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Fusion Hall of Fame

In 2019, a Fusion Hall of Fame was created to recognize

the development and acceptance of fusible plastic pipe and the advancements that the industry has seen over the past 50 years. It is fitting to properly recognize those people whose contributions have been particularly notable and whose impact and influence on the industry lives on today.

Sir Isaac Newton said, "If I see further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants," and the same is true for the fusion industry. As such, we established the Fusion Hall of Fame in 2019 to celebrate the wonderful successes we enjoy in thanks to the fusion ‘giants' whose efforts have paved the way for us all.

Each inductee now and in the future will be memorialized on this website and in the McElroy Technical Center for all to see and learn about the icons of our industry and honor their contributions.

2021 Inductees

John Scott

The Path to Polyethylene

John was a charismatic leader with an extraordinary work ethic. He was creative and truly innovative. He originally pursued a pre-med program, but when his funds ran out, that led him down a different path. While attending Howard Payne College, he interviewed with a Phillips Petroleum Company recruiter and accepted a position in Research & Development. Throughout his 40-year career with Phillips, John led the company through many milestones. He was solely instrumental in establishing Driscopipe as a company within Phillips Chemical and in making the critical decisions that would eventually lead to the company’s success.

Driving Driscopipe to Success

Driscopipe was born from the creative innovation of fellow Hall of Fame inductee, Ole Larson, who is credited with inventing the pipe-making process for HDPE. Polyethylene pipe is considered to have been invented in the United States. At the time Hoechst in Germany was also making PE, but not initially as a pipe. The Marlex HDPE resin is what put Driscopipe on the map and it was the first commercially successful high-density polyethylene pipe with some amazing mechanical and physical properties.

In 1966, as John advanced in his career, he led the construction of a new building for Phillips Chemical, a rubber and plastics customer service laboratory in Europe. Five years later, after coming back from Belgium, John was tapped to become the first President of Driscopipe. It was his decision to move Driscopipe from Bartlesville, OK to Dallas, Texas. He believed it would not be a true commercial success without being relocated to a bigger city with closer proximity to two major airports.

The company relocated to Texas, filling an entire office building between the two airports. The business started growing and things really took off. It was John’s leadership from 1973 to 1978 that proved to be pivotal to Driscopipe’s success. Sales went from $7 million to $80 million dollars, which was an early goal that had been set and achieved not long after John’s departure.

The Perfect Pair

Shortly after John came to Driscopipe, he realized McElroy would play a part in their success. This stronger, more durable PE pipe was gaining acceptance, but there weren’t machines tough enough to put it together. That’s where McElroy entered the picture. McElroy machines provided the rugged design with the necessary heat and force to successfully fuse this new pipe.

The PE pipe was key to Phillips’ growth under John’s leadership. Natural gas distribution was initially a big market and municipalities soon started using PE for their sewer systems. PE is very resistant to abrasion and corrosion, thus making it a good answer for cities across the country dealing with leaking sewers. During John’s tenure, Phillips developed a liner and a method for slip lining into old concrete sewers that proved to be quite successful.

John came to the thermoplastic pipe industry at the perfect time. At the time Phillips thought their market was in bottles. They had no idea it would eventually be used for pipe. John recognized potential well beyond this and he embraced these key characteristics and was able to put into motion a plan, recruit the right people and ultimately lead Driscopipe to its initial success. Today, PE lives in applications well beyond pressure piping systems, in everyday items from plastic milk jugs, and detergent bottles to garment bags for dry cleaners. During his time at Phillips, John had a hand in key PE developments that will continue to better the lives of generations to come.

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Jim Craig

A Jack of All Trades

Jim Craig had a 40-year career in the thermoplastic pipe industry, over that time he had many different roles and excelled in them all. He believed in doing whatever it takes to get the job done so he always immersed himself in the heart of what was happening at every level. Oftentimes, he could be found having lunch in the shop, better understanding the manufacturing process, and other days he might be on a job site, watching the fusion process. In 1973, Jim started as a drafter before quickly becoming a mechanical designer. This was at a time when fusion was starting to catch on in the market. There wasn’t a project that Jim didn’t touch and everything he did was carried out with a great deal of passion, care, and commitment. It was his drive and intelligence that allowed him to move up the ranks from Engineering to Marketing to National Sales and Industry Relations Manager.

