Engine plant had unusual start

The site of Cummins Inc.’s new Seymour Technical Center once was the place where city residents hauled their trash.

“A lot of the older folks might remember it — the younger ones won’t. But when I was a kid, it was the city dump, and it was out in the country back then,” John Burkhart said of the site in the 800 block of East Fourth Street Road.

On Tuesday, Cummins conducted a ribbon-cutting to showcase the 89,350-square-foot center located just north of the Seymour Engine Plant. The two complexes will serve as the world headquarters for Cummins’ high-horsepower division.

The company invested about $70 million in the two-story tech center, which includes the company’s first dining room at the Seymour plant and lockers for 526 employees.

Burkhart said Cummins opened the Seymour plant in 1976 in an old Arvin Industries building.

“Any construction we did after that, we had to dig up a lot of debris and remove it,” said Burkhart, who first worked as a second shift supervisor.

When he left to become Seymour mayor in 1990, Burkhart was business manager at the plant. His run as mayor ended in 2003.

Present Mayor Craig Luedeman doesn’t know that much about the history of the Seymour Engine Plant, but that’s easy to understand.

“That’s the year I was born,” Luedeman said of 1976, when Cummins set up shop here.

Luedeman, who is in his eighth year as mayor, said he honestly never thought he would see the total package put in place.

“You plan and plan for it, but it takes so long to get things done,” he said.

Luedeman said it was just so exciting to see that Cummins was able to make it happen in Seymour.

He said he has been told there will be 1,100 to 1,500 people working here eventually.

“Whether they move down here or commute here, whatever, they are still going to be coming into our community,” Luedeman said.

The biggest challenge will be finding housing for those Cummins employees who might want to live here, he said.

When Cummins opened the Seymour plant, there were about 100 workers, Burkhart said. They had the job of adding components to diesel engines that were built in Columbus and at other engine plants, he said.

“We just modified engines for off-highway use applications,” Burkhart said. Those applications would have included agriculture, marine and industrial.

In the early 1980s, Cummins started building engines in Seymour. The first engine was the 1710, Burkhart said.

“And the K-19 came along at the same time,” he said of Cummins’ six-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine used in mining applications.

In 1982, the company began making the V903 series engine. At that time, the Seymour Engine Plant, known then as Cummins Industrial Center, was the sole supplier of the engine used by the military in Bradley Fighting Vehicles.

“We built a lot of those during the first Iraq war,” Burkhart said.

Burkhart said that before the company started expansion projects to build the QSK95 engine, nicknamed the Hedgehog, employment in Seymour probably maxed out at about 250.

The company, however, had an earlier presence in Seymour that probably ended after the Seymour Engine Plant opened. That presence was at the Seymour Woolen Mill site on South Poplar Street, Burkhart said.

“It was a filter plant and was still going when we opened this plant up,” Burkhart said of Seymour Engine Plant.

That work was later moved to Cookeville, Tennessee, he said.

The first building along Fourth Street Road was built in 1948, according to property tax records.

The Seymour Engine Plant site now occupies 34.81 acres on the north side of the CSX Railroad tracks along with another 18.9 acres on the south side of the tracks. The company built a new warehouse on the property on the south side in 2014.

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Aubrey Woods is editor of The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at awoods@tribtown.com or 812-523-7051.