SEBRING - In early 1962, a group of executives and production experts broke away from Hunt Valve and formed the Salem Valve Company.
From 813 Newgarden Ave., the five principals including Andrew Ney, Howard E. Jesko, Michael W. Miller, Samuel A. Jackson and Steven L. Hoffman, provided the dynamic start-up punch to put 10 employees and a 4,100-square foot facility into operation.
The Salem Valve Company manufactured high-pressure air and hydraulic control valves as integral, automated parts in the steel and heavy equipment industries with distributors and sales offices fanned out across the midwestern United States.
That was years ago and today, carrying the name of Salem Republic Rubber Company, the same company continues in Sebring as the foremost large-bore dredge hose manufacturer in the country.
Drew Ney, son of co-founder Andrew Ney said his father "was a problem solving, very analytical mechanical engineer - he designed valves from scratch."
Located at West California Avenue since 1972, Salem Valve bought Aeroquip Republic Rubber Company in Youngstown and kept the "Salem," Ney said.
There was some geographical confusion, but "Salem" was good luck and Republic was to identify it with the aeroquip line. The Salem Republic Rubber Company just celebrated 40 years last year.
The product line is fascinating for the mechanically inclined. Its custom engineered dredging solutions include suction, discharge, sleeves and gimbals.
Don McCaughtry, vice president of operations, said Salem Republic produced "a unique niche product line" and also provides processed rubber to other companies.
The company is working with a company associated with the shale boom on a "fracking hose," McCaughtry said. "It's in progress."
Salem Republic also makes an important connections on military airbases and civilian airports by manufacturing a cable for jets.
Ney said, "We manufacture the air start-up hose; an auto power unit, that fires up a little ground compressor that blows hot air in the airplane to start the engine. The hot air gets the turbines moving ... when it gets to a certain temperature, they fire the it up."
The hoses can range in 15 to 60 feet long and have patented protective scuff cover.
Hoses for peristaltic pumps, which have a pumping action resembling a cam pressing fluids around the inside of the tube, take the most abuse, McCaughtry said. He compared it to taking a garden hose and bending it back and forth. "Eventually it will break," he said.
The plant completed a 21,500 square foot clear-span addition last October, bringing the total square-footage at the facility, originally built in 1908, to 67,000.
"This is a huge step forward for us," said McCaughtry. "This is the largest single investment we've made in the company and I've been here since the beginning."
He calls the plant "a hidden treasure" while noting there are three types of construction used to add to the building over the years.
One characteristic that the buildings have is length. That is because there are 50- and 60-foot - and bigger - sections of large diameter hose that must be moved around. When that occurs it is by a pair of cranes.
Products are visually inspected along the production line and a lab takes care of special component blends.
While other businesses suffered through a recessionary economy, McCaughtry said revenues have almost doubled since 2007. "We did hire a few more people," he said. "We've certainly grown."
Salem Republic, which works two shifts, received a big order and anticipates hiring. It uses employment agencies and personal referrals.
"We use everything that will work," he said, explaining that operators are semi-skilled, do various jobs that required "lots of training."
McCaughtry said it takes about six months to get up to speed. "We take training very seriously," he said, adding, "I've been coming here for 40 years and everyday I learn something."
Operator Greg Johnson of Newton Falls worked for Denman Tire before hiring into Salem Republic at the age of 50 almost three years ago.
"A mechanical aptitude is needed," he said. "The only regret I have is I didn't find this 20 years ago."
Larry Shields can be reached at email@example.com