Fairfield Ledger

Mt. Pleasant News   Wash Journal
Neighbors Growing Together | Aug 16, 2018


Plant going strong under new ownership
By Vicki Tillis, Ledger lifestyles editor | Aug 03, 2018
Source: PHOTO SUBMITTED Pat Soots pours iron at Faircast Inc.

History does repeat itself. At least it does at Faircast Inc. where for the third time, a group of businessmen came together to help Fairfield’s manufacturing sector.

Faircast, adjacent to the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad line in the northwest part of town, actually got its start in Dexter, Iowa, where William H. George organized the Excelsior Thresher Tooth Company in 1904 to manufacture threshing machine accessories. George designed and built his first washing machine in 1910, and he sold his company in 1911 to a group of Fairfield businessmen headed by L.O. Gaines and R. Day Hunt. The company was moved to Fairfield in 1912, with George serving as general manager of The Dexter Company.

George and his wife had their family home at 406 W. Broadway Ave. He sold his interest in The Dexter Company and retired in 1929. After his retirement, George continued with inventions and was reported to have offered an “entirely new automotive trailer, said to surpass all other trailers now marketed in convenience and safety. This trailer, when ready for travel, is only a short distance above the ground, giving the driver of the automobile an unobstructed vision to the rear. In addition, the low center of gravity is said to add materially to the safety of the trailer and automobile. For night, this trailer can quickly and easily be raised making a completely equipped room, with all modern conveniences.”

The Georges lived in Fairfield until their deaths. A son, Dr. Clark George, was the last member of the family to reside in Fairfield. He died about 46 years ago.

During the years after The Dexter Company was moved to Fairfield, the Dexter washer was developed from a wood tub, hand-operated machine to the famous Twin-Tub distributed throughout the United States and several foreign countries.

After World War II, the company added a dryer and an automatic washer to its line of products. The first automatic washer models were delivered to retail outlets in 1951. The Dexter Company entered defense work in 1952, manufacturing rocket motor body assembles in addition to its appliance lines.

“It was very successful,” said Roger Vorhies, president/general manager of Faircast. But, he explained, Dexter needed to finance its growth, so it made an agreement for the Philco Corporation of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to buy the company in 1954.

Just a few years later, in 1961, Vorhies said, Philco was bought by the Ford Motor Company.

“Philco made radios and air conditioners, and Ford bought it because they used Philco radios in their cars and wanted to put a/c in them, too,” he said.

In 1962, Ford reorganized the Philco Corp. into eight divisions, each with its own general manager. The Fairfield Laundry plant was part of the consumer products division, which was largest of the eight. Its products remained unchanged: mechanical components for the Philco automatic washer, wringer washers, carrying Philco, Dexter and private labels, commercial coin-operated dryers and gray and iron foundry work.


The second time around

According to Vorhies, in the early 1970s, Ford decided it didn’t need a foundry in Fairfield, and — once again — a group of 25 initial shareholders, including members of the plant staff, sales personnel and several of the company’s commercial laundry distributors, bought the plant in mid-February 1972. Its new name was The Dexter Company.

“The Ford Motor Co. brought corporate governance and business discipline to Fairfield,” said Vorhies. “And the guys who learned it, didn’t forget it when Philco-Ford was gone.”

Vorhies, a 1978 graduate of Fairfield High School, began working at Dexter in 1978 and ’79. He recalled that it was a successful, well-ran company, and he was glad to have a job there. Ten years later, he had started his own company building metal buildings, and was now working for Dexter as a building contractor.

Vorhies said Dexter’s foundry and laundry divisions carried each other. The foundry would do good one year, and the laundry would do good the next year.

Then, just prior to 1994, he continued, both were so successful and growing that there was no longer room for both divisions in the original location, so a new building for Dexter’s laundry division was built a few blocks west on Grimes Avenue. That building was constructed by Vorhies, who had left Dexter about 15 years before, and his business partner Gus Schaus.

