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Father and son team up as Winsted Summer Festival’s grand marshals

August 4, 2008

By Linda Scherer
Staff Writer

The father and son team of Paul and Dave Millerbernd will be this year’s grand marshals for the Winsted Summer Festival parade Sunday, Aug. 10 at 1 p.m.

Paul and Dave are retired but both have served as president of Millerbernd Manufacturing which is celebrating its 75th anniversary in business this year.

Paul is the founder of Millerbernd Manufacturing and retired in May 1985 at the age of 71.

Dave retired at the end of last year.

Although neither man likes a lot of public recognition, they are using this opportunity as grand marshals to celebrate Millerbernd’s anniversary and the employees who have helped to make the business successful.

“Employees are our number one asset,” Dave said. “We couldn’t do it without them. Without the employees, there would be nothing but empty buildings and machinery. It was and always will be teamwork that makes a business what it is.”

Dave’s first job at Millerbernd was more than 50 years ago.

“It is so hard to cover all of this in a newspaper article,” Dave said. “I grew up in the plant as a kid. I started working there in grade school as the janitor. I have done just about every job out there.”

He worked part-time at Millerbernd through college, after school and summers, but after Dave graduated from St. Cloud State, where he majored in engineering, he went to work at 3M in Hutchinson.

“I didn’t work at Millerbernd right away,” Dave said. “Between my dad and I, we thought I would be better off some place else for a while to see what the real world was like, and I am really glad I did that. I learned a lot.”

Dave got his first full-time job at Millerbernd when he became production manager, in 1971.

Dave mentioned others who have been dedicated employees of Millerbernd Manufacturing, including his younger brother, Steve, older sister, Yvonne Guggemos, and his aunt Mixie Laxen Schlagel.

“Titles like president and vice president didn’t mean much except for legal purposes,” Dave said. “We worked together on getting the job done.”

“Steve couldn’t have been a better partner. He started here right out of college,” Dave said. “He went to St. Cloud and majored in business. He did the hiring and worked with all of the different insurances. He was also in charge of the ring plant downtown. He still does that and works with ring sales and does all of the hiring for both plants.”

Guggemos and Schlagel were a big part of Millerbernd until they retired. Guggemos did payroll. Schlagel did the accounting and the bookwork and was office manager. Schlagel worked at Millerbernd for 52 years before retiring.

“Whatever needed to get done, those two did it. I can’t say enough about them,” Dave said.

Paul celebrated his 94th birthday in May. He was married to Rosella “Sally” Laxen who died in 1991. They had three children: Yvonne Guggemos, Dave, and Steve.

Paul and Rosella grew up on farms just a few miles from one another just north of Winsted.

Dave talks about his dad as a hard worker who spent many evenings working late into the night. Paul likes to hunt and fish, enjoys photography and does a lot of reading.

After his retirement in 1985, he still liked to see what was going on at the plant.

“He would check out the scrap bins to make sure we didn’t leave anything good in there, and he would go through the plant and leave notes all over the place for Steve and I,” Dave said.

Dave is still adjusting to his recent retirement last December.

“I am just getting used to the idea. Every day is a Saturday and you get up and you can do whatever you want. Pretty much anyway,” Dave said.

Taking after his father, Dave likes to hunt, fish and photography. He takes pictures of scenery, but also enjoys taking pictures of his family and grandchildren.

He owns his own plane and flies to Canada, where he said the fishing is better and he appreciates the scenery and the solitude.

Another hobby of Dave’s is fixing up old cars. He has rebuilt engines in some, while others didn’t need as much work. He has owned five ‘67 Corvettes, but has since sold all but one.

He just picked up a ‘67 Camaro and a ‘67 GTO. He enjoys driving them around on a nice day.

He is a member of the Winsted Airport Commission.

And sometimes, when he gets bored with all of that, he will just walk through Menards.

“I’ll go and buy a box of garbage bags and walk around for an hour looking at all of the new stuff. Not buy much, but they have tons of ideas, and they just keep coming up with new things all of the time. Neat things for your home or time-saving devices. You name it, they have it.”

Dave has been married to Reneé Hertzog since Jan. 18, 1969.

They travel to warmer climates during the winter months and enjoy their time with the grandchildren.

They have two sons, Trevor, who is the current president of Millerbernd Manufacturing; and Nathan, a financial analyst who provides his expertise to Millerbernd management.

Trevor is married to Samantha Stenson of Bemidji.

Nathan is married to Sarah Stence of Algona, Iowa. They have two children. Ellie is 4 and Chase is 2.