Innovation for the Future and Cultivating Key Relationships

In his Engineering role, Jim designed McElroy’s first 412 machine and had a hand in expanding the complete line of fusion equipment. He along with Dave Tanner, designed the three-position manifold block which was a significant improvement that allowed the operator to "pre-set" the pressures versus changing them during the process as was the practice with the main valve system. This evolution influenced the future for almost every fusion machine as well as some specialty engineered products and Fintube offerings that McElroy would develop, further all McElroy hydraulic fusion machines still use his design today.

Just as Jim excelled in business, he was a master sportsman! There wasn’t a sport or a game that he played that he didn’t excel. He could quickly master any game and understand the winning strategy. The combination of his skills, work ethic, and competitive spirit are also what led to his successes in the industry. When Jim was in his Marketing and National Sales roles, he enjoyed interacting with distributors and being part of the tradeshows. Under Jim’s leadership, McElroy brought on several leading distributors and was instrumental in getting the National Rural Water Association to consider using polyethylene pipe. It was a crucial time for the association as they realized their existing methodologies were not serving them well. Jim led them to embrace HDPE and was pivotal in the education process of their members.

Creating a Lasting Impression on Industry Standards

With his engineering experience as well as in the field, Jim had the opportunity to get involved in PPI (Plastic Pipe Institute). Jim was an integral part of the International and National Code Associations. Prior to what is now known as TR33 and ASTM2620, each pipe company had its own fusion standard. Jim recognized that for the industry to grow, we needed one fusion standard. Jim was instrumental in getting all the parties to agree upon a single fusion standard. He helped to develop the process and design testing that ultimately validated generic butt fusion under TR-33 and established ASTM F2620. Today, we take this standard for granted, but it took a lot of effort to get everyone on the same page. It was Jim’s patience, dedication to the industry, and outright willpower that made that happen.

He was also a key participant on many PPI task groups and committees and through his work with the organization, became well known in the gas and water service sectors. Jim is fondly remembered conducting fusion training sessions with a variety of PPI members. It was something he thoroughly enjoyed as it gave him the opportunity to be both an educator and in the field. Jim was involved in PHMSA (Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration) and worked to get the gas industry to recognize common fusion standards. Through the ASME (American Society of Mechanical Engineers), he worked to get nuclear power plants to adopt HDPE and establish the fusion and DataLogger® standards for water lines in the plants.

Jim left his mark on the fusion industry through his engineering designs, standards work, and customer focus. His ability to work with the pipe companies and bring agreement on one standard was no small feat! This alone, allowed pipe fusion to enter new markets such as nuclear, water, and industrial applications.

During his lifetime, Jim received many awards for his exemplary work, including the ASTM Award of Merit and the PPI Honorary Lifetime Achievement Award. Following his retirement in 2013, Jim worked as a consultant continuing to play a role in the industry. He was a devout family man, who was well respected and revered, Jim will always be remembered for his unwavering work ethic and his work to advance standards and development of the pipe fusion industry.

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Chuck Groebner

Setting the Stage for Success

Serving the needs of the gas industry and supporting gas utilities was in Chuck Groebner’s blood from the very beginning. He began his career in 1952 selling in-home incinerators to local utilities, essentially turning domestic trash into heat for the home. This gave him the foot in the door that he needed for what became a successful career in the natural gas industry and a pioneer in converting these same utilities to Polyethylene and McElroy Fusion Equipment.

Throughout the 1960s as a manufacturers’ representative, he expanded his line of products serving the natural gas business.  It wasn’t until 1976 that he created his own company, Groebner and Associates, Inc.  His vision for this new company was to partner with the natural gas utilities and contractors and enhance their success through hard work, honesty, and great customer service.

With many years already invested in the industry, Chuck’s solid reputation preceded him.   He was a man of integrity and highly respected for taking care of the customer.

Creating the Perfect Partnership

Up until the 1970s, many areas of the country were reliant on oil for their heating.  It was the advent of polyethylene pipe that made it feasible to run gas to homes and businesses. This new infrastructure had lower installation and maintenance costs. Chuck saw this as an opportunity because there were no companies distributing the pipe or the machines to put it together.  It was the niche he was looking for!  Chuck took the lead in setting up distribution arrangements.

