GREAT LAKES POWER COMPANIES
A Little History Lesson About Our Company
Great Lakes Power officially opened its doors April 1st, 1973, but it was really the culmination of an idea and a series of relationships that resulted in a new enterprise in Mentor, Ohio. Harry Allen, Jr., had worked for Cummins Engine Company, George Engine Company, and Twin Disc Inc., and put those three business experiences together to form Great Lakes Power. George Engine Company and Dave Bell were key partners in the business start-up, and George Engine Company provided a base of business from which to grow. Up until this point, Meier Transmission had represented Twin Disc in the Cleveland area. However, Twin Disc was embarking on a new pro-active distributor business plan and it was the perfect match for the new company.
Our first home was a 5,000 sq. ft. warehouse rented from Rick and Jerry Osborne Jr., on Hopkins Road. The first major new business was power take-off product for the growing woodchip business. It was clear that inventory would play a major role in expanding sales and a key introduction was made. Harry’s father introduced the company to Mr. Al Pike of Lake County National Bank who agreed to loan the company a lot of money with very little collateral, based on very credible business plans. The oil and gas business, and expanding marine business through George Engine Company, was the company’s early focus.
In 1974, the company purchased McCash Transmission Service in Cincinnati, Ohio, and Branch 02 became reality. Mr. McCash was in his 80’s and we were able to benefit from his years of experience and customer relationships. Morbark, a chipper manufacturer in Winn, Michigan, became one of our largest customers and we opened a branch in Detroit in 1975 to serve that metropolitan market and to provide better service for the wood chipper industry.
1974 was also the year we looked at ways to expand our business and develop new relationships with Funk Manufacturing, Morse Controls, NEAPCO Manufacturing, and Oxy-Catalyst. We expanded our product offering in the industrial markets by taking marriage vows with Dana Corporation’s Wichita and Industrial Driveline Group.
As the business expanded we outgrew the Hopkins Road facility and in 1976 bought a building at 7455 Tyler Boulevard owned by Eddie Meditz. About this time we increased our activities in both construction and industrial products markets. George Engine Company’s interest was bought out as they were concentrating their efforts on a new Detroit Diesel Distributor business, which they named Key Power Systems Inc.
In 1977, Harry initiated design and development of a marine propulsion system, which he called the “Thru-Drive.” His close relationship with the executives of the Bertram Yacht Corporation resulted in increased sales to the pleasure craft business, as well as the development of a 40’ high-performance commercial/military vessel which was appropriately named “Smoke.” (Because the 2-cycle Detroit engines were over fueled to achieve higher horse power, not enough combustion air at low speeds caused billowing clouds of black smoke during acceleration and resulted in calls to the fire department, “There’s a boat on fire.”)
Our business with Andersen Equipment in Pittsburgh increased to the point where we opened a local branch in Bridgeville, Pennsylvania, in 1978. Another new product idea sparked the charter of a subsidiary company we named Great Lakes Power R&D. One of our keys to success in the driveline business was Dave Bell’s ability to design and build special yokes and adapters, which were not available from the product line manufacturer.
In 1979, after wrestling with several local machine shops we started Great Lakes Machine and Manufacturing to build these special parts in-house. It was this year we truly became a worldwide supplier in marine transmissions as we signed our first long-term requirements contract with Cummins Engine Company.
The period 1979 through 1982 was both dynamic, and onerous. The energy business was bursting at the seams and all deliveries were on allocation. The companies who gambled on speculative inventory were the winners for the first part; however, those who didn’t see the precipitous fall, fell victim to this very same investment.
On a business expansion program, we negotiated to start an engine-only dealership with John Deere in Cincinnati. We called it First Power. It was an idea ahead of its time. In May 1980, we also had a catastrophic explosion and fire on Tyler Boulevard, which destroyed the facility. Propane-powered lift trucks leaked propane into the building with the fumes accumulating at a firewall on the south end of the building. An electrical spark from a compressor from one of the vending machines set if off and the rest is history. The financial loss and turmoil that resulted set our business plans back at least two years; however, our team remained strong and we learned a great deal from the experience. Anyone who was in our employ during the summer of 1980 will never forget those hot days in the rented warehouse on Tyler Boulevard and the cooperation from the employees who worked elbow-to-elbow, desk-to-desk in very close quarters. The branches grew up during this time, as they had to accept more and more responsibility to serve our customer base.
We had a grand opening at the new facility on Tyler Boulevard (which we opened on April 15, 1981) and in the fall of 1981 celebrated the opening with a party that included a hot air balloon, Cleveland Cavaliers’ cheerleaders, magicians, artists, and a memorable dinner at an executive reception at Quail Hollow.
With the tremendous decline in the energy markets, we were looking for new opportunities to redirect our significant investment and personnel resources and we purchased the Paragon Gear Division from Twin Disc in February of 1982. We also added a 30,000 sq. ft. addition to the Tyler Boulevard facility, which we opened that fall. The next year we purchased West Virginia Engine & Transmission in Charleston, West Virginia and we opened a new facility in the suburb of Nitro.
There were now five branches and they represented slightly more than half the company business, which at that time, was approximately $16,000,000 in sales.
