16 July 2007
No Job Too Big
Whenever the United States and others marked the anniversary of D-Day, there is usually the viewing of remarked film footage of the June 6, 1944, invasion of Europe.
Accompanying the largest invasion force ever assembled onto the beaches of Normandy was an equally impressive display of machines and equipment, much of it built by the energetic, American businessman R.G. LeTourneau. His equipment was also well known in the Pacific theater of World War II.
LeTournea was born in Vermont in 1888. He grew to be a “restless, inquisitive, energetic, determined and ambitious boy, ” according to his mother. His brothers had less ibased opinions of him, describing him as “destructive, willful, stubborn, and fanatically determined to amount to nothing.” After struggles with rebelliousness and foolishness as a child and youth, everything changed when LeTourneau trusted Christ as his savior.
A big man with a big heart for God, LeTourneau had always done things in a big way. His company designed and built some of the world’s most massive machinery—earth movers, transporters, missile launchers, bridge builders and portable offshore drilling rigs. If a task needed to be done faster, smarter, and bigger, LeTourneau could usually be found on the job.
“Remember that there are no big jobs,” he said, describing his flair for colossal endeavors, “only small machines and small thinking.”
His capacity to think and act on a grand scale made LeTourneau an internationally recognized industrialist. Yet he always attributed his success to the Lord. He typically began his talks to students and businessmen by saying: “I’m just a mechanic that God has blessed, and it seems He wants me to go around telling how He will bless you too.”
LeTourneau’s success came at the price of many early failures and setbacks. It was these humbling years that formed the backdrop to his salvation and “partnership with God” in business.
LeTourneau dropped out of school at age fourteen and went to work shoveling sand and dirt at an iron works factory in Portland, Oregon. Even at this early age, his mind was busy thinking of how to do the job more efficiently. By sixteen, he had grown into a large, muscular young man. And though these two years of labor with street-savvy men had educated him in the ways of the world, they had hardened his heart to the things of God. What he didn’t know was that his devoutly Christian parents had been praying for his salvation daily.
The week before Christmas in 1904, the city of Portland had a crusade, and LeTourneau decided to attend. “What terrified me was that after a week of concentrated singing, and listening to sermons, I didn’t feel even a tremor of response.” That concern led to a humble plea for God’s help. “No bolts of lightning hit me. No great flash of awareness. I just prayed to the Lord to save me, and then I was aware of another presence.”
The following years were turbulent. LeTourneau moved to California where he worked almost forty odd jobs. At twenty-eight, he married a girl twelve years younger. They lost their first child in infancy, and he broke his neck in a stock car crash. Due to an inept partner in a Stockton, California, repair shop, he was $5,000 in debt by age thirty-one. Disengaging himself from the garage, he promised to repay his indebtedness to a trusting banker. When the banker asked how he would repay, he simply held up his two hands. Impressed by his determination and honesty, the banker agreed to extend the loan, so LeTourneau bought a tractor and scraper and went into the earth-moving business.
Stubborn, willful, and self-reliant by nature, LeTourneau refused to give up. His struggle to make his faith in Christ relevant to his life and work led him to attend a revival at his church. It was there he prayed: “Lord, if You’ll forgive and help me, I’ll do anything You want me to do from this day on.”
Feeling renewed, LeTourneau wondered how God would use him. He visited the preacher early the next morning, and the pastor told him: “You know, Brother LeTourneau, God needs businessmen as well as preachers and missionaries.” That was all LeTourneau needed to hear.
In the book, More Than Conquerors, a collection of biographical sketches of Christian men and women in history, it is noted of LeTourneau: “In our high-tech age today, machines - really big machines that push and pull, lift and move, scrape and dig—are not too popular anymore. However, without the kinds of machines that R. G. LeTourneau dreamed of . . . the technological age we are now in might never have happened at all.” Yet as significant as his contribution to industry was, his commitment to “do whatever God wanted him to do” left a legacy of trusting faith, godly generosity, and compassion.
The LeTourneau name became synonymous with earthmoving worldwide. R. G. LeTourneau was largely responsible for the invention and development of many types of earthmoving machines that are in wide use today. He designed and built machines using technology that was years, and sometimes decades, ahead of his time, and became recognized worldwide as a leader in the development and manufacture of heavy equipment. The use of rubber tires in earthmoving; numerous improvements relating to scrapers; the development of low pressure heavy-duty rubber tires; the two-wheeled tractor unit (Tournapull); electric wheel drive, and mobile offshore drilling platforms, are all attributed to R. G. LeTourneau’s ingenuity. During his lifetime, he held hundreds of patents on inventions relating to earthmoving equipment, manufacturing processes and machine tools. His factories supplied 70 percent of all heavy earthmoving equipment used by the Allied armed forces during World War II. LeTourneau also pioneered numerous manufacturing processes and the development of specialized machine tools.
Known throughout the construction world as ‘The Dean of Earthmoving’, R. G. LeTourneau is considered to this day to have been the world’s greatest inventor of earthmoving and materials handling equipment. Few manufacturers of that era had such a profound effect upon the art of earthmoving as did R. G. LeTourneau. R. G. LeTourneau shunned the high-life often associated with successful businessmen, preferring to spend his time at the drawing board with the engineers designing new machinery, or out on the factory floor overseeing his employees building heavy equipment. Being a man of great Christian commitment and dedication, for 30 years he flew thousands of miles each week to maintain Christian speaking engagements around the United States and overseas.
For many years, he lived on ten percent of his income and gave away ninety percent to Christian work, especially missionary efforts in Africa and South America. Even when his business was in financial jeopardy, he continued giving his sacrificial pledges to Christ’s work. “The question” he said, “is not how much of my money I give to God, but rather how much of God’s money I keep for myself.”
Throughout his life, LeTourneau emphasized God’s ability to help the common man with everyday problems. He founded a university in Texas that bears his name and formed a foundation that funds many Christian ministries. Before his death in 1969 at age seventy-nine, LeTourneau said: “Everything considered, I’ve had my share of ups and downs, but thus far my life has been a miracle of God’s grace all the way through.”
adapted from In Touch Ministries and other sources
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