Grand Forks Foundry marks 125 years
For a business to survive 125 years, it has to change with the times. The owners of Grand Forks Welding and Machine say that's been the key to the foundry that started four years before North Dakota was granted statehood, when the city's populati...
For a business to survive 125 years, it has to change with the times.
The owners of Grand Forks Welding and Machine say that's been the key to the foundry that started four years before North Dakota was granted statehood, when the city's population was 4,000.
"It used to be all stick welders, which was slow work," said Glenn Hopman, who's worked at the plant for 39 years. "Now, we have wire welders, computer-operated lathes and plasma cutters -- not near as many man-hours."
"With 120-foot booms and 55-foot combine headers, we still have to tear the machinery apart to get it through our 18-foot door," said Larry Machart, who started as an office manager in 1978.
Steamboats, floods and fire
Daniel Dow started fixing boats along the Red River in 1885. The Ontario native set up the Grand Forks Foundry, Boiler and Machine Shop on what is now North Eighth Street. Dow patented the Maple Leaf Wind Stacker, a machine that stacked straw after the grain was threshed, which proved immediately profitable, said Donald Dow, Daniel's grandson.
Dow retained the royalty rights to the wind stacker after selling his patent to an Indiana firm. He moved the plant to the riverbank -- what is now Second Avenue North -- in 1895 to get into the steamboat and barge repair business. The foundry handled all the iron work and repair for as many boats transporting goods between Winnipeg and Fargo-Moorhead.
Once the steamboats disappeared about 1911, the foundry turned to blacksmithing, smelting iron and brass and repairing farm and construction equipment. Eventually, the welding shop was added, and the firm was officially named Grand Forks Welding and Machine in 1943.
The plant endured floods, including in 1897, when the Red River crested at 48.5 feet.
Donald Dow recalled when the foundry flooded "four times in five years." After the river crested at 45.5 feet in 1950, the plant was moved to 1812 Gateway Drive, though the street name was different then.
"The owner of Hanson Ford said he'd be damned if he was going to sell cars on Skidmore Avenue," Machart said.
The plant was restored in 1962 after a fire.
The foundry stayed in the Dow family until 1978.
Machart and Hopman, the company's seventh set of owners, said farm equipment repair makes up 45 percent to 50 percent of their annual business. The company employs 18 to 20 workers.
"We've been both successful and lucky at finding experienced people," Hopman said.
They seasonally repair garbage trucks, street sweepers and snowplows. Small projects have included fixing television camera tripods, a bullet hole in the East Grand Forks water tower and welding a pan to cook turkeys for the annual barbecue in Aneta, N.D.
Before Machart and Hopman became owners, Grand Forks Welding added a bearing to make sure the scales of justice atop the Grand Forks County Court House swing freely. And the foundry once produced manhole covers for the city sewers. One hangs behind the parts counter.
Many of the faces who frequently come into the shop for coffee and some free hard candy are familiar. "We've got customers who came with their fathers and grandfathers," Hopman said.
Machart said one caller asked to "talk to the oldest guy there."
"He said we built something for him 20 to 25 years ago, and he wanted to know if we still had the plans for it," Machart said.
Reach Johnson at (701) 780-1262; (800) 477-6572, ext. 262; or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org .