While reviewing a business acquisition candidate the company was introduced to the name Hyster. Although the specific product being evaluated was construction equipment, Paul Shope was asked to contact Hyster to learn more about the Hyster Company and distributor opportunities. The Hyster visit certainly changed the course of Great Lakes Power. As a result of these discussions the Hyster factory dealership was purchased in Detroit in March of 1984 and the Great Lakes Power Lift Division was formed. Later that year the Hyster dealership from the Morrison Company, which had operations in Erie, Niles, and Akron was added. The Akron store was moved to North Canton and in October a branch in Brookpark was opened. The new business was named “Great Lakes Power Lift Ohio.”
Business moved at a very fast pace during the late 80’s. The 1985 purchase of the Twin Disc assets of Cummins Cumberland preceded the opening of the Evansville branch. That same year a new 25,000 sq. ft. facility was built in Detroit for the Power Lift Division. In 1986 the corporation was restructured. It became a Sub-Chapter “S” Corporation and a new “C” company, which was called Great Lakes Power Service Company, was created. Discussion in 1987 with George McKeown concluded with our MQN division, which was a flagship GE motor distributor and the first Delco motor distributor. At the time, MQN was located at the corner of Route 615 and Route 20 in Mentor.
Not all things in corporate life go as planned and, after a long battle of trying to do business in West Virginia we finally succumbed, much to the dismay of WV native and our controller, Sue Tackett. Paragon’s Power Max product line and certain other assets were sold to Twin Disc. With the Hyster Company preoccupied with taking the company private and then positioning it for sale to the public our efforts to increase market share in Ohio were an uphill battle and we sold some of the assets to the Quimby Corporation. We retained the Canton service facility where we concentrated on the Straddle Carrier business.
The following year, 1989, Hyster announced the discontinuation of their Straddle Carrier product offering, opening the door for our remanufacturing business. We also went to Seattle and purchased Twin Disc’s torque converter reblading business from Bowers Machine. Three years later we purchased the manufacturing rights for the Twin Disc J6500 and J10,000 Universal Joints.
The early 90’s was also a time when we began to make significant strides in increasing the Hyster market share in Michigan; first, with Ford and then in a big way with GM. In an effort to expand our products and service in the industrial market, in 1993 we negotiated with the Weatherhead family to purchase the assets of Prodco Company which was in the business of selling Atlas Copco air compressors, Ingersoll-Dresser pumps and fluid power products manufactured by Parker Hannifin. The business was moved from Lakeland Boulevard to Tyler Boulevard and subsequently to a new branch we opened in Brunswick, OH in 1994.
April of 1994 marked the introduction of a “new look” for Great Lakes Power with the creation of 11 business teams sporting the masterful green jacket. The endurance racer “Spirit of America” was introduced along with company prerequisites for exemplary performance in all aspects of business, from lift trucks to drivetrains.
In 1995 Great Lakes Power Lift expanded its facilities by opening branches in Saginaw in January and Livonia in July – the same year the “Spirit of America” Foundation was incorporated. Also that year we opened a new facility at Liberty Park in Mentor, Ohio, to accommodate the straddle carriers. Not to be outdone the endurance racer sensed the fast pace of its mentor and joined the team by setting a new record across Lake Erie from Toledo to Buffalo, which it bettered again in September, 1996.
1997 helped us prepare for a very active 1998. It stared with the decision to add 11,000 sq ft to the Warren Power Lift facility and the opening of a new 46,000 sq. ft. straddle carrier facility at 8200 Tyler Boulevard. On May 19, the “Spirit of America” racing team was successful in capturing the Sun Coast to Gold Coast Victory Cup, while the “Spirit of America” Safe Boating Education Program extended their project to Lorain.
The summer of 1998 marked the grandest party to date – our 25 year celebration where we hosted customers, suppliers and employee families at the foot of 9th street in Cleveland. All of us will remember the activities at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Science Center, tours of the William G. Mather and our dinner cruise on the Good Time III.
The late 90’s were highlighted by growth in the material handling business and our partnership with Hyster and General Motors. On the heels of this success was our role as supplier to the Ringhaver Corporation for significant marine transmission business supply to Sea Ray. Our abilities to grow the pump and air compressor business proved frustrating and in 1998, the decision to sell off the Prodco business was made along with the MQN electrical division.
In 1999 and 2000 we redirected our focus on our core business of material handling, engineered products, service and manufacturing. We reached an agreement with the Duffy family to purchase the Twin Disc portion of W.A. Kraft business in New England, and in Georgia. The deal was closed in November 2000. We later spun off the Georgia portion of this business to Twin Disc. We also started the Power Rents Division in an effort to diversify our base of business for our Liberty Service Division. Great Lakes also hosted the Twin Disc distributor meeting considered by many to be the most enjoyable ever.
During the late 90’s our lift personnel developed a relationship with Bill Haarz who owned Universal Ramco and was a key supplier to Ford as well as a dealer for Ford Motorcraft parts. We reached an agreement to purchase Universal Ramco in the spring of 2001 and moved the company from St Clair Shores, Michigan to Warren, Michigan. At that time a decision was made to move the Livonia, Michigan operation to Taylor, Michigan for strategic reasons. The Power Products Group took over Ramco’s facilities for a short time before relocating to Taylor in the summer of 2003.
With the on going nationwide consolidation of rental houses in the early 00”s, the decision was made to exit the Power Rents business June 30, 2003.