Sections

Weather Forecast

Close

Greenbush, Minn., firm makes boilers for winter, lawn mowers for summer under one roof

A completed Altoz mower sits on the factory floor at Central Boiler near Greenbush, Minnesota. The flashy design of the mower is meant to stand out amongst the competition. Photo by Kile Brewer/Grand Forks Herald 1 / 10
A pair of work gloves hang near the metal bending area of the Central Boiler factory in Greenbush, Minnesota. The factory has seen exponential increases in size since it started, but continues to run a very clean, organized and well-ventilated operation. Photo by Kile Brewer/Grand Forks Herald 2 / 10
Large metal bending machines sit in the Central Boiler factory near Greenbush, Minnesota. The factory has recently begun production of Altoz zero-turn mowers, which keeps the factory in full-swing throughout the year. Photo by Kile Brewer/Grand Forks Herald 3 / 10
As the Central Boiler factory in Greenbush, Minnesota moves back to their summer production of their heating units, decks and other parts for Altoz mowers sit around ready to be assembled to meet any unexpected demand they may encounter. The company has just finished their first run of the zero-turn mowers and has been shopping around for dealers in the region. Photo by Kile Brewer/Grand Forks Herald 4 / 10
Three-wheeled bicycles are not uncommon in the Central Boiler factory in Greenbush, Minnesota. The large size of the factory makes the vehicles necessary for supervisors to travel from one area to another in the most efficient way possible, instead of taking the 15-minute walk across the factory floor. Photo by Kile Brewer/Grand Forks Herald 5 / 10
Blanks for Central Boiler heaters sit in a stack at the Central Boiler factory near Greenbush, Minnesota. Photo by Kile Brewer/Grand Forks Herald 6 / 10
A mask sits in an area used for painting of small parts in the Central Boiler factory in Greenbush, Minnesota. The company ensures that areas used for painting and welding are extremely well ventilated to provide the safest, cleanest work environment possible. Photo by Kile Brewer/Grand Forks Herald 7 / 10
A conveyor system carries pieces of heating systems through paint nozzles in the Central Boiler factory in Greenbush, Minnesota. The company ensures that areas used for painting and welding are extremely well ventilated to provide the safest, cleanest work environment possible. Photo by Kile Brewer/Grand Forks Herald 8 / 10
Computer screens display animations of the proper installation of parts on the various Altoz mowers next to the trays of parts used in the assembly. The complicated design of the mowers requires extra care when putting the small parts together. Photo by Kile Brewer/Grand Forks Herald 9 / 10
Central Boiler employees install small parts in the heating units on the finishing line at their factory in Greenbush, Minnesota. Recently the factory begun production of Altoz zero-turn mowers to keep employees busy year-round. Photo by Kile Brewer/Grand Forks Herald 10 / 10

GREENBUSH, Minn. —A local manufacturer that has been building outdoor wood furnaces to keep northerners warm in the winter for the past 30 years now has a product to keep people outside and on their lawns in the summer.

Dennis Brazier, who founded Central Boiler in 1984, and his wife, Terri, have launched a new company, Altoz Precision Mowers, a high-performance zero-turn line of lawn mowers.

The mowers, which appear as though they might be as much at home on a racetrack as on a sprawling front lawn, attracted a lot of attention when they were unveiled late last year at the annual Green Industry and Equipment Expo, an outdoor power equipment convention in Louisville, Ky.

Among the comments on the expo’s “The Buzz” newsletter, were:

  • “OK, the Altoz mowers look like supercars.”
  • “The mower looks like a cotton-pickin’ BMW among Chevys.”
  • “Pretty impressive engineering; noticed the top speed was 19 mph ... do these come with airbags?”

While airbags are not an option, Brazier and his team of engineers thought of just about everything else, including seat belts and roll bars, spending several years designing a machine to forge its way into a highly competitive mower industry.

“If you strip down most lawn mowers, they’re all pretty much the same,” Dennis Brazier said. “Our goal is to build the Altoz line of mowers for professionals and discerning homeowners who demand the finest quality cut and appreciate the most rewarding mowing experience.”

“One of the first objectives was to build a mower that would stand out by its style and shape,” Terri Brazier said.

Farm beginnings

Dennis Brazier traces his success to his family farm, where he grew up spending winters in the workshop.

“I liked building things,” he said. “I built a lawn mower in the early 1980s and I also built boilers. I kind of had a passion for both of them.”

He turned the boiler hobby into Central Boiler, a factory that now employs about 220 and markets outdoor wood furnaces all over the U.S. and Canada as well as Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Russia.

His brother, Glen, is founder and chief executive officer of Mattracks, a Karlstad, Minn., -based manufacturer of a system that allows drivers of wheeled vehicles to convert them to tracks to better operate on tough terrain.

Dennis Brazier converted his mower hobby into Altoz as a way of diversifying his wood furnace business and as an opportunity to keep his 220 employees busy year-round.

“We had all of the components in place,” Terri Brazier said.

While the Central Boiler builds boilers year-round, it has slower months in mid- to late-winter. That’s when employees switch their main efforts to the Altoz production line. However, they can move back and forth from one product to the other as demand dictates.

Both the wood furnaces and lawn mowers are produced in the same building, which has been expanded five times since 1984 to its current 300,000-square-foot footprint.

Expanding market

Currently, Altoz builds 16 mowers a day, producing four model lines with cutting widths ranging from 48 inches to 72 inches. They carry retail prices between $8,200 and $14,995. The mowers operate on Kawasaki or Briggs and Stratton engines, and some models have a top speed of 19 mph.

“We had to differentiate ourselves in the industry to stand out,” said Karl Bjorkman, international sales and marketing director.

Brazier and his staff currently are marketing the machines mainly east of the Mississippi River, from Minnesota to New York to Florida.

They’re also in the process of building a dealer network, including current dealers of the Central Boiler wood-burning furnaces. Dealers are brought to Greenbush for training in the factory and company headquarters.

Sales and the dealer network have been expanding quickly, especially since the industry expo.

“A lot of engineers and company presidents came over and congratulated us,” Dennis Brazier said. “You just don’t expect that.”

“That was our rock star moment,” added Janie Brandon, corporate communications. 

Kevin Bonham

Kevin Bonham covers regional news, mostly from northeast North Dakota, for the Grand Forks Herald. A North Dakota native who grew up in Mandan and Dickinson, he has been a reporter or an editor with the Herald and Forum Communications for more than 30 years. Find his articles at: www.grandforksherald.com. He welcomes story ideas via email, kbonham@gfherald.com, or by phone, (701) 780-1110.  

(701) 780-1110
Advertisement
randomness