Millerbernd began in Winsted in 1933

Millerbernd Manufacturing has a long, and interesting history which began in Winsted in 1933 when Paul and his brother, Carl, rented a building just south of Holy Trinity High School.

Carl later sold the business to Paul and began his own business which is now known as Millerbernd Design and Fabrication.

Together, Paul and Carl did welding jobs on farm machinery and automobiles. They built a plate roll out of old steam thresher engine axles and some old parts they bought from a Minneapolis junkyard.

With this steel plate roll, they made many tanks which were used for milk and whey storage, home fuel storage and for liquid transport trucks and wagons.

They also made snowplows for the Pure Milk Products milk trucks which were needed in the 1930s and 1940s to get in and out of farms for milk pickup.

“Most of the time back then, things were custom made,” Dave said. “They didn’t come and give an order for 10, but would say ‘can you build one?’ and we would say, ‘We’ll try it.’ If they liked it and needed another one we would build another one.”

In 1937, a new shop was built at 231 Main Avenue. The original building was approximately 50 by 50 feet. That same building on Main Avenue is still used now as part of what is known as the ring plant.

“We have engineers now, but back then it was pretty much my dad and the guys he worked with, and the drawings were on the floor with chalk,” Dave said.

Today, Millerbernd is now divided into two divisions with more than 200 employees.

One of the divisions is called the Ring and Cylinder Division which specializes in heavy metal rings and cylinder fabrication ranging in size from five pounds to 15,000 pounds each.

The ring division began in the building on Main Avenue in 1941. About that time, Paul was introduced to the Onan Company, which was making electrical generators for the war effort and needed steel rings for generators.

Paul took the prints to his shop and spent most of the night making a sample ring. The next day the sample was submitted to Onan for approval and they obtained an order for 50 rings.

From 1941 to 1945 they built thousands of rings for Onan as well as other companies and employed 20 people.

“We still make rings for electric motors and generators, but there are, and I am guessing, about 150 different applications for our rings,” Dave said.

Some of the rings Millerbernd Manufacturing makes are for the war effort. One type of ring is used on top of Humvees as part of a big bearing used to rotate the gun around.

Other rings the government uses for making aerial bombs.

“For those particular job applications, there is a government specification that is about an inch thick telling us how it has to be done,” Dave said. “And some people will order rings and won’t tell you what they are using them for.”

Other uses for the rings are for wind generators, for large telescopes, motor frames, generator housings, pipe flanges, asphalt road packers, railroad cars, missiles, and snap rings.

The rings are made out of stainless steel, carbon steel, aluminum and some brass.

The second division, which is more widely known, is the Steel Pole Manufacturing division.

“We make such a variety of poles,” Dave said. “Poles for athletic fields, tennis courts, and traffic signal poles, which are a big part of our business.”

“The high rise poles we still make a lot of,” Dave said. “Instead of having 30 or 40 or 50 small poles along the highway, they set up one big light pole and set it farther off the highway so cars won’t hit them. The light can be lowered if it needs to be serviced.”

The pole division began in about 1949 when a few Winsted sports enthusiasts wanted a lighted baseball field and approached Paul on building lighting towers for the Winsted baseball field.

Paul provided Winsted with one of the first lighted baseball fields in the area.

During that same time, Paul learned that Winsted was looking for street lighting poles, but had to wait for more than a year to get them.

He decided that was a product that must be in demand, and in the months that followed, Paul and his men designed tapered eight-sided pole shafts.

To begin with, the machine formed the pole shafts in halves which needed to be welded together.

In 1958, Paul decided to expand the lighting pole business.

The business was moved onto farmland, by McLeod County Road 1, southwest of town, that Paul had previously purchased. This is the current location of Millerbernd’s main plant.

The expansion began with the purchase of a set of tandem 2,000 ton Verson press brakes.

“It arrived by railroad in pieces,” Dave said.

At that time, the press was considered to be the largest in the country with a total length of 52 feet.

With this machine, they could form a variety of pole shafts and tapers. The pole shaft could be made in one piece instead of the previous two halves requiring welding.

After the machine was assembled, a pole plant was laid out and built around it. Most of the equipment needed for pole fabrication could not be purchased and had to be designed and built by Paul and his employees.

Some of the equipment was purchased at government auctions. The machinery was mostly converted.

“They are big. I think one took eight semi loads to haul all of the pieces back,” Dave said.

“If we had ordered the machinery new, it would have been so expensive you wouldn’t be able to afford it,” Dave said.

They now own a Pacific 60-foot press break.

“As we got bigger,” Dave said, “the poles got bigger, and the orders got bigger.”

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