In the mid fifties, Roger W. Drake, a native of Southampton
County, started his business career in a service station repair shop on the banks of the
Blackwater River. This business, known as Cavalier Auto Service, was located across the
river from Camp Manufacturing Company and catered to the Logging contractors that worked
His work with local loggers made him realize that a need existed for
a more efficient method to move logs from the stump to a central loading point. He built a
couple of prototype skidders from used parts. These rubber tired, articulated vehicles
would become the forerunners of the Franklin Logger. The first of these units is located
today near Franklin at the Southampton Agriculture and Forestry Museum in Courtland,
Virginia. The second, which was sold to Dan
Koliadko and later traded on the 100th Franklin Logger, is in a logging museum
in Lufkin, Texas.
Meanwhile, Mr. Drake had acquired a Poulan Chain Saw Distributorship and set up a
dealer network for Poulan in a localized area. He purchased a building next door to
Cavalier and opened an automotive parts store known as Franklin Auto Supply.
While operating Franklin Auto Supply, an opportunity arose
to become a distributor for Pettibone, a rigid Frame, Rubber Tired Skidder. Al Rollison
came on board to sell these machines and to establish a dealer network in several southern
states. This program was abandoned due to a misunderstanding between Pettibone and
Franklin Auto Supply.
Drake then set the wheels in motion to build the Franklin Logger. The Manufacturing and
Equipment Division of Franklin Auto Supply Company was born. The original manufacturing
facility was located in a building at the Franklin Airport. The first units to get a
serial number were built in 1962 and sold locally. Reception for the new "Franklin
Logger" was excellent. In 1963 the company moved its operation from the Franklin
Airport to the shop behind the Franklin Auto Supply.
Franklin started as an assembly operation, building its own
frame and using components built by Rockwell, Carco, and Allison. These first units had
Continental engines, both gasoline and diesel models. All of these vehicles had a torque
converter but none were equipped with a blade.
Franklin operated without the services of an engineer,
although they did have engineering advice from the component manufacturers. These
engineers, however, gave little or no consideration to the severity of the woods
application, which resulted in a trial and error program. After some trying times with the
originally recommended components, some major changes were made. Planetary axles were used
in place of drop center axles. A gear driven winch replaced a hydraulic version. A heavier
torque converter was used as well as a new radiator with twice the capacity of the old
one. A switch was made from Continental to GM engines. Skidders were also being built with
blades as a result of customer demand.
Marketing the "Franklin Logger" was done on a
direct basis, largely through the efforts of Al Rollison. Service was done by service
people traveling out of Franklin, Virginia.
Mr. Drake realized the need to have parts and service
closer to the customer, and moved to establish a dealer organization. The first dealer
signed in 1963 was Tidewater Equipment Company, which would sell and service
"Franklin Loggers" in five Southeastern states. Other dealers followed in the
next several months, two of whom were Cochran Farm Equipment in Pennsylvania and The
Oliver Stores, in Maine.
In the mid 1960s the manufacturing facilities
underwent several expansions, including the purchase of a building adjoining the property.
The Parts and Service operations were located in this building. The Franklin Automotive
Parts operation was also relocated across the street. Franklin Auto Supply was sold within
the next few years as more of managements time was taken by Franklin Equipment
By 1966, the company had outgrown its facilities and decided to
relocate on a 34 acre site east of Union Camp in Isle of Wight Country. Franklin moved
into the new plant in 1967 and the old facilities were sold.
Franklin was still basically an assembly operation at this
time. Our sheet metal was formed and tanks built by a local sheet metal shop. Within two
years, these operations were being done in house. The new plant went through the first of
During this period, the first Powershift and Grapple Skidders were built.
In 1968, the Franklin Sweed Division of Franklin Equipment Company
was born when Franklin purchased controlling interest in the Holt Division of Jeddeloh
Bros. Sweed Mills, Inc.
Holt started in 1946 as a job shop and later manufactured
dozer blades. They bought a small foundry in 1950 and started casting operations. They
also developed a small crawler tractor and a forklift. Jeddeloh Bros. purchased Holt in
1963. In 1964 Franklin Equipment Company approached this division to buy winches for their
new skidder. In January 1965 Franklin took delivery of 20 winches. The orders grew and
after several months were up to as many as 100 per month.
In 1967 the Holt Division negotiated a license agreement
with Franklin Equipment Company for manufacture of skidders to sell on the West Coast. New
buildings were constructed for this purpose and production began. In 1968 Franklin
Equipment Company bought the majority of stock from Jeddeloh Bros. and created a
subsidiary in Independence, Oregon, under the name of Franklin Sweed Inc. Franklin
Equipment Company merged with Franklin Sweed in 1970 and named this operation the Franklin
Sweed Division of Franklin Equipment Company. This division produced castings, winches,
transfer cases and Model 170 through 195 Skidders until 1971, when the skidder line was
transferred to Franklin, Virginia.
Later in 1971, Franklin Equipment Company purchased a
and transmission line from Dana Corporation and transferred the machinery and inventory to
the Independence plant. This division produced winches, transfer cases, axles and
powershift transmissions until 1974, when the decision was made to move component
production and assembly to Franklin. The primary responsibility of the Sweed plant became
the foundry, pouring ductile iron castings for Franklin Equipment Company.
During this period of time an assembly plant was also being
run in Elmira, Ontario to build skidders for the Canadian market. This arrangement did not
prove to be satisfactory and all vehicle manufacturing returned to the plant in Franklin.
