By Roberta Ludtke
In the early part of November 1948, Osborne Builders from Gregory put up walls for what would soon become Stockbridge Manufacturing. On Nov. 15, the builders took a week off for deer hunting season, and when they returned, heavy winds had knocked down the walls. Today, this company that started with a shaky beginning has withstood the test of time, thanks to good management and dedicated employees.
Stockbridge Manufacturing has been in business since 1948 when Camille Thorrez asked Estel Cornish and Barney DeCoste to start a machine shop in Stockbridge. The two men had worked for years at Thorrez Corporation in Jackson, so they felt up to the challenge. Cornish and DeCoste together comprised 49 percent ownership with Thorrez Corporation holding the remaining 51 percent.
Estel Cornish and Barney DeCoste managed Stockbridge Manufacturing until 1972. Then Estel retired for health concerns, and Barney died. Larry and Gary Cornish, Estel’s sons, took over management of 54 workers. In 1989, Gary left the company to try his hand at selling real estate. Larry continued to run the company along with Phillip Thorrez, Camile’s son. A short time after Larry’s death in 2005, ownership transferred to C Thorrez Industries.
Today, Stockbridge Manufacturing is an Acme Gridley screw machine shop, specializing in tubing parts for semi-trailers that mount the brakes. The biggest company they work for is Bendix Brakes, according to Trevor Wheeler, Great Grandson of Camille Thorrez.
During an interview, Gary Cornish stated that over the years the company has made parts for Ford, General Motors, Chrysler, refrigeration, railroad and oil drilling. Gary Sawyer, a 30-year employee of Stockbridge Manufacturing, said they often have individuals come in and ask to have specific parts made to fix anything from lawn tractors to garbage trucks.
The company is home to 20 CNC, computer numerical control machines. “These machines,” Sawyer explained, “allow us to make a part in 20 seconds compared to the old Cave Machines that took over two minutes.” Cave Machine is a term for screw machines that the government kept in hiding in case of war. These machines were set to produce anything the military needed. Gary Cornish recalled that he once went to a government auction in Indiana and purchased one such 30-thousand pound machine that had been literally buried in the sand. Sawyer stated that the new computerized machines bring better speed and accuracy, but the workers still need to load the 12 to 16 foot steel rods.
Trevor Wheeler indicated the company is on the upswing after some lean years. They are looking to hire more employees and perhaps begin a second shift. Finding good employees is a challenge. Wheeler said, and added that they are willing to train individuals willing to show up everyday and work hard. Wheeler said he has been lucky to hire some of his current employees’ children, an example of such a hire includes Sawyer’s son who brought new computer programming skills with him.
It seems this family-focused business has done an excellent job of retaining employees. Don Mullins has worked 41 years; Gary Sawyer 30; Todd VanHorn, Phillip Torrez’s step son, 27 years; and Trevor Wheeler, great grandson to Camille, has worked 21 years. VanHorn calculated that two thirds of the 15 person workforce has been working 15 years or more.
The family atmosphere and quality workmanship has no doubt led to the numerous awards this small company has compiled. Enter the lobby of the building, and the wall is filled with plaques of recognition from Eaton Corporation, Hydramatic, and New Venture Gear Inc. An award of which employees are most proud includes being named ZF Lemforder 2003 Supplier of the year.
C Thorrez Corporation will celebrate 100 years of manufacturing in 2019. Stockbridge Manufacturing and its dedicated employees are proud to be part of the company’s continued success.