In December 2010, the Dexter foundry was sold and became Revstone Castings Fairfield, then was renamed Fairfield Castings.

“Everybody knows the name George Hofmeister,” said Vorhies. “He was convicted of embezzling and stealing from the employees’ health insurance and retirement pension fund.”

Shortly after buying the company in 2010, Hofmeister, of Paris, Kentucky, and his business partners used assets from the Fairfield workers’ pension fund to buy property in Fort Worth, Texas, and handed out millions of dollars in loans to several of Hofmeister’s other business entities.

Hofmeister was sued by the U.S. Department of Labor in 2013 claiming he and others took $4.9 million from the pension plans of Fairfield Castings union workers and a related Michigan company to use for their own business interests violating a federal law that protects worker pension assets.

In 2012, a bankruptcy judge placed the Department of Labor’s Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation in control of the foundry. Then, in 2015, the foundry went into foreclosure and was to be auctioned in June 2017.

Two weeks before the auction, PBGC shut the foundry down and sent everyone home, recalled Vorhies.

“It was panic in the countryside,” Vorhies said. “No one saw it coming. Customers were in a panic and coming in to take their patterns and tooling. But it wasn’t illegal for PBCG to close it down.”

Meanwhile, a group of 13 businessmen were collaborating to save the Fairfield business, but because of nondisclosure agreements, they couldn’t share their plans with the workers or the community. Some of the men today still prefer keeping a low profile and don’t want their names released to the public.


Third time’s the charm

The group of Fairfield businessmen was one of three bidders for the foundry on June 28, 2017. And for the third time, a group of local businessmen kept the foundry in the Fairfield community.

“If either of the other two had won, this would be a dark building,” said Vorhies. “It’s scary to think of not getting it done.”

After a three-week closure, the business reopened its doors as Faircast Inc. and began recalling its workers.

“It was four months before we felt we could operate a little more normal,” said Vorhies. “That three weeks hurt a lot of people.”

Faircast is now up to around 105 employees.

“It’s a great group of people who come to work every day in the shop and in the office who want to be here,” said Vorhies.

As it has in the past, the foundry is producing castings for companies in many industries, including agriculture.

“Ag, oil and gas, gear boxes, compressors, drive line parts, pulleys, transit, recreation, mining … we’re spread out pretty good,” said Vorhies.


Looking forward

For its long-term goals, Vorhies said Faircast is looking into increasing its molding capacity and becoming more efficient for times when the economy isn’t as good as it is now.

For its more current goals, Faircast is improving its air quality.

“It’s one of our main drivers,” said Vorhies, explaining the foundry wants to move the air in a smarter way to create clean zones where the people work.

The foundry also wants to improve its sand quality.

“A lot revolves around sand,” Vorhies said.

He explained that Faircast is a “green sand” foundry — it uses its sand over and over again rejuvenating it with moisture and clay. Improving sand control will result in better quality castings.

Faircast also is in the middle of a two-year project to reclaim scraps of iron from 15 acres of land it owns north of the Dexter Apache Soccer Fields on West Grimes Avenue. The land had been used by the foundry as a spent sand disposal site.

Sherpa Industries of South Carolina is sifting the ground in search of iron. An enormous machine called a “scalper” feeds the sand on a conveyor belt over a magnet, which grabs the iron.

Vorhies said Faircast is buying the recovered scrap iron from Sherpa because it is already has the additives we would put into the iron before we would pour it into a mold.

Vorhies said he’s hoping to get over 10,000 tons of metal, maybe much more.”

Once the reclaiming is finished, Faircast plans to smooth out the site, compact the sand, place dirt on top and plant grass on it. Eventually, it could be donated to the city for use as additional soccer fields or ball fields.

“We have been working with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources since Day One on how to clean it up and finish it up,” said Vorhies. “We don’t do anything without the DNR’s and our engineer’s approval.”

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