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Never a dull moment for Weber

Clare Weber is right at home with the fire trucks his firm once built and now offers sales and service for.[steve kannon / the observer]
Clare Weber is right at home with the fire trucks his firm once built and now offers sales and service for. [steve kannon / the observer]
The ball got rolling with a turkey loader. From there, the metalworking has evolved to include the utilitarian – you need a truck trailer? – to the decorative and one-of-a-kind – so, you need a distressed metal table with a medieval feel for your Toronto nightclub?

In both cases – and hundreds of others – the answer’s the same: Sure, no problem.

Weber’s Fabricating in St. Jacobs has been rising to the challenge for 40 years. For founder Clare Weber, it’s been fun pretty much every step of the way.

“If work’s not fun, well, what’s the point?” he laughed.

Over four decades, things have changed at Weber’s Fabricating – the technology, the types of materials, the products – but his enjoyment has never waned.

There’ll be a little extra focus on fun come May 9 when the company celebrates its 40th anniversary with an open house.

Reaching this milestone is something Weber never envisioned when he built his first turkey loader – a device that moves turkeys from the barn floor onto the trucks that will transport the birds – for his father’s farm in Conestogo. That was in 1970. By 1973, his design for the piece of farm equipment had garnered some attention and he received orders to build three of them. The following year, there were requests for seven more, prompting him to take a leave of absence from the construction company he was working for. He never went back.

“I never would have imagined we’d be here 40 years later,” said Weber this week from his office at the St. Jacobs plant that became the home of Weber’s Fabricating in 1978 when he moved out of his dad’s garage.

An acre of land and a 7,000-square-foot building started things off. “I thought ‘how am I ever going to pay for this property?’” he recalls. Since then, there have been two additions, bringing the floor space to 19,000 sq. ft. on three acres.

In that time, the business has grown from Weber working in his dad’s garage to a diverse facility employing 16, some of them, such as Tim Baillargeon, Mark Nafziger and Don Seyler, who’ve been there for more than 30 years. Others such as Curvin Martin and Steve Horst for 20.

“The people are a key part of what we do. We’re one big family.”

Weber’s Fabricating still builds turkey loaders, though they’ve been redesigned and enhanced over the years. Units have been sold to far-flung places on the globe, but they represent just a small part of what the operation does today.

“It all started with building turkey loaders – there was just the one product,” said Weber.

In the early days, the shop made do with a torch, a welder and a grinder. That’s certainly not the case today, as Weber’s invested in a range of specialized equipment to meet growing needs. Starting with a CNC (computer numerical control) machine in 1984, the business has changed with the times.

“We’ve always tried to stay reasonably current with the technology,” he said, noting the focus on working with aluminum, a tricky metal, representing about half of the work carried out there.

“We’ve got a good reputation out there for doing aluminum.”

Dump boxes, truck trailers, fuel tanks – the types of work just blossomed. Having become involved as a firefighter in St. Jacobs in 1975, Weber developed an affinity for the service that continues to this day. In 1988, his company got its first order for a fire truck, building a unit for the Floradale station. Then came an order from Drayton. Others followed. What today is known as C-Max Fire Solutions was incorporated in 1989.

The company got out of building fire trucks in 2005, but continues with sales, service and certification, a big part of the business … and a visible one, as you often see fire trucks in the compound as you pass through the nearby roundabout. In fact, visitors out at next week’s open house will likely be able to check out a brand new ladder truck destined for the Hamilton Fire Department.

The firefighting theme is evident in the aluminum barbecue spatulas and drink coasters that Weber’s whipped up recently, a new sideline as he backs away from the business. His three children – Heather, Kathy and Scott – all work there and the operation is in good hands, he said.

He has every intention, however, of staying in the action – there’s no golfing in his immediate future.

Even as the business grew, he had his hand in every project. About a decade ago, he began pulling back somewhat. The work is still his principal passion.

“I live, eat and breathe work. I enjoy work – I find it relaxing,” he explained.

“My intention is to start cutting back on my hours as of the anniversary date … but I’ll still keep my hands involved in it here.”

Rather than the day-to-day stuff, he’ll focus more time on his designs, finding pleasure in taking a sketch or an idea and turning it into a prototype or finished product.

“Give me a challenge and I’m happy,” he said.

Among those challenges in the past 40 years are the likes of a 64-foot replica of the aluminum wing of a Boeing 727, destined for Pearson International Airport for de-icing training. Or the initial fireplace inserts that spawned Elmira Stove Works. Or the demonstration trailer to simulate a kitchen fire that he made for the Kitchener Fire Department.

“I can’t begin to think of the variety of jobs that we’ve done,” he said. “These are all one-off projects – that’s what a lot of our stuff is. We’ve done such a variety of work. It’s hard to imagine what we’ve done … over 40 years.

“People ask me what we do here and I don’t know what to say to them – we do so many things,” he laughed.

The open house to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Weber’s Fabricating is set for May 9, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., at 3044 Sawmill Rd. in St. Jacobs.

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won't find anywhere else. Stay caught up with The Observer This Week.

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