Groebner recognized the need for support, education, and even training as these utilities began utilizing contractors to build out these thermoplastic distribution systems.  As a result, Groebner brought education and training to the utilities to help them integrate PE and properly use the equipment to fuse the pipe.

During the 1980s, Joe joined his father in the business and soon, Chuck embraced the idea of being a distributor.  Not only would Groebner be responsible for training and servicing equipment but now they would also have a supply of inventory to help them better respond to increased customer demand for local inventory.

Sustaining a Solid Footprint in the Gas Industry

Once Chuck established a distribution arrangement within the gas industry, it was his hard work and dedication to building long-term relationships that made a lasting impression.  He knew all the department heads in his territory by first name and strived to treat everyone in an organization with respect, regardless of their title.  Even today, customers tell stories of how Chuck worked with them as young operations people and how meaningful it was for them to receive that level of respect so early in their careers. 
It was those relationships and Chuck’s tenacity that allowed Groebner to play a big role in converting the gas utilities from socket fusion to butt fusion.

Throughout his career, Chuck was active in many industry trade associations, including the Distribution Contractors Association, American Gas Association, and American Public Gas Association.  He was also very involved in the (MEA) Midwest Energy Association and was inducted into the MEA Hall of Fame in 2002.

Chuck was one of a kind, always striving to offer solutions to his customers’ challenges, if he didn’t have access to the necessary products, he went out of his way to help, even if that meant sending them to the competition.

From Chuck’s original vision, he wanted to partner with the natural gas utilities and their contractors to enhance their success.  He created a culture at Groebner of integrity, quality, and service in all their business interactions. Chuck believed in building for the future and would often say that manufacturers and products may come and go, but Groebner is here for the long haul so we must take care of our customers at all levels. 

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The Fusion Hall of Fame

Dave Dutton

Class of 2020

When you think of Dave Dutton, the first things that come to mind are sincerity, hard work, service to others, family and his dedication to our industry. Dave began his career at McElroy in 1969, which was the same year that McElroy went into the pipe fusion business. At this time, the office staff consisted of 12 people and two of them were Art and Panny, so it wasn’t as much about growing within an organization as it was about growing the organization. He was an estimator in his first position and worked his way up in the organization to Vice President (in various customer-facing roles).

Dave cut his teeth selling McElroy products out of the back of a van full of fusion equipment to gas companies across the United States. He and one of the technical service staff would drive around the country for a couple of weeks and when they had sold all their machines, they would park the van at an airport, fly home to visit their families for a few days and then return to start the journey all over again. This was the dawn of polyethylene in America so it wasn’t as much about selling fusion equipment as it was selling a new and novel solution. It is often said that without the invention of polyethylene pipe, bringing gas to each and every house in America would not have been economically feasible. So McElroy’s vision of making the world a better place through better infrastructure is not just an aspiration but something that people at McElroy, like Dave, have been accomplishing since the beginning.

Dave cut his teeth selling McElroy products out of the back of a van full of fusion equipment to gas companies across the United States. He and one of the technical service staff would drive around the country for a couple of weeks and when they had sold all their machines, they would park the van at an airport, fly home to visit their families for a few days and then return to start the journey all over again. This was the dawn of polyethylene in America so it wasn’t as much about selling fusion equipment as it was selling a new and novel solution. It is often said that without the invention of polyethylene pipe, bringing gas to each and every house in America would not have been economically feasible. So McElroy’s vision of making the world a better place through better infrastructure is not just an aspiration but something that people at McElroy, like Dave, have been accomplishing since the beginning.

As Dave’s ability to create relationships with the gas companies continued to flourish, and pretty soon the distributors that were serving these same gas companies with other products became interested in handling McElroy products. Dave and others realized that in order to scale our business, the answer was not to put more McElroy vans on the road but to forge partnerships with the best gas distributors across the country. These early partnerships form the foundation of McElroy’s world-class distributor base today.

