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Local

Staying power: Hill's celebrating 100 electrifying years in business

Jeff and Ann Guthrie bought Hill's Electric in downtown Rock Falls from his stepfather Robert in 2011. The business is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.
Jeff and Ann Guthrie bought Hill's Electric in downtown Rock Falls from his stepfather Robert in 2011. The business is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.

ROCK FALLS – Life was quite different when Max Hill and his wife Gertrude first opened Hill’s Electric in 1919.

So was the location. Hill’s actually began in Memphis, Tennessee, when Max first hung out his “Open For Business” sign. He moved to Rock Falls in 1925, setting up shop in a small building in the 200 block of West Second Street known then as the old Teaches Blacksmith Shop.

Hill’s Electric would move again, to its current location on First Avenue, in 1933 when Max bought two lots and then erected the building the business has called home ever since. It’s that building where Max stayed and worked for 46 more years before finally deciding it was time for retirement.

In what would become a trend, he sold the business to an employee, Bob Sandusky, and his wife Faye. Knowing the bar had been set high, Bob stayed a part of the business for several decades as well before he sold it to another longtime employee, his stepson Jeff Guthrie and his wife Ann.

“Bob was here 60 years before he suckered me into buying it,” Jeff said with a laugh.

By that time, Jeff already had logged 22 years with the company.

“I used to come in and sweep floors and empty trash on the weekends as a teen,” he said.

Through the years, he learned the trade of rewinding and refurbishing motors from Bob and the other guys who worked at Hill’s Electric.

When Bob decided to focus solely on just the electric motor part of the business and not the contracting portion, a few of the employees went out on their own to fill the electrical contractor need. That is where Engel Electric in Sterling came from, for example.

For as busy as they are, there still are only three full-time employees and one part-time worker at Hill’s Electric. They are trusted technicians by many in the area who bring their business to the shop because they trust the quality of the work performed.

“Our main customers are farmers, factories, hospitals and some municipalities,” Jeff said. “One time in Rock Falls the sewer flooded, so I worked 20 hours in a row to dry the motors out.”

It’s that kind of dedication to customers that has led him to open for business at 6:30 a.m. during the week and also be available even on special occasions.

“We’re always on call. We even came in on Christmas for a farmer who had a motor go out in his cattle barn,” Ann said. He hated to call them on a holiday, “but the cattle have to get fed, so we came in and helped him.”

Besides the work they do on most any type of motor, Hill’s Electric also sells a wide array of belts for most equipment, including lawnmowers and augers.

Perhaps most impressive, however, is Jeff’s collection of obsolete items that have gone out of production a long time ago. Often he will get calls from panicked customers who can’t find the item they need anywhere.

“We have a lot of carbon brushes and most are obsolete, so if you can’t find one we may have it,” Jeff said. “We have obsolete tools, too. The barbershop next door buys brushes they can’t find for their clippers from us and I had a guy call me from Columbus, Ohio.

“It pays to not throw stuff out.”

The couple have no big plans for a huge party for the 100th anniversary, mostly because they’re not really sure when the exact date is. Instead they will just celebrate all year and keep continuing the tradition and quality work that has kept Hill’s Electric going.

Jeff wants to go about another 10 years before looking toward retirement, which would put him into his fourth decade at the business, he said.

He has a standard to live up to, after all, but knows hanging on won’t be difficult, because he and Ann enjoy what they do, he said.

“I enjoy it, and the secret is love what you do.”

MORE INFO

Hill's Electric Motors Service Inc., 305-307 First Ave. in Rock Falls, is open from 6:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Call 815-625-0305 or find it on Facebook for more information about sales and services.

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