L.A. Boiler Works Inc. History

Originally located in California, the Los Angeles Boiler Works Inc. was founded as a boiler manufacturing business. Now based in Blackwell, Oklahoma and under the leadership of Paul E. Clark, this once small company has grown into a multi-million dollar concern. No longer a boiler manufacturer, the company is now known for delivering top quality American made parts for the petroleum, chemical, water treatment, boiler, pressure vessel, steam generation, and heat exchanger industries. The company is also known for holding an inventory of specialized products and has earned a reputation for flexibility and quick response time with special fabrications and customized parts.

L.A. Boiler Works got its start on June 12, 1892 when Wilbur Hankey set up shop at 105 Roundout Street in downtown Los Angeles. It was in the heart of the city's industrial district, an area then full of foundries and mills. Hankey became known for producing a quality product and excellent repair work. As his reputation grew, so did his business. By 1900 Hankey brought his son Fred into the business. Industry in the region was growing at a rapid pace and with it the demand for steam boilers, the main source of energy for the manufacturing plants that were sprouting up like weeds.

In 1912 the company moved from its original location to 134 Elmyra Street. It resided there for 70 years until it moved to Oklahoma. Tragedy struck the business in 1918 when Wilbur Hankey became a victim of the Influenza Pandemic, leaving his son Fred to run the business. Unfortunately the company began to fail and Fred sold it to Bill Fickett and Ed Pine, men who were experienced boilermakers and who had been employees at L.A. Boiler Works for ten years.

Years later in 1931, Ludwig S. "Andy" Anderson bought the company outright for half a million dollars. Anderson hired on two dish and flange men, who had come up with a better way to make the tank heads, which moved the company into a new a prosperous direction. It was this new path that kept the company alive during the lean years of the depression.

Anderson sold the business in January 1940 to Guy H. Brooks and M.J. "Bill" May. Brooks had worked for American-Standard Plumbing for several years and had built up an impressive list of contacts in the trade. May was an expert in pipes and tanks and also possessed great skill for solving difficult fabrication problems. Together the men made a very successful team.

The company attained its first American Society of Mechanical Engineers (A.S.M.E.) certification for "U" and "S" pressure vessels in the late 1930s. It soon became a certified manufacturer for the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Navy, American Bureau of Shipping, Lloyds Registry of Shipping, and Underwriters Laboratories. These certifications opened up the door to a large amount of military work in World War II. May also designed lift rafts for the U.S. Coast Guard victory ships, and the company built parts for military bombers. The firm's tank head business continued to grow, and during the war it introduced the pressure-type manhole and handhole assemblies for tanks and boilers - products that would become mainstays for the business.

After the war L.A. Boiler Works took on Van Ferry as a new partner. In 1951 the company expanded again with the purchase of Pioneer Blacksmith, a manufacturer of small tractor implements. In 1952 Pioneer's facility was used to create the Airlite Patio Door Company, a division of L.A. Boiler Works, which manufactured the first sliding glass doors. By 1954 Bill May took over the patio door business, leaving Brooks as the sole owner of the Boiler Works.

L.A. Boiler Works officially incorporated in 1964 and set up a profit sharing plan. Long-term employees were offered the option to buy stock in the new corporation. In July 1967 Paul E. Clark was brought in as a temporary employee to cover for a secretary who was on leave. Clark had received extensive training as a draftsman at the Fluor Corporation in Los Angeles, California, which was a great asset to the company. His skills would lead to a career at L.A. Boiler Works that Clark could never have imagined.

In the early 1970s a new product was introduced, the flanged and flued expansion joints. Van Ferry developed the process of manufacturing the product over a twenty-year period. This new procedure allowed the shop to make any odd-sized joints that the exchanger or duct fabricator might require.

One-third of L.A. Boiler Works was sold to Paul Clark in 1974. Clark paid for the purchase by taking on a night job at a gas station and acquiring a bank loan. By 1979 Clark was in a strong enough position to buy the shares of the remaining two partners for nearly half a million dollars, through bank financing.

Clark's rise to his ownership position is somewhat remarkable, considering his humble beginnings. Son of a low-paid ranch hand and deputy sheriff, Clark came to California with $46 in his pocket and only a high school diploma to his credit. However he also possessed a strong entrepreneurial spirit.

Once the company was under Clark's control he made significant changes to the operations. Most importantly, he created a marketing strategy that, until then, was non-existent. He established a catalogue of parts and a list of all potential customers throughout the U.S. He then spent the next 10 months on the road selling the company product. Within one year, company sales had doubled to $1 million dollars. By 1983, however, sales had soared to $4 million under Clark's leadership and marketing ingenuity.

L.A. Boiler Works was quickly outgrowing its physical space. So, in 1983 Clark moved the business to Blackwell, Oklahoma, a rural town of roughly 6,500 people that was known as one of the earliest settlements of the Oklahoma Land Rush of 1889. Clark bought eleven acres of land in Blackwell for $30,000, where he built a 20,000-square-foot building with 2,400 square feet of office space.

Even though the company had been located in Oklahoma for more than 21 years, it still kept its original name. The business continued to expand during those two decades, with 56,000 square feet of manufacturing space and 40 employees by 2004. It continues to be a leader in the manufacture of tank heads, manholes, handholes, weld caps, and hinged closures. The company counts among its direct and indirect clientele nearly all major industries throughout the U.S., Mexico, and Canada. The company also has clients in England, Australia, Brazil, and the Middle East.

Clark has also built on his entrepreneurial talents by building 2 Comfort Inn hotels, a Subway sandwich shop, and a restaurant along Oklahoma's Interstate 35. He sees it as a way to revive business in the Blackwell community, which is located less than 3 miles from the interstate. Clark's community development efforts have helped attract at least a dozen other business into the area.

Clark has also given back to the people of Blackwell through philanthropic gifts such as a $25,000 donation to create a birthing room at the Integris Blackwell Hospital. He has also been a major supporter and fundraiser for the Maude Bryant Scholarship Fund, a vocal scholarship offered through the Blackwell High School.

Paul Clark believes that his religious faith as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the source of his strength and success. Clark became a Mormon just before he was offered the opportunity to buy his first shares in L.A. Boiler Works. He began to tithe to the church and met a number of highly skilled professional people who have continued to give him expert advice and moral support to this day. Clark feels none of his accomplishments would have been possible without these people and his strong beliefs in the Mormon faith. Clark remains an active leader in the church, and was on the Stillwater Stake High Council for twelve years.

The qualities Clark ascribes to his faith are also what clearly make him a compassionate employer and a good businessman. Clark treats his customers with great respect and gives their needs top priority. He has been known to personally drive 1,000 miles to deliver a part to a client to a client who needs it in an emergency. What may surprise some is that Clark treats his vendors with that same amount of value and respect as he does his customers and employees. He also believes in treating his staff members as partners and makes a point of letting them know how vital they are to the health of the company. The company set up a profit sharing plan in 1964 and the current employees share in the more than $3 million fund, based on their length of employment. In Clark's own words, "Your workers are the number one part of your industry. If you treat your employees well they will do good by you. After all, you reap what you sow." (Oklahoma - A Rich Heritage, Odie B. Faulk & William D. Welge)