As distribution began to take on the primary role of selling our products, Dave was freed up to use the same partnership-building acumen to build relationships with industry organizations such as the AGA, PPI, DCA, ASTM and ISO. He knew that part of selling the polyethylene solution was also to have consistent standards, protocols and industry specifications. It is hard to talk about Dave Dutton without mentioning family. Family is really the center of everything for Dave. Of course, family encompasses his immediate family, but Dave has a unique ability to create an ever-growing extended family. If you have crossed paths with Dave for any length of time at all, it is guaranteed that he has incorporated you into his extended family. So when it is said that we stand on the shoulders of giants, it is the early founders of our industry like Dave Dutton who has made that possible.

Don Best

Class of 2020

Don Best was not only McElroy’s Chief Engineer; he was also Art McElroy’s right hand when it came to creating some of the company’s first fusion products. From 1964 to 1998, Don left his mark as that of a gentle giant. Gentle, in that he rarely got upset or rattled, but giant because no one ever wanted to cross him. He was stern and soft hearted at the same time.

During his 34 years at McElroy, he shared a special relationship with Art. Many observed that they interacted as peers; they even shared many of the same characteristics and mannerisms. Like Art with his yellow pad, Don always had a small notebook in his shirt pocket handy so he could jot down an idea, a solution or the events of the day. These notebooks were so much a part of his life that upon his death, his wife, Donna, displayed them at his funeral so everyone could relive the brilliant thoughts and ideas that went through his mind.

Don’s pinnacle contributions to the fusion business was the design of the first Rolling 1648, which lasted, other than minor changes, for more than 35 years. He also played a key design role in the Rolling 824 and 1236. While many of these units have been updated over the years, the design DNA of Don Best can be seen in almost every McElroy fusion machine.

Today, most people know McElroy because of our fusion equipment, but that is not where we cut our teeth in the plastic pipe industry. During the early years of Don’s career at McElroy, we were a custom machine and fabrication shop and one of our clients was Phillips Petroleum Company. When Phillips was getting into the plastic pipe extrusion business, they asked McElroy to design and make polished stainless steel extrusion dies for their M7000 and M8000 series of plastic pipe.

Don played an integral role in building this relationship with Phillips, and through his hard work and dedication, McElroy became a trusted partner and valued problem solver. At the time, a local Bartlesville company was making fusion equipment for Phillips. When it was obvious to Phillips that they needed to go in a different direction with their fusion equipment, they turned to McElroy. It is clear that without Don’s dedication, ingenuity, design prowess and ability to listen to the customer, McElroy would not have been in a position to take advantage of this fledgling opportunity that led to McElroy’s success as the world leader in plastic pipe fusion equipment.

Steve Campbell

Class of 2020

Steve Campbell was a pioneer in the industrial HDPE market. As owner of Pipe Systems in Fenton, Mo., he was one of the first distributors to really focus on the industrial markets along with Bill Robbins of Maskell-Robbins (Hall of Fame 2019). 

Steve exuded confidence and his belief in polyethylene pipe was contagious. He was known as an aggressive business person. If you were his competition, you would say he went too far, and if you were his customer or colleague, you would cheer him on. But either way, you couldn’t help but like and respect him.

He and Jim Fletcher teamed up to convert the first power plants to polyethylene when they convinced Kentucky Utilities and Louisville Gas & Electric to test PE in their fly ash lines. It could also be said that he pioneered the modern day “Lunch and Learn” as he was known to throw shrimp boils just to entice people to come and learn about polyethylene pipe.

Steve was both a dreamer and a risk taker. He invested in facilities, fusion equipment and people with the belief that if he built it, it would become a reality. It was this early investment that really helped fuel our industry. However, being a pipe and fusion distributor was not enough, he felt like he needed to control the whole process, so he purchased Nipak, a PE pipe company. His thinking was that if he owned the pipe plant, he would have a better chance at winning long-term bids as he was able to guarantee pipe prices over the term of a contract.  Unfortunately, he won a long-term contract with a mine with fixed pricing and then the industry experienced a large resin price increase and Steve was too over-leveraged to hold on.

Steve may have taken too many risks for his own good, but legacies are not built on the successes you have while on this earth but the impact you make that lasts for generations. It is this legacy that makes him a perfect member of the Fusion Hall of Fame. Polyethylene’s role in the industrial market would not be where it is today if it weren’t for Steve Campbell. He was a rebel, a go-getter, a risk taker and if he believed the hill was worth fighting for, he would put everything he had on the line to succeed.

