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"An American Dream"

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 with Camp.

pic1thumb.JPG (12350 bytes)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.

pic3thumb.JPG (9495 bytes)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.

pic4thumb.JPG (7431 bytes)Mr. 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 1960’s 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 management’s time was taken by Franklin Equipment Company.

pic6thumb.JPG (10400 bytes)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 many expansions.

During this period, the first Powershift and Grapple Skidders were built.

pic8thumb.JPG (17340 bytes)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.

pic9thumb.JPG (12556 bytes)Later in 1971, Franklin Equipment Company purchased a complete axle 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.

pic10 copy.JPG (21408 bytes)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. Drake’s priorities and the company has evolved along these guidelines.

The 1980’s 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 application machines.

pic11thumb.JPG (10299 bytes)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 today.

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.

pic12thumb.JPG (14040 bytes)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.

pic13thumb.JPG (9833 bytes)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 horsepower.

Franklin also ventured into retail marketing in 1997 with the opening of four Franklin/Tree Farmer Sales and Service outlets in Virginia and North Carolina.

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 vehicle manufacture.

Franklin’s 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
Email: [email protected]