The History of Conveyor in Lynchburg
What do people think of when they think of Lynchburg, Virginia? The first few things that come to mind are the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Civil War, Thomas Jefferson, and the Falwell legacy of Thomas Road Baptist Church and Liberty University. However, times are changing. Over the last fifty years, the greater Lynchburg metropolis has grown by more than 50%. The area has seen a tremendous influx of industry and manufacturing to complement the growing graduate student population.
In the process, Lynchburg has added "Conveyor Manufacturing" to its resume, among other things. In fact, there is such a high
Sentry Van in the 1980s
concentration of premier manufacturers and distributors of conveyor in the city and surrounding communities, the soft drink and beverage industry has affectionately dubbed the humble town of Lynchburg, Virginia the unofficial "Conveyor Capital of the World." Although it may seem hard to imagine, there are, within a ten mile radius, literally dozens of conveyor and related system machinery manufacturers in Central Virginia. A handful of these companies are considered to be among the leading suppliers in the industry.
These companies basically supply varying levels of automation and material handling for a wide variety of products in the world of food, beverage, and other consumables. But how did so many find their way to the modest Central Virginia City of Lynchburg? And what caused this industry to grow into the ubiquitous mainstay of manufacturing plants around the region?
It's not a stretch to say that the evolution began in 1937 when two young New Yorkers, Bob Englander and Irwin Freydberg, first met in college at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Both were fraternity brothers and members of the freshman-crew squad on the Rowing Team. The boys went on to graduate a few short years later--Englander with a degree in Business and Freydberg in Civil Engineering.
Following their graduation from college, the friends went in different directions. Although, fate would soon be sending them to very similar destinations. Englander served his country during World War II as a pilot for the U.S. Navy, earning the rank of Lieutenant. Freydberg also went on to serve as a pilot in the Army Air Corps. But this would not be the last time these two hard chargers would team up. Their chance encounter as members of the now disbanded Phi Beta Delta fraternity at MIT would go on to change the landscape of the soft drink and beverage industry, and the history of Lynchburg, Virginia forever.
Excerpt from The Berkshire Evening Eagle
Following the war in 1946, Englander went to work for his father who was the President of Golden Fleece Mills (formerly known as Federated Mills) as the manager of the company. Golden Fleece was a global producer of facial tissue based in Becket, Massachusetts. This was Englander’s first exposure to conveyor. An article from The Berkshire Evening Eagle in December of 1946 comments that the Golden Fleece factory that Englander managed for his father had “more… conveyor than you can keep track of”. The article goes on to say these conveyors were part of a new concept of the “electrification” of mills. So it’s fair to say that Englander’s involvement in the industry literally pre-dates the electric conveyor.
Freydberg followed in his father’s footsteps in the family business of garment manufacturing. Freydberg’s father George was a Polish immigrant and business entrepreneur who owned and operated a string of garment factories called G. H. & E. Freydberg Inc. Irwin went on to found Bannon Mills in Lebanon, Pennsylvania. Bannon Mills was a producer of girls’ clothing.
In 1948 the Appomattox Garment Company in Appomattox, Virginia was founded. Bob Englander and Irwin Freydberg had reconnected and were embarking on a joint business venture in the garment industry. How the location was chosen is still a mystery. What we do know is that the Freydberg brand was spreading to locations all over the eastern seaboard. Freydberg asked Englander to come on board initially in an engineering capacity. By 1951 documents show that Freydberg and Englander were co-owners of the company, each owning a 50% stake. Freydberg was listed as the owner and Englander was listed as the President. In 1954 G. H. & E. Freydberg Inc. (Freydberg’s father’s company out of New York) built a new $40,000.00 dress plant and rented it to the Appomattox Garment Company with an option to buy.
There came a time (circa 1959) when Englander and Freydberg
decided to part ways. This would prove to be a fateful decision for
the future of conveyor in Central Virginia. Research shows that by
1960 Englander had moved on and was now the President of Gary
Steel. By the mid 1960’s Englander had taken yet another position
with the DACAM Corporation in Madison Heights, Virginia. DACAM
was a company that specialized in package handling equipment.
Englander was frustrated with the state of the conveyor world at
the time. Conveyor was sold as a “catalog” item. It was up to the
end user to decide what they needed and how to apply it. A miscalculation or an error in ordering due to lack of experience
would cause the customer a great deal of time and money.
Englander had the vision of forming a team of experts in the field to custom design, fabricate and guide the client to the best possible result.
Appomattox Garment Company
A few years went by and at some point Englander was approached by an old friend with an issue his company was having regarding existing material handling techniques. This old friend was Peter Stroh of the Stroh’s Brewing dynasty. This prompted Englander to partner with a few of his former DACAM coworkers to begin building custom conveyor solutions in the basement of his home. The relationship between Englander and Stroh kick started the evolution of the conveyor industry in Lynchburg.
