A National Award-Winning Publication

The power of Adela Ortega


 English version –

Adela Ortega has much in common with the very locomotives that she rebuilds. She is a determined woman who pushes life’s train along, overcoming all obstacles on the track to success.

When she founded Professional Locomotive Services, Inc. (PLS) in Illinois in 1996, a now decade-old company based in East Chicago, Indiana, her business path  had not been all that smooth.

It was a rough world, of men galvanized like iron rails, and she  had barely $ 20,000 of capital that she took from her retirement fund 401k — and a newborn baby.

“It was difficult. During the first year I brought the baby with me to feed him, but I also had to do many other things at the same time, “she recalls.

It ws so that this woman began to operate the PLS enterprise wearing many hats: She was the engineer, salesperson, lead administrative lead, marketing point person, accountant, strategist and, soon, a single mother.

The challenge of starting her own business and the joy of being a mother combined to impact her character.

The idea of starting a locomotive company didn’t occur to Adela by accident. While attending DePaul University, where she graduated with degrees in business administration and accounting, she had the opportunity to study law and travel to Europe to take courses in finances, marketing and management. All this would prepare her for her future.


At the beginning of her divorce, she left a comfortable job in downtown Chicago and moved to Naperville where she was hired by a company in the railroad industry.

“The company leased railway cars to Mexican companies such as Cementos Mexicanos (Cemex). Then I started selling locomotive batteries and one day my boss offered [me an opportunity] to sell locomotives. My heart beat loudly! I could not sell something I did not know, “she confesses.

It was then that Adela began to enter this world. First, understanding the market, who purchased them, who sells them. She spent hours and hours learning the business, researching without pause and without the resources of the Internet today. The day she physically met an iron monster, she fell to her feet.

“It was like a love at first sight. I remember the moment they opened the door of a locomotive and I heard the sound of the engine. At that moment I began to see my future. I said: I have to [make one of these, “she smiles.


Three years later, when the passion of the locomotive was already running through its veins, the Naperville company got rid of the locomotive sales department and Adela.

She soon discovered an opportunity to start her own company, tapping into her customer rolodex  and industry insights.

That preparation and her connections were key to getting ahead. She herself is still surprised by the early results of a company that started with a mechanic, an electrician and a single customer.

“In the first year [we grew]more than I expected. The $20,000 became more than $400,000 by the end of the year, “she says. “And I took that money to reinvest it, employing more people. ”

Today PLS employs 22 workers, previously having reached 30 employees, and generates approximately $5 million in annual sales.

But perhaps the key to the success of this member of a family of nine siblings should be sought in her small town of Durango where from a very young age, her mother gave her responsibilities that made her mature early.

“I was born in an adobe house, only two rooms. For the first nine years I lived there. I do not remember my father. He lived in the United States and sent money to my mother.”

There is sweet melancholy in  little details of her memories: “In those years I was happy. I enjoyed school, nature, rain.”

Then came a decision to reunite with her father, which she recalls with a mixture of sadness and humor: “My mother was 25 years old. We were   seven siblings. We passed the border with gifts in hand and told the immigration officer that we were going to a party … Four decades later, the party’s not over yet, “she smiles.

She arrived in Chicago on September, and soon the biting cold, the leafless green trees, weighed on her spirits.

She missed her native land in Durango. As a child, she asked her parents when they would return and was told, “Never again …”

Adela then took refuge in her studies. Her commitment resulted in good grades and she was able to enroll at the University of Illinois in Chicago, then attend DePaul University, all to one day set up a company that rebuilds locomotives, repairs them and maintains them wherever they are in the country.

Now she has the luxury of dreaming big: “My dream is to make new locomotives, design and sell them. I’ve been able to join investors, but I feel prepared, able to do it on my own. ”

And when asked what the locomotive represents for her, she doesn’t hesitate an instant in her response. “Power.” It’s a word that sums up what it’s like to be in Adela’s shoes.

She is a woman who is driven not by money, but opportunity. A Latina determined to meet her destiny and then some.

By Clemente Nicado, Editor in Chief – English version: Arianna Hermosillo)