Art & Panny McElroy

Class of 2019

Setting the Stage

Everything that McElroy is today stems from the firm roots of its founders, Art and Panny McElroy, and their groundbreaking work in the fusion industry.

With dreams and courage fully intact, they opened their own job shop business in the garage of their home in 1954. Art was an outstanding inventor, mechanical engineer and businessman, so while he designed and built, Panny oversaw the accounting functions and payroll. She liked to remind everyone that she was the first employee.

People who knew them say they were great teachers and held themselves to a higher standard than they expected from others. As a couple, they were dynamic, considerate of others at all levels, and made visitors and guests feel genuinely welcome. Working with their clients closely, work sessions often flowed into a family dinner that fostered enduring friendships as well as trusted business partnerships.

David Dutton, one of the first salesmen, recalls Art saying that you can work all your life to establish your integrity and lose it in a matter of seconds if you compromise it. Art and Panny shared many other powerful lessons. Read and be willing to learn. Be gracious and kind. There are a million ways something doesn't work — you only need to find one that does. Love your family. These were words to live by.

Make us a fusion machine

In 1969, when Phillips Driscopipe asked Art to design a better-equipped machine for their high-density polyethylene (PE) pipe product, he did what he is famous for. He pulled out his yellow pad and black felt-tip pen and started sketching.

A fusion machine would be Art's next challenge and being a solutions provider was his specialty. He presented his first fusion prototype, a small 2-inch machine, to Phillips and told them if they were interested, he would like to redesign it to balance the forces, which became the patented Centerline Guidance System — a cornerstone feature of all McElroy fusion equipment today. David recalls Art saying that there's nearly always a weak point on any new project, something that keeps you from being successful. But PE pipe was different. He didn't see any weak links. He didn't see any stumbling blocks – he saw a future. He thought it could be a real industry. “I think he was the first to recognize this was more than a job shop deal,” David said.

Selling the Gas Distribution Industry on Fusion

Art's tougher and more rugged machine was superior to anything available at the time. Phillips quickly was able to sell 25 of them along with their gas pipe and fittings to Kansas Gas Service. Together, they would work the natural gas industry and see if they could make something out of this PE business. They were off to the races. The first machine that launched the business was a 4" Hand Pump and more sizes developed rapidly after that. There were stationary machines, then wheeled and self-contained models. By 1974, McElroy offered a range of machines from the smallest 2" to the prototype 48". McElroy would eventually sell machines direct while Phillips focused on their pipe and fittings. One by one, gas companies came on board and the McElroy-Phillips partnership began to dominate the industry with their innovative solution for gas delivery.

Inventing & Improving Butt Fusion

Fellow Fusion Hall of Famer Jean Louthan, a Chemical Engineer for Phillips, conducted the first fusion demonstrations during promotional tours. Everyone looked up to him, but his perfectionism intimidated a lot of people who were learning to fuse pipe. There's one person he didn't intimidate though. Art McElroy. “I don't know that Art could be intimidated,” said Ted Striplin, one of McElroy's first salesmen. “There's no competing with Art McElroy when it comes to mechanical engineering. He would get an idea and sketch something in two seconds and more than likely it was an answer to a problem.” Jean and Art got along famously. They respected each other and acknowledged what each brought to the industry. While Jean would hail Phillips as the inventors of butt fusion, Art would add that McElroy improved it. Many tried to replicate McElroy's equipment over the years, but Art wouldn't make it easy. His philosophy was to stay ahead of the game by investing in engineering and product development and the business flourished as a result – McElroy became the leading innovator of pipe fusion equipment. Art eventually held 30 U.S. and foreign patents on fusion equipment and eight patents on fusion-related equipment.

Training the World's Fusion Operators

Being committed to the industry on every level, Art dreamed of having a formal training facility. McElroy University was established in 1981 to ensure that operators and inspectors develop best fusion practices. It was also around this time that Art recognized McElroy needed distributors to help sell equipment on a broader scale. It was a natural progression because the market was already established for McElroy machines and, unlike its competitors, fusion was the major part of McElroy's business. LEGACY Following Art's death in 1988, Panny became CEO, and helped steer the company into its next successful phase with the second generation of the family at the helm. Upon her retirement in 1996, executive leadership of McElroy passed to her and Art's children, Chip McElroy, Donna Dutton and Peggy Tanner. Panny passed away in 2006 and though she and Art are no longer here, their legacy lives on through the values they instilled, the innovations that are still alive in our equipment today and the culture of hard work, partnership, creativity and teamwork which they nurtured and inspired.

