Reflections on Manufacturing Company Histories


Roger W. Barton after WWII service was hired by Lee Stephens, Pres. of Stephens Adamson Mfg. Co. to start their needed international business division. Their extensive conveyor sales worldwide required centralized attention as did their ball bearing sales.

International sales expanded with overseas companies, factories. joint contracts with French, English, Italian, Australian, etc. Manufactures were conceived from then on. The Navy tried to keep Roger for his electronic capabilities, but he sought the romance of business - and found it in Aurora.

Roger was truly a "pioneer", so I will give you a sense of his bio. He graduated a math major, from the U of Minnesota. We both were of the class of 1939. His father was a Minneapolis banker who served in Washington, DC with the RFC. Roger learned much from him through the years. Roger then went to Harvard Law School where the Dean told him they had few math majors - "but they did not flunk out".

We were married June 16 1941 in Philadelphia, where my family had moved from St. Paul.  And Roger applied for the Navy the week before Pearl Harbor. On December 7th our student friends came together emoting in a scene that I still find a vivid memory. One by one they were called up leaving Roger the only graduate in June - of our friends.

The Navy used him as an Electronics officer training him in the then secret radar equipment. He and his crew of "lobstermen" protected Portland, Maine harbor. Next he was in Trinidad where at War's end we (Kittie and Ann) joined him.

Roger had been a radio amateur from age 12 and always an antennae expert.  In Recife Brazil he hired men to raise 100 telephone poles in a swamp for the antennas that aided troops in Africa to be sent to the Pacific war. At war’s end a Navy officer arrived from DC to recruit him to stay in the Navy, but he thought that might be too tame a career!

The SA career I have mentioned, but the highlights may have been a coal handling tower in Mauritania with the French Company of Georges Boyer and a seven year project of a coal handling dock in Visignapatnam India come to mind. One trip to India was a surprise. The Air India flight was appropriated by the Prime Minister returning from visiting JFK. Roger was kept aboard, spent time with the PM wanting to know how the project was going; met at England's outer limits and escorted in by the Queen's flight of planes. He always had stories to tell us in those years. His homecomings were exciting family events.

Roger died of a heart attack in 1985 in Ithaca, NY - that came as I was helping him get his antennae down for repairs. I am sure we both were aware of the coincidence of that. His amateur friends told me that Roger was the foremost antennae man in the country! And, now, I just learned that his antennae that I gave to our minister, a radio amateur, are now in use in a mission in Africa!

Lee Stephens himself: said: “I pledged a fraternity and I left Cornell after freshman year because I was homesick, in love with Kitty (Hurd) and wanted to get married."  They were a wonderful couple - great people!  One did not need to have an engineering degree if one had the engineering mind.

Elmer Renner has an amazing story of his ship going down in WWII in a Pacific typhoon. After weeks in a lifeboat he was spotted by a plane and rescued. He woke up in a hospital - saved! We learned this the night we dropped by with info for his first trip to Germany on business. We found Elmer and wife reviewing the 25yr anniversary of this "miracle" by rereading letters written to his family about his "death".

Mary Ruth Barton

Wades have been in Aurora since the late 1850s. Here is a brief synopsis of their role in Aurora history:

My father, Charles L. Wade, worked at S-A from 1953 until it was sold to Borg-Warner in the late 1960s. S-A had developed a moving sidewalk in the 1950s and one of the first units my dad sold was installed at Wrigley field. In the late 1950s he began working in international sales with Roger Barton, and traveled extensively in Central and South America. Roger was a ham radio operator and on a couple of occasions we were able to talk to my dad somewhere in South America on Roger's radio from his home on Downer. I also remember that my dad took some conversational Spanish Language classes in the evenings from Mr. Marzo.

Borg-Warner moved my dad and Mr. Barton to Ithaca, NY in 1971 to open an international sales office for their Morse Chain Division. After my dad retired in 1983 he moved to Florida and started his own company (Wade World Wide). He worked extensively with Aurora Bearing during the 1980s, both in Florida and overseas. Florida was a ripe market for Sealmaster bearings, given the Disney theme parks, plus the motorboat and racing car (Daytona) industries. Harvey Sterkel was working at Aurora Bearing during this period and he and my dad would travel around Florida together on business trips. On one occasion they were in Clearwater when the Bombers were playing. My dad remembers that many fans recognized Harvey and came up to shake his hand during the game.

My dad was the fourth generation of Wades to live in Aurora. James Wade and his brother, Albert, arrived from Newark Valley, NY in the late 1850s. James was a carpenter for the Burlington RR and worked in the roundhouse complex off north Broadway. Albert was a mason by trade but served as Aurora's street commissioner during the 1870s and 1880s.

