successful company.”

The Cummins Jamestown Engine Plant.
The Cummins Jamestown Engine Plant.
James Menzies

James Menzies is editor of Today's Trucking. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 18 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies.

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