Our Founding Fathers
Our Founding Fathers
Stan Suddarth. Don Hershey. Bill McAlpine. Bob Halteman. These four pioneers of the structural components industry passed away in the last few years, and their lives and numerous contributions were subsequently shared in the pages of this magazine. It was a great honor to have the opportunity to write about these remarkable men. Their individual drives, passions and unique approaches collectively took this industry in a direction it would not have taken without them. Each story gave us a window into the early days of component manufacturing and provided perspective on how much has changed over the past 60 years.
These articles were also bittersweet to write, for the simple act of writing them meant these founding fathers of metal plate connected wood trusses were no longer with us. Their words and their actions had to live on through the memories of their family members, friends, peers and apprentices. There was no longer any way to find out what they were thinking or feeling when they made some of their most momentous contributions. Understanding their motivations behind important decisions or actions was left to conjecture.
Fortunately, these men were by no means alone. In the tribute to Bill McAlpine, several people told me stories that led me to write, “while it was Carroll Sanford who is credited with taking the plywood gusset concept and making it out of metal, it was entrepreneurs like Cal Juriet, Bill Black Sr., Charlie Harnden, Bill McAlpine and George Eberle, who developed the ‘nail-plate’ between 1952 and 1960.”
The trouble with listing names at all is that there’s never any way to include everyone who made significant contributions. This industry is simply too big, and there were many innovative entrepreneurs in the early years who helped shape what the industry would become. Yet, failing to create that list and explore the ways they each effected change seems like a minor travesty.
On the heels of the most recent SBCA Open Quarterly Meeting (OQM) in Madison, WI, a group of component manufacturers found themselves at the airport together waiting to fly home. Several of them were sons of men who had started truss plants in the 1960s and ‘70s. This group of “second-generation” CMs began sharing stories about their fathers and the things they remembered as kids growing up in the truss business.
Heart Truss. Littfin Lumber. Cascade Lumber. Two years ago, the September/October issue of SBC Magazine briefly explored the evolution of truss manufacturing in the Midwest through the eyes of two manufacturing companies celebrating 50 years of business: Littfin Lumber Company in Winsted, MN, and Heart Truss & Engineering in Lansing, MI. Coincidentally, last year the magazine continued its coverage of Midwestern component manufacturing in an article on Cascade Lumber’s 60 years of operations. Run by a trio of second-generation brothers, Cascade now has members of the third generation working for the company.
It was their personal stories and articles like these that prompted that group of second-generation CMs to talk about how to record and preserve the history of the structural components industry. “I was sitting there laughing along with these guys about some of the crazy stuff our fathers had done,” said James “Jimmy” Broach, Jr.; VP of Operations for Atlantic Building Components & Services, Inc. in Moncks Corner, SC. “By the end, we were all thinking about how we needed to capture those stories and write them down.”
In 2015, SBC Magazine will embark on an ambitious project. In each of its nine issues, we will begin to record the history of the components industry through the eyes of several of its early pioneers. The goal is to directly interview these men and women, record their unique stories and memories, and publish a few of them in each issue. The birth and development of this industry should shine through their stories, but these will primarily be stories about people and their journey into and through it.
The most difficult first task goes back to the problem of making the list of individuals to interview and share. Ideally, we want to cover component manufacturers and suppliers from across the United States and include a good cross section of business models and products. We are also looking for a diverse group of stories, from the few who started with only $1000, a shed and a dream to build it into a multi-state empire, to the many who “fell” into component manufacturing only to find they had a unique knack for it.
This is where you, our readers, can lend a much needed hand. Let me know who you think we should interview. You can send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call me at 608-310-6728 to talk about the individual or individuals you think would provide a valuable view on the development and character of this industry. We will have a group of veteran CMs and suppliers help us sift through the names you give us and choose a final list.
It’s important to note they don’t need to be in business anymore to be nominated. Some of them may still be intimately involved in the running of their business, some may have handed off the reins to family members, and some may have sold their company long ago (we really don’t want to lose their stories). If there is someone whose story you think others should learn about, please let us know.