Art truly wanted to help people solve problems and give them the tools they needed to create the best infrastructure the world has to offer. That same calling holds true today. Then and now, McElroy seeks input from users in the field in a constant effort to improve and help make their work easier and more productive. Striving for excellence and setting ambitious goals continues to be an integral part of the culture at McElroy and that is all due to the examples set by Art and Panny McElroy. They instilled everyone with one thought, that there is nothing out of reach with determination and a steadfast vision. McElroy succeeded in gaining a stronghold in natural gas distribution after making that critical decision to make fusion equipment 50 years ago. Today, thermoplastics are gaining ground in nearly every industry as heat-fused, leak-free joints are accepted as a reliable piping solution. McElroy continues to expand its line of pipe fusion products and has the most extensive line of fusion machines in the industry with more than 400,000 square feet of facility space around the world. There's still a long way to go, but it's still early in the journey and Art's gut feelings about fusion 50 years ago are no less true today. There's a real future in fusion.

Ole Larson

Class of 2019

A Chance to Thrive

Olaf "Ole" Larsen was working for a natural gas company in South Dakota when a former mechanical engineering classmate told him that he should be working for Phillips Petroleum Company. It was a great company with great benefits. So in 1952, Ole made the move to Bartlesville, Okla., and began working in automotive fuels research. There was one problem though — it wasn't satisfying his ambition. As he put it to his son, Gary Larsen of Tulsa, "someone would have to die" for him to get a promotion.

But there was another research division that was fresh with new opportunities. It stemmed from Phillips' invention of HDPE (high-density polyethylene) pipe resin in 1951 followed by the butt fusion joining method in 1955. When they started a new division to market PE pipe ran by some of the company's youngest, brightest minds, he jumped on it and thrived.

Marketing polyethylene

In order to sell PE pipe, they had to show potential customers how it worked and that it worked. One of his first marketing projects was to convince Wham-O, creator of the Hula Hoop, they could make a better product using their specially-formulated, extruded pipe because it could be butt fused together which would eliminate the toy's wooden dowels and staples.

Gary remembers an impromptu fusion experiment in the family kitchen vividly. His father brought some of the pipe home and they melted the ends using his mother's electric skillet then pressed them together by hand. Voilà — fusion!

“I think that’s probably the first butt fusion that occurred,” Gary said.

Their efforts would pay off but not necessarily in Hula Hoops. PE pipe would go on to stake a massive claim in the energy industry. Before the ‘50s came to a close, the first PE gas distribution system was installed in Caney, Kan., and PE pipe quickly became the choice material for gas distribution across the country. DRISCOPIPE AND DIES Ole created a special extrusion die for thermoplastic material that was patented in 1968. He also got that promotion. He was Director of Engineering, in charge of the equipment for making and handling Phillips’ high-performance gas piping product they branded as Driscopipe (known today as Performance Pipe) at the company’s plant in Pryor, Okla. McElroy was contracted to make the dies for Phillips’ proprietary M7000 resin used to produce Driscopipe 7000 gas pipe and 7600 industrial/water pipe. Based on Ole’s design, these dies were machined from high alloy stainless steel forgings to close tolerances and polished to a mirror finish. The fine finish gave the pipe the smooth, shiny appearance both outside and inside that other pipe did not have, which enhanced its performance.

In 1969, McElroy would create its first fusion machine for Phillips which further solidified the relationship. Together with quality pipe and equipment, they would dominate the gas distribution market for years to come.

A Lifetime Relationship

Ole had a special relationship with Art McElroy built on mutual respect, trust, shared values and they genuinely liked each other. The same should be noted for their wives, Joyce Larsen and Panny McElroy. Gary said Ole and Art worked together like brothers. Both men’s objective was to improve the quality of the pipe and the productivity of extrusion, while at the same time reducing costs. Much of their collaboration was by phone when a problem arose or one of them had an idea to discuss. Most of their discussions ended with Ole saying, “Go ahead, do it.” This was when McElroy was about to build something just a little different, and most often it was successful. There was no need for a purchase order, trust traveled over the phone.