With the move of the gear and axle division from the West
Coast in 1974, Franklin purchased the old manufacturing facility and moved the Parts
operation along with the Sales and Service offices. The Accounting department moved into
the building that once housed the Parts Department and Service Shop. Data Processing also
occupied the upstairs of this building.
Through the years that
followed, the focus at Franklin Equipment Company was on upgrading equipment and
rearranging and adding floor space to modernize and make the operation as efficient as
possible. Quality and customer satisfaction has always been at the top of Mr. Drakes
priorities and the company has evolved along these guidelines.
The 1980s saw the production of hydraulic cylinders
done in-house. The Franklin line of rubber-tired timber harvesting equipment had expanded
to the most complete in the industry and included Cable Skidders, Grapple Skidders,
Forwarders, Site Prep Machines, Feller Bunchers, Fifth Wheel Machines and some special
In 1990, Franklin Equipment Company purchased the Tree Farmer
Skidder Division from Hawker Siddley, a multi-national conglomerate. The Tree Farmer
Manufacturing facility was located in Talladega, Alabama. The Tree Farmer line continued
to be built in Alabama until March 1991 when the first Franklin built Tree Farmer C7F M-66
rolled off the assembly line. The C7F, as with all of the new Tree Farmer models that
followed, were completely redesigned and updated to be able to compete in the market
The acquisition of Tree Farmer doubled the size of the
dealer organization and extended the market area for both lines. The traditional Franklin
market area had very few conflicts with the traditionally Tree Farmer market area so the
net result was a wider market for both lines. Most dealers now offer both lines and have
the advantage of selling machines with either center section oscillation of front cradle
oscillation to suit individual customer preferences. No other manufacturer offers both.
Franklin has continued to upgrade and modernize, not only the
production equipment, but also the product itself. Although Franklin was one of the first
companies to build a forwarder in 1965, the need was seen to upgrade and expand our
forwarder line several years ago. New logging techniques and changing environmental views
made Franklin management realize that forwarders would play a greater roll than ever in
the future of logging practices. As a result of looking ahead, forwarder production and
sales have risen sharply and new bays were built in 1993 to allow expanded production.
1994 and 1995 were exceptionally busy years. Sales and production
were full bore. Engineering continued a program of product improvement and modernization
of existing equipment line, as well introducing several new products, which include the new
high horse power feller buncher and a new multi-function grapple.
1995 also saw the completion of our new parts facility. The
new building, designed with high vertical storage and an automated small parts carousel,
is just behind our assembly building at the main plant site. This new facility, along with
changes in the structure of our parts system, is designed to supply our dealers and
customers with the best possible service. The parts department also introduced the parts
manual on CD Rom, a step toward the technology of tomorrow.
Two new feller buncher models, the C4500 and C4800 were
introduced in 1996. These two machines are designed for maximum maneuverability to work in
thinnings or select cut applications. EXPO 96 in Richmond, Virginia was the site
for three new equipment introductions from Franklin. The 190 M-36 grapple skidder made its
debut. This 215 horsepower skidder fits the bill for operations needing more power. Also
unveiled was a prototype skidder with the new DLX
cab, which features a tilt and telescoping steering wheel, standard air condition and
headrest, joystick grapple controls, halogen lights, and an AM/FM cassette player. Perhaps the
largest surprise for the industry was a prototype
KBL-35, the first knuckle boom loader built at Franklin.
In 1997 the DLX series became standard across the product
line. The KBL line expanded with the first KBL-28. The 420 PAB, a small pulpwood forwarder
was developed for the Lake States Region. A hydrostatic skidder with full reverse operator
controls was shown as a prototype of EXPO 97, in Atlanta. In the last half of the
year, Franklin released the Franklin 185 and Tree Farmer C8F model grapple skidders. These
units expand the higher horsepower line to offer more choices for loggers needing extra
Franklin also ventured into retail marketing in 1997 with
the opening of four Franklin/Tree Farmer Sales and Service outlets in Virginia and North
The foundry operation at Franklin Sweed has also been
upgraded with a modern sand recovery system and today serves as an efficient part of
Franklin Equipment Company, pouring many castings used in component manufacture as well as
Franklins state of the art machine shop continues to
be upgraded with the most modern machinery available. New additions include computer
lathes with high speed, hard turn capabilities, and a huge computer machining center to do
axle housings. This considerable investment in our machine shop represents our commitment
to building high quality machinery for the forest industry.
Metal Preparation is also entering the computer age with
high tech equipment, such as computer plasma punches, doing the work that could not be
accomplished on many different machines in time past.
A modern heat treat facility was added to the Factory in
1997. This further expands in house capacity and permits closer control over the quality
of Franklin products.
Engineering is busier than ever. Current vehicle design,
with the vast number of models offered in the Franklin and Tree Farmer lines, is already
beginning to develop the next generation of timber harvesting equipment. Our engineering
staff is assisted by modern CAD systems to make their work faster and more precise. As Mr.
Drake said, "With an eye on the future, we serve your needs today."
Franklin Equipment Company is still a privately held
company and is owned by the Drake Family. Mr. Drake still holds the reins as Chairman of
the Board, while his sons Wilson and Randy oversee Marketing and Production respectively.
Franklin Equipment Company is an example of what a vision
put together with hard work, determination, and courage can result in -------The
realization of the "American Dream."
PO Box 697, Franklin, VA 23851
Tel: (757) 562-6111, Fax: (757) 562-3631