CRYSTAL LAKE | Growing up, JR Schleuger spent many hours in his father’s shop.

And today, he owns it.

“My whole life, I’ve planned on it,” he said.

Schleuger’s father, Dan, started Lifetime Nut Covers, an international manufacturer of chrome accessories operated on the family farm between Woden and Crystal Lake, nearly 30 years ago when he was a semi-driver for Mercer Transportation of Louisville, Kentucky.

“He came home to farm ... and he had a flat steer tire on his truck and it had old steel lug nut covers on it that had rusted on,” Schleuger said. “He couldn’t get the lugs off, so he had to torch every one of the lugs off to get the wheel off.”

To prevent it from happening again, Dan Schleuger reached out to “one of his buddies in town,” who had an “old dinosaur” plastic-injection machine, about making plastic lug nut covers.

He set up a small operation in downtown Crystal Lake before relocating to a shop on the farm on 320th Street, where Julie Lentz helped and managed the books. At the shop, he’d make colored plastic nut covers to sell at truck stops across the country, and once he earned enough money, he would return to the shop and make more.

“No one thought he’d make any money, that he was going to go bankrupt,” JR Schleuger said.

As demand for his product increased, Dan Schleuger expanded the shop.

“It just kind of tail-spinned into where it is today,” said Nicky Erdahl, a three-year employee of Lifetime Nut Covers, noting about four expansions.

Today, the business, with six employees, manufacturers hundreds of plastic lug nut covers and aluminum accessories each day with the help of five plastic-injection molding machines and two aluminum production machines. The lug nut covers are then shipped to Wisconsin, where they are chrome-plated, and then returned to the shop before ending up at chrome shops and semi dealerships, like Peterbilt and Kenworth, worldwide.

“We actually have the best quality part in the industry,” JR Schleuger said. “Our chrome-plating is by far better than anyone else’s.”

But he said the business isn’t solely a lug nut cover manufacturer, it makes “anything and everything” chrome-plated for semis, especially for owner-operators and small semi operations.

“With the handful employees we have, everybody kind of has two or three jobs,” he said. “That makes a huge difference.”

JR Schleuger said Lifetime Nut Covers attends truck shows across the country between March and mid-September to showcase the company’s products, and that brings in business while reaffirming the products’ quality because many of the trucks are outfitted with it.

“That makes you feel good,” he said.

JR Schleuger, the father of two, said he began a 15-year buyout process for Lifetime Nut Covers about six years ago because he wanted to keep it in the “family name and keep the business alive.”

And someday he hopes his children will do the same.

“It’s the one reason I want to come out here every day,” JR Schleuger said. “I know that’s a ways down the road, but it’s something to keep you wanting to keep expanding and building.”

Reach Reporter Ashley Stewart at 641-421-0533. Follow her on Twitter at GGastewart.

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