James Wade had a son, Charles Fayette Wade, who started Wade, Leitz and Grometer on S. Broadway during the early 1900s. The store had a sign which proclaimed "Heart of Aurora." C.F.'s son, Leonard Brigham Wade, attended Culver Military Academy and was a member of the Black Horse Brigade. He graduated just in time to be commissioned and sent to France in 1917/1918. Leonard also served in North Africa and Italy during WWII and retired from the Army as a full colonel.

The Wades lived on the East side in Aurora, but in 1941 my dad married Martha Pease from West High and they began living on the West side of town. My dad played football for East High and played in several East-West games that were held on Thanksgiving in those days.

During my freshman year at DePauw College, I heard that the National Parks were hiring college students to work in various jobs during the summer.  I was trying to figure out how to apply for one of these jobs when my mother told me that she thought the National Parks were operated by the railroads.  Why didn't I talk to someone that worked for the railroads, like for instance the President of the Burlington railroad, Harry C. Murphy, who just happened to live in Aurora on Oak Street?

I went to his home one evening and knocked on his door. Hhe thought at first I was there to collect for the Beacon News. I asked him if he knew how I could get one of the National Park jobs, preferably at Yellowstone.  He said he'd look into it for me.  A few weeks later I received an application form in the mail from Mr. Murphy with a note that said to fill it out and mail it back to him. I did and sometime later I received a letter from Yellowstone advising me that I had been selected to work as a waiter at the Old Faithful Inn.  That was 1962, the year of the Seattle World's Fair, and boy were we busy!  But it was one of the most enjoyable jobs I ever had.  All because the President of the Burlington railroad lived in Aurora (and happened to be a heck of a nice guy to boot).

Chuck Wade

Mentioning the Sealmasters brings back memories. Home Savings and Loan Association of which my father Ray Thorp was president and later chairman of the board. They sponsored the Sealmasters for many years. We attended many games, and Neal Ormond was the announcer.

Nancy Thorp Flynn

When thinking of Stephens Adamson and Sealmasters, don’t forget the company also sponsored both Little League and Pony League baseball teams in Aurora.

Because my dad was in sales for Barber Greene, we knew all about the company and also were very proud of the company’s successes and achievements. When Don and I were in SE Asia from ’69-’71 we would find Barber Greene asphalt equipment and machinery throughout every country we visited---and those recognizable green machines made me smile and feel such pride. I have some pictures from my father’s business days, standing amongst road equipment at trade shows and meeting with other B-G staff. My father received his retirement watch on his 65th birthday---I’ll have to look for that. I also have other small memorabilia from the company that I just can’t part with---very special memories indeed.

Brenda McClure Mallett

Years after their championships, I thought of Sealmasters when visiting parents in Clearwater Florida, home of Sealmaster arch rival Clearwater Bomber team. I recalled Harvey Sterkel’s brilliant and other stars like Chick Walsh and Charley Essig, won world championships in the 1960’s. I learned recently that Sealmaster home field on Ridgeway is now a storage yard. As I revisited it, I wondered who else had done the same and visualized the ghosts of those long ago diamond heroes. And I expected there were many more than me who recalled with a smile their dreams of someday becoming a Sealmaster star, as they honed their skills on SA Aurora Little and Pony league teams.

The expanding McNish waterworks grew in 1989 by adding Walker Process. This brought back into a single stream the American Well mainstream and offshoot tributaries, all under the McNish umbrella, except for one. Although left out in the rain without cover of the NcNish umbrella now sheltering both parent American Well and prodigal son Walker, the other prodigal Aurora Pump continues to swim well in its own stream, still in water business and still in Aurora.

With sale, resale and shutdown, so ends the proud saga of Austin-Western. In its springtime, it was nimble and threaded the way to move from picks and shovels of railroad building by introducing modern machinery that antiquated those picks and shovels and made modern highway building possible. But after nearly a century, it was saddled with Baldwin Lima Ohio, the last to fall of the great rail suppliers. With the shift from rail to highway dominance, down Austin-Western also went, despite having helped make the rise of highways possible in the firm’s glory years, a century ago.

Along with admiration and respect for founding families of Barber Greene, I most recall Ed Holt who as head of marketing and sales, contributed greatly to the company’s success. More importantly, he is remembered as a font of wisdom, sound judgment and good advice that helped shape my career decisions. I believe he also helped others who had the opportunity to know him as they moved from school to careers and through life.

As for all those asphalt machines that built the roads of the world, they are still being produced, although their once glistening green Barber Greene finish is now a Cat canary yellow. For me they have always struck a chord of recollection and nostalgia as I have seen them in their long ago classic green along roadsides from Afghanistan to Zambia and all the countries of developing world in between. Each time a stream of fond memories was sparked of Aurora at it’s manufacturing peak.

Rod Handeland

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