Ole played a critical role in Driscopipe’s early success in producing superior PE pipe that far exceeded all ASTM and other code requirements. Today, Performance Pipe has seven ISO 9000 certified manufacturing plants in the US.

Legacy

Though Gary didn’t follow in his father’s footsteps when it came to quantum mechanics, he played a significant marketing role in the fusion business as a commercial photographer. In 1973, he opened a studio and began a business relationship with McElroy that grew significantly over the years as more and more kinds and sizes of fusion equipment hit the market.

Ole moved to Dallas in the ‘70s when Driscopipe relocated its administrative offices. He passed away in 2014, leaving behind his wife Joyce, of Dallas, and his only child and son, Gary.

In life, Ole was a trailblazer. He wasn’t mired by old traditions and ways of doing things. Thermoplastics was a new frontier and there was no past to fall back on. He would play a leading role in determining the traditions and procedures that would lead the industry into the future. Gary said his father was the kind of person who welcomed that challenge and that he, along with Art, were perfectionists who did everything that needed to be done to make sure things were right.

“Dad never failed,” he said.

Jean Louthan

Class of 2019

Fusion Demo Extraordinaire

Jean Louthan, a chemical engineer for Phillips Petroleum Company, was the original fusion demonstration artist. If you ask those who knew Jean in the early days of fusion, they will grin slyly and say that he was … "intense." They'll say he was a serious perfectionist and that he didn't want to talk about anything but plastic pipe. But he had good reason why. It was his life, and everyone in fusion today is better off for it.

Before McElroy fusion machines were first developed for Phillips in 1969, Jean was developing fusion procedures. He made it clear that Phillips invented butt fusion, but Art McElroy, a gifted mechanical engineer, would add that McElroy improved it. Jean and Art respected each other deeply for the knowledge in their respective fields.

Winning them over

Jean's ability to instruct and his unique understanding of the capabilities of thermoplastics played a key role in the early days of promoting the Phillips Driscopipe 7000 product to the gas industry. But it wouldn't be easy. Steel ruled the day and it would take some convincing to change that mentality. Even when the engineers were sold on polyethylene as an ideal piping material for gas distribution, they still had to win over the construction contractors.

One of the most effective marketing tools were the Phillips educational tours. These four-day tours were spectacularly organized and would take place three or four times a year. Some 20 to 30 engineering and operations personnel from an assortment of gas companies would be flown to Houston to visit the Sweeney refinery where PE is made and Blackwell Plastics to see where the carbon black and other antioxidants were blended. Then they would go to a pipe plant, usually in Brownwood, Texas, or Pryor, Okla., then on to the Plastics Technical Center in Bartlesville and finally to McElroy.

At McElroy, the group would tour the plant then go to a butt and saddle fusion demonstration, and this is where Jean took command. He loved to fuse pipe and for the first year or so performed all the fusion demonstrations. “He knew what he was doing and had an aura of authority,” recalled Ted Striplin, a salesman for McElroy at the time. “He didn’t trust anyone else to do the demos until he saw that Dave (Dutton) and I knew what the heck we were doing. He was a mentor definitely.”

McElroy's Mechanical Advantage

Ted chuckles recalling Jean’s first experiences fusing pipe with McElroy machines. He was used to equipment with a 2-1 mechanical advantage. “You really had to lay on that thing,” Ted said. But McElroy’s machines had an 11-1 mechanical advantage and were much more powerful and rugged. “But (Jean) would still lay on that thing. It was the hardest thing in the world to try to explain that he didn’t have to push that hard, but we finally got him settled down.”

Art designed McElroy fusion machines with equal distribution of force around the diameter of the pipe, which became the patented Centerline Guidance System. This was a winning design feature that made joining pipe so much easier and helped demonstrate the quality of polyethylene as a reliable application. Eventually, Jean felt comfortable that McElroy’s salespeople understood polyethylene well enough to perform their own fusion machine demonstrations. McElroy would also start selling its machines direct while Phillips focused on making pipe and fittings.

