Neil Baum, Vice President of Empire Fibreglass Products, talks about some of the equipment used in the process of creating a tank.
by Dave Warner
Empire Fibreglass Products has been deemed essential during the CORONA-19 outbreak and its workers are working hard each day, turning out products that will actually be used to help stem the advance of the virus.
Tom Baum is the president of the company, and Neil Baum is the Vice President. Their dad started a fiberglass business with two other locals named Ed Gregorka and Eddie Cigle back in the 50s.
Their goal in late 1953 was not to start a company, but just to build a boat. All three of them were military veterans of World War II, who hunted and fished together.
“They wanted to build a boat with this brand new material called fiberglass, because they didn’t like the aluminum boats, which made a lot of noise in the water, and they didn’t like the wooden ones because they were heavy. Here you could get a fiberglass boat that was quieter and lighter,” said Neil Baum.
He said that while none of them knew how to build a boat, they got started trying to do it. “They bought the material and experimented and experimented and made a lot of scrap and by the time they had made their first boat, it had cost them a ton of money.”
But with all that work, word got around town and pretty soon they had people approaching them about making one for them, and so the Diamond Boat Company was born.
Baum said, “that went on for a few years and they made boats and a couple of other little things. They sold canoes, rowboats, and fishing boats, but got to a point where the industry started to consolidate. They didn’t have deep pockets, and the company went out of business.”
But, at about the same time, Baum’s dad had sold his cigar store. “He didn’t have anything else to fall back on, but they had had a contract to make these five-gallon Indian pumps that people but on their backs. He was making 25 of those a week and he talked this guy into continuing to buy them.”
So, his dad, along with one other person that had worked at the Diamond Boat Company, made those pumps every week. “The business started growing and growing, and the resins got more sophisticated, so they were able to go into different types of environments. He started with that, and it developed into what the company is now.”
As the industry changed, companies were forced to specialize. “All of a sudden you had to pick what you were going to do. Are you going to build boats, or are you going to be into corrosion? We headed towards corrosion but we still do other things. We haven’t built a damn boat in 30 years,” said Baum.
The company has done projects for Disney, Universal Studios, the Metropolitan Opera, San Franciso Opera, and others, even building characters like Nigel from Nemo the movie. “He was 12 feet high and 20 something feet long. We built a 40-foot high castle for Disney in Orlando at the Magic Kingdom,” he said.
They also built the head of Crusty the Clown from the Simpson’s TV show that was 37 feet wide and 12 feet deep, that’s sitting on pillars that people walk under. Baum said, “we do some screwy things, but most of the time we’re building corrosion materials. Tanks for tanneries, scrubbers, water filtration systems, and that type of thing.”
They’ve even built walls in the aftermath of 9/11 for the temporary subway system.
“It’s an interesting business. There’s no such thing as a production line here. Every tank is different, so you do your blueprints, get your things together, make them and ship them out,” he stated.
Baum said that they had a salesman once for about four years, but that outside of that, all of their business is word of mouth. “We rarely make anything for the end-user.”
Empire Fibreglass was deemed ‘essential’ during the Coronavirus pandemic because of its production of tanks for the pharmaceutical industry. “Some of the stuff we can’t work on because it has not been deemed essential. Right now we’re shipping several tanks to Gilead,” which is an American biotechnology company that researches, develops, and commercializes drugs.
They are also working on tanks for Merck Pharmaceutical as well that should be going out soon. They are still delivering tanks for water filtration and wastewater treatment, which has also been deemed essential.
“Before this, we had been on overtime for almost a year, but now we’re back on normal hours. We’ve had to cut back some,” Baum stated.
Empire Fibreglass Products started in 1961 and built their building in Riverside Industrial Park in 1971 and expanded to the building next door a few years back. More than 30 employees work in both facilities today.