By Ivan Raconteur
The death of Elmer Schwartz April 16 marked the passing of one of the pioneers of industry in Lester Prairie.
Schwartz was 92 when he died at St. Mary’s Care Center in Winsted, and he sold his business years ago, but for nearly 65 years, the company he founded was a strong presence in Lester Prairie.
Schwartz Manufacturing opened for business in the former Sunnyside Creamery Building in Lester Prairie Dec. 8, 1941 (the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor).
The company was started by Schwartz and his brother, Norman.
The opening of the business was a natural transition for the brothers, who began doing custom welding, repairing equipment, and designing labor-saving devices in a shed on their parents’ farm, which was located five miles southeast of Lester Prairie in western Carver County.
They began building equipment for their neighbors, as well.
In 1939, they made a custom gravel conveyor for Gordon Bennyhoff. Later, they built more of these for other contractors.
They built front-end loaders that were customized for each tractor that was brought to the shop.
They opened the facility in Lester Prairie to gain more space for their operation.
The brothers continued to do repair work for local farmers until 1949.
During World War II, when material was in short supply, they improvised by adapting available parts to other uses.
For example, they used drive shafts from wrecked trucks to manufacture tractor loaders.
They used Model “A” car axles on farm wagons, and cut water tanks in half to make troughs for pigs.
In 1945, Elmer bought out Norman’s interest in the business, and shortly thereafter, he began mass-producing front-end loaders for farm use.
Other early products made by the company included under-body truck hoists, and a wide front axle for tractors.
The company even manufactured toys for a time, beginning in 1950.
Also during the 1950s, the company expanded its line of truck hoists.
During the 1960s, the company expanded its facility in Lester Prairie and acquired the Timberlock company in Hastings, NE, adding truck bodies to its product line.
In 1967, the company acquired the S&H Manufacturing Company in Sioux Falls, SD, and added forage boxes, mixer feeder boxes, and a bale handling system to the product line.
In 1970, Schwartz Manufacturing became a wholly-owned subsidiary of Chromalloy American Corporation.
Other mergers and consolidations followed.
The last Lester Prairie office of the company, then owned by Alamo SMC Corp., closed in December 2005.
“It has been a good run,” said senior engineer Kermit Hillmann, of his 34 years with the company, at the time of the office closing.
Hillmann was one of the 13 remaining employees in the Lester Prairie Alamo SMC office. Operations were moved to an Alamo SMC plant in Gibson City, IL.
At one time, more than 130 people were employed at the Lester Prairie facility, administrative assistant Lois Raduenz said.
Raduenz worked for the company for 38 years, starting as receptionist, and holding many other positions over the years.
“We had a good crew here. They were good people to work with,” Raduenz said.
Raduenz said that at its peak in the city, the company employed 100 people in the shop, and another 30 in the office. There was also a parts department at one time.
“A lot of Lester Prairie people were employed here,” Raduenz commented.
The manufacturing operations were moved to Sioux Falls, SD in 1989, and only the engineering department remained in Lester Prairie at the time of the office closing.
Brief company history
• 1941 Elmer and Norman Schwartz founded Schwartz Manufacturing Company.
• 1945 Elmer purchased Norman’s interest in the company and began mass producing farm products.
• 1953 Schwartz Manufacturing introduced the Uni-thrust hoist with unique lifting cradle.
• 1954 Schwartz Manufacturing introduced a line of ramp hoists for truck bodies.
• 1959 Expansion of LP facility and purchase of additional buildings.
• 1963 Construction of additional factory and office space at main LP facility.
• 1965 Major reorganization, with A. A. Kole joining the company as partner and chief operations officer.
• 1970 Schwartz Manufacturing became subsidiary of Chromalloy American Corp.
• 1983 Name was changed to Amerequip Corp.
•1989 Amerequip Corp. purchased by private entity and the company became known as SMC Corp.
• 2001 SMC Corp. purchased by Alamo Group.
(Source: Alamo SMC web site.
Other information for this story was taken from the book “Lester Prairie Community 1886-1986,” which was researched and written by Lester Prairie residents Barbara and Milan Dammann, with help from Stan, Charlotte, and Sheldon Ehrke).