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Company's future is bent on the past

-  Tube Specialties and the Weyhrich family commemorates 50-years of ownership


The American Dream is alive, thriving and nestled in an industrial park in Troutdale.

Fifty years ago, Dick Weyhrich was moonlighting in his garage, as a subcontractor, hand bending brake and fuel line tubing. by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - This is the original bending tool that started Tube Specialties Co., now based in Troutdale. The company is celebrating its 50th anniversary.

A few short months later, he founded Tube Specialties Co., which today remains the oldest family owned pipe and tube fabrication business in these parts.

Weyhrich’s sons, Mark and Gary, now oversee the multi-million dollar operation, along with fabrication plants in North Carolina and Saltillo, Mexico.

TSCO supplies heavy-duty trucking parts to the big boys like Peterbilt, Caterpillar and Kenworth. The company also is one of the major parts suppliers for Freightliner.

Taking a business from garage to manufacturing site has nothing on Weyhrich. He went from garage to global.

Weyhrich grew up in Portland. He left school as a high school sophomore, but earned his GED through Benson High School before being sent to Korea with the Army. After the war ended, Weyhrich’s mechanical detail unit was assigned to rebuilding bridges and infrastructure in Seoul.

By 1963, Weyhrich was back home and working the night shift at a Portland machine operation. Hyster, well known for its forklifts, was in need of a local parts supplier.

“Hyster asked the company Dad worked for if they would be interested in expanding their business,” said Weyhrich’s son, Mark. “(Hyster’s) suppliers were in the Midwest and they wanted somebody closer.

The company turned Hyster down, but dad said he would be interested and got permission from his supervisor to do the work on his own time.”

The elder Weyhrich bought a tube bender and set up shop in his southeast Portland garage. He hand bent tubing for brake and fuel lines for Hyster’s equipment and soon found himself buried with work. A growing client list convinced him it was time to strike out on his own.

“He got so busy that he left the company, but he didn’t have a business license,” Mark said, laughing. “He had to shut down for a while just to get his license.”

Weyhrich officially opened TSCO in late 1963, on Northeast 148th Avenue and Airport Way. Within 10 years, the company was a major supplier for the heavy trucking industry and “dabbling” in architectural metal work in Portland.

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Tube Specialties Co. employee Ben Reed tests the welds on products at the Troutdale facility.

The top of the KOIN Center and the Portland Arts Center both carry metal artwork designed and made in TSCO’s Portland plant.

By 1992, the company was invested in several manufacturing arenas, encompassing everything from chrome plating and artistic sculptures to the basic components and parts for the big rigs.

Weyhrich pared the company down, including closing the industrial chrome division, to concentrate on his bread and butter — tube and pipe bending, fabrication and finishing.

But when the city of Portland decided to expand Airport Way, Weyhrich’s company was suddenly in need of a new home.

“Dad was pretty bitter when the city took the land,” Mark said. “But it ended up being fortuitous because it led him to find the land out here (in Troutdale).”

Looking toward the future

Between 1992 and 1996, TSCO went through what Mark called “massive growth.” The company became fully compatible with electronic data interchange (EDI), to expedite ordering and shipping, and was recognized as a major original equipment manufacturer (OEM) for Freightliner.

In 1996, TSCO opened a state-of-the art 215,000 square-foot facility in Troutdale. Three years later, it launched a second 215,000 square-feet plant, in Statesville, N.C.

A 70,000 square-foot facility followed in 2011, in Saltillo, Mexico. All three facilities are located within short distances of major hubs for Freightliner, TSCO’s major customer.

Weyhrich retired in 1994, comfortable with passing the company to his sons, who serve as co-presidents. Mark, 43, and Gary, 45, had grown up in and around the plant and were well versed in what is now their father’s legacy. by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Tube Specialties Co. employee Angel Benitez loads a tube into a bender at the companys Troutdale facility.

“We learned every process here,” Mark said. “Dad had a rule that if we weren’t in school or playing sports, we were working. We started by picking up cigarette butts in the parking lot. Gary started doing it at age 11 and by the time I came along two years later, he was a seasoned veteran and did other things. Then I was the one picking up cigarette butts in the parking lot.”

Things have changed over the years, since the elder Weyhrich hand bent tubing. Production facilities are fully automated, cutting and bending tubing with machines that cost in the neighborhood of $1 million each.

The warehouse looks like a tidy Costco, with floor to ceiling large steel bins full of finished tubing, labeled according to customer.

Electronic interface with customers allows TSCO to satisfy urgent orders, by pulling product from the bins and shipping it within hours.

Yet the company has never compromised its family-owned atmosphere.

During the economic downturn, TSCO found ways to tighten its belt with minimal job loss. While a few job reductions did occur, Mark said a proposed company-wide cut in wages was enthusiastically embraced by employees as a way to prevent further downsizing. Today, TSCO runs two production shifts at its Troutdale facility and employs close to 400 workers between the three sites.

Maintaining a business for a half-century is rare any more. Success requires evolving with the times and technology to remain competitive. But sometimes, taking a simple idea to new heights and listening to dad works too.

“Coming from the hand bender to the machines we use now, we’ve come a long way,” Mark said. “This has been a way of life for us. It’s been fun and a learning experience, that’s for sure, but we’re pretty proud that we’re still family owned 50 years later.”




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