Organ Battery’s 75-year-old family business going strong in 2020
Story and photos by Bernie Schmitt
The legacy of Organ Battery’s founder, Jess Organ Sr., is a thriving 21st-Century family business that is celebrating 75 years of success in Vincennes.
Organ Battery and Electric Co., Inc. began in 1945 at 209 Busseron St. Cars, trucks, and tractors were worked on along the curb out front because there was no room in its tiny shop. The company, now at 434 S. 15th St., has greatly expanded to include multiple buildings that house its sizeable inventory and plenty of space to work on just about anything.
Its specialty is rebuilding starters and alternators for hundreds of clients, most (24-volt) for heavy equipment used in construction, diesel trucks, and all kinds of farm equipment. The company sells plenty of batteries, of course, of all sizes, shapes, and strength.
“(Customers) bring us old starters and generators for things they can’t find, but they know we might have it or that we can rebuild it.”— Scott Organ
“We do a lot here that the general public doesn’t really know about,” said Scott Organ, who learned the business from his father John. “We can do just about anything a customer wants.”
Jess Organ Sr. got his start selling batteries and tires for Mace Tire and Battery in 1925. Twenty years later he bought the battery portion of the business from owner Norman Cullen and launched Organ Battery. He developed a good business, and in 1957 moved his operation to 16 N. First St.
“We moved out here in 1995,” Organ said, “because we couldn’t get big trucks into the other shop. We were really cramped for space. We get pallets and pallets of batteries and we had to move all of them.”
Organ Battery’s main shop is now tall enough to fit in just about anything, including the Vincennes Fire Department’s snorkel truck, which was extended part way when it had to be repaired. Its workshop has plenty of room for battery inventory and space to work on vehicles and equipment. The front part of the building serves as the company’s retail and office space.
In the company’s early days, the business and its technicians provided automobile tune-ups and provided brake service, did work on exhaust systems, and provided batteries and electrical services. But the repairing of generators, alternators, and starters was becoming a big business, and in time Organ decided to focus only on its rebuilding services.
“We can do a lot of random things,” said Eric Organ, who is following his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather in the business. “We can rebuild a starter from a 1945 vehicle, and we probably have the part in stock. We have the capability to do a lot here. Just about anything.”
There are some things that must be rebuilt, Scott Organ says, because it isn’t manufactured anymore. Customers who rebuild classic tractors, trucks, or cars, often seek out Organ’s services for things they can’t find.
“They bring us old starters and generators for things they can’t find, but they know we might have it or that we can rebuild it,” he said.
Its customized work along with a longstanding reputation, especially with local customers, that has helped Organ Battery prosper all these years. Its workers can even make replacement battery cables that are no longer available.
The company gets a lot of the farm trade, Scott Organ says, as well as business from Pioneer Oil, Bestway Trucking, the Knox County Highway Department, and many more. The company keeps all the city and township fire trucks operational with either batteries, alternators, starters, or cables.
“Bestway buys batteries by the pallet,” he said. “They will come in and get 36 batteries at a time, every month, and sometimes more.”
At least half of Organ’s employees are family members. In addition to his son Eric, Scott’s wife, Sherry, works in the office, his brother Mike works in the repair and rebuilding shop, his son-in-law Kyle also works there.
“We all get along great,” he said. “We’re very lucky. We have an absolute awesome customer base. Some of our customers are third-generation customers, people whose grandpas did business with my grandpa. We have a lot of that.”
There are times when a loyal customer, say maybe a farmer, will come in and charge three large batteries or more, and because they have to quickly get back to work, will say, “Just send me a bill,” Organ said.
The company sells more than batteries and its services. Organ also sells tractors, commercial grade zero-turn mowers, golf carts, and the Echo brand of chain saws, weed eaters, and similar equipment. The company services everything it sells.
“We kept seeing them around, but there wasn’t a dealer in town,” Organ said regarding the Scag brand of commercial-grade mowing equipment. “We thought we’d give it a shot.”
The decision paid off. The Organs say that 60 of them were sold last year. They have been selling the Kioti brand of tractors and small front-loaders and associated equipment for the last five years. Eric Organ said they sold around 800 of them.
Organ Battery is also an official Club Car golf cart dealer.
“Golf carts are a big deal,” said Scott Organ. “We’ve been doing that a long time, since 2000, I think. We started by selling used ones, then we became an official dealer.”
All of the Organ men can work on or rebuild starters, alternators, or other electrical equipment. All of that knowledge was passed down from Scott’s father, John, and the family patriarch, Jess Organ.
“After school I worked here from 3:30 to 5, emptying trash cans and sweeping floors,” Organ said. “After I graduated in 1981, I went to work fulltime. I like it. College was not really for me.”
Scott’s son, Eric, did the same thing. He began working fulltime after high school six years ago.
“We are fortunate to have what we have,” said Eric. “I think we have a good thing here. I like it. It’s my future.”
“He’s got a good attitude,” said Scott.
Eric Organ says he “like to see things moving,” and enjoys the days when the shop is really busy. They expect it to be “stupid busy,” he said, this spring when service is needed for the dozens of mowers customers will bring in.
“We service all we sell,” he said. “So we get really busy in the spring.”
The Organs are proud of their heritage and work hard to maintain their business by providing top-notch service, no matter what it is they might be doing. Scott Organ says that customers know them well and know that they will do their best to provide quality products and services.