Soon thereafter, the conveyor industry in Lynchburg, Virginia was born. Simplimatic began operations December 30, 1965 on Wards Ferry Road in Lynchburg, VA as Simplimatic Engineering Company (commonly referred to as "SECO"), a business that specialized in the custom design and manufacturing of conveyor and related systems for the bottling industry. From the late 1960’s through the mid 1980’s, Simplimatic grew from a handful of employees in the Wards Ferry Road facility, to over a thousand employees and 4 locations across the world.
The Carling Brewing Company, Inc. opened in 1958 in Atlanta, Georgia and closed in 1973 after 15 years of operation. Carling was the maker of the famous Black Label beer. Both the Carling and Stroh’s Breweries had several Simplimatic Glass Packers in their respective facilities. The Carling Atlanta Service Manager in 1968 was a gentleman by the name of Bill West. West and his team were very familiar with the inner workings of the Simplimatic machines. However, there was a nagging issue with the machines that had yet to be solved. West hired an up and coming service tech named Adam Vinoskey.
Vinoskey had only recently returned to the continental United States following a tour of duty as a Maintenance Mechanic in Hawaii for the Marine Corps. Over the next few months Vinoskey had solved the problem. Reportedly Bob Englander dispatched a packaging engineer from Simplimatic to the Carling facility to document the fix. The upgrades to the equipment proved to be so successful that Bob Englander reached out directly to Vinoskey. Englander purportedly told Vinoskey "If you ever need a job, call me". Vinoskey's problem solving capacity soon gained the attention of the Carling management, so much so that Bill West soon promoted Vinoskey to Maintenance Foreman.
In 1971 Vinoskey left the Carling organization amid rumors of the impending closure of the Atlanta based operations for a position with the Anheuser Busch facility in Williamsburg, Virginia. Later the same year his old boss Bill West asked him to oversee an installation as a favor at the Carling Baltimore, Maryland facility. This was an installation of equipment provided by the fledgling Simplimatic Engineering Company. The project went so well that the Plant Manager Roger Watts offered Vinoskey a position at the Baltimore facility, a position which Vinoskey readily accepted.
The time came that the Carling operations in Atlanta did indeed close. The scuttlebutt throughout the organization was that the Baltimore location would soon follow suit. This prompted Vinoskey to reach out to Englander and accept the job offer. In 1973 the Carling Baltimore facility did indeed close its doors for good. By that time, Bill West along with the majority of the Carling Atlanta Service Department had all migrated to Simplimatic.
In 1976 Vinoskey was promoted to Vice President of Simplimatic. Bob Englander made the announcement that his son would take over as President of the company, a move that did not sit well with Vinoskey. Vinoskey believed that the younger Englander’s lack of experience would lead the company in the wrong direction.
In 1977 Adam Vinoskey resigned. Vinoskey called an old friend who had recently started his own mechanical installation business a year earlier. The two friends worked together to cultivate the business for the better part of a year. However, in 1978 Vinoskey received a call from Bob Englander. Since the departure of Vinoskey the previous year Simplimatic had accumulated an enormous amount of debt. Sales were down and receivables were delinquent. Englander made Vinoskey an offer to take over as the President of Simplimatic and Vinoskey accepted.
In 1978 Adam Vinoskey was named President of Simplimatic and remained in this position for the next two years. Vinoskey went straight to work negotiating debt with the banks and vendors. He spent many weeks on the road learning of the unresolved service issues that had caused payments to be withheld. In doing so Vinoskey was able to recoup delinquent revenue and pick up sales for new orders in the amount of eight million dollars.
By 1979 business was once again booming. So much so that Bob Englander was contemplating selling the company. The employees reportedly collaborated and discussed purchasing the company. However, Englander was entertaining other offers.
In 1980 Simplimatic was purchased by English based Metalbox. The new owners made it well known to then President Adam Vinoskey that they did not like the way the business was being run. New guidelines and policies were promptly handed down from the parent company. Amid mounting tensions with the new owners, Vinoskey later resigned for the last time at the end of his contract. Vinoskey and his new wife of six years Carole (a proposal typist in the sales department), both left the company to start new careers.
Adam and Carole Vinoskey
Sentry Equipment was incorporated in August of 1980 as a mechanical installation service. Thanks to the drive and vision of Adam and Carole Vinoskey, Sentry Equipment & Erectors, Inc. was soon born. The Vinoskeys partnered with former colleagues Wright "Junior" Lambert, Wayne Wells and David Johnson from Simplimatic. Although Sentry Equipment was originally intended to be a mechanical installation group, the need quickly arose to be able to manufacture small parts to compliment the installation business. So in January of 1983 Vinoskey purchased a small storefront and garage on Waterlick Road in Forest, Virginia. Small parts soon evolved in to sections of conveyor. Sections of conveyor gave way to the production of conveyor to support an entire project.
Forty years later, Sentry Equipment is still going strong.
The company has grown from a small storefront and a few employees to a world class manufacturing facility supporting hundreds of employees and tens of millions of dollars in sales. There are many other stories like ours. In addition to Sentry Equipment, there are dozens and dozens of other businesses and service providers that have all spun off, been inspired by or been influenced by the presence of Simplimatic in the Lynchburg area. All from a chance encounter over 80 years ago at a college in Massachusetts.