Legacy

With a combination of the tours and Jean’s and his associates continued marketing efforts they were successful with several major gas companies choosing to become early adopters of Driscopipe 7000. These included Kansas Gas Service, Washington Gas Service, Con Ed, Brooklyn Union Gas, Niagara Mohawk (National Grid), New Mexico Gas Company, Washington Gas Light Company in DC, PSE&G in New Jersey, Baltimore Gas in Maryland, Columbia Gas in Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Kentucky, North Shore Gas in Chicago, Michigan Consolidated Gas, Consumers Energy in Michigan and others.

Jean recognized the importance of industry organizations and code bodies and was an early and active participant in the Plastic Pipe Institute (PPI), the Plastic Materials Committee of the American Gas Association (PMC/AGA), ASTM, ASME and others. He was also largely responsible for McElroy joining these organizations.

An apparatus for sidewall fusion was patented in 1973 authored by Jean as well as Arlow Helm of Pryor; Ralph Wynne, Gale Roush and Donald Conkling, all of Bartlesville, and Art McElroy of Tulsa.

Jean was respected by his co-workers and competitors alike for his knowledge and commitment to the industry. Much of his authorship remains in many of the codes and standards today. Jean died in 2006 in Sandy, Utah.

Bill Robbins

Class of 2019

In the Beginning

Bill Robbins came into the fusion industry via the steel industry. He was working at Ryerson Steel Co., in Seattle, and they had a plastics division that was importing PE pipe from Germany. His first job was relining a wood-stave pipe with 14" pipe. He had no experience fusing pipe at the time so Ralph Maskell stepped in to help. Ralph was the new director of the company's PE pipe division in Chicago and came to Seattle to show Bill how to put pipe together.

Bill drove Ralph a little crazy during that first fusion. The fusion machine was old, antiquated, with very few hydraulic parts and was made in Germany. The more Bill pumped the pipe toward the cutting head, the harder he made it for Ralph to trim the pipe for fusion. The whole procedure made trimming a hard job.

"When I was pumping, he was pulling on that facer trying to cut the shavings off the pipe. It was awful. Very hard to operate," Bill said.

Starting a PE business

Fast forward a few years, and as Bill kept looking at his company's PE products, he could see they weren't doing it correctly. He had seen McElroy machines working successfully on other jobsites with Phillips Driscopipe so he got in touch with them in 1975 and essentially sealed his fate in fusion. It was that same year Bill asked Ralph if he would like to start a company selling Driscopipe and McElroy machines. And like a page out of Art McElroy's book, who had started his business in a small garage a couple decades earlier, Ralph moved into Bill's basement which served doubly as Maskell-Robbins' first office.

Bill was first introduced to McElroy machines at a Washington Natural Gas jobsite. They were fusing PE pipe with 2" and 4" McElroy machines. But Bill was struck by their 6" machine back at their shop. It was all hydraulic and Bill thought it would be a pretty good machine to put pipe together so he called McElroy and asked what size machines were available. When he found out up to 12", he immediately wanted one so he went to the bank for a loan. The first bank thought PE might be a risky investment and turned him down. But he got lucky at the second bank and soon he was the owner of a 12" hydraulic fusion machine.

Profit In the First Year

After making a profit their first year, they were able to purchase a second machine in 1976 — McElroy’s new 18" machine. Bill and Ralph knew they were on to something good and each brought their unique talents to the business. Bill was focused on sales, business and distribution while Ralph was the hands-on person wearing the technical hat. They would bill their company as a one-stop, full-service distributor having the highest quality materials, equipment, shop facilities and expertise.

The First 36"

Seeing that business was going strong, Art McElroy called Bill one day and said he was building a 36" machine and wanted him to buy it. The asking price was $150,000 and Bill thought that was a lot of money, but Art said, “Bill just buy it.” So Bill bought the first 36" machine and he got so busy he had to buy another, then another and another and so on.

One of those 36" jobs was in Hawaii. Bill was fusing 24" pipe on one side of the road at the same time a competitor was fusing 14" pipe on the other side with an old, mostly manually-operated machine. Bill noticed the 14" pipe started moving the opposite direction and figured they must be finished fusing the pipe. But he soon found out why they changed direction when the competitor’s operator came up to Bill and said, “Could you please not have your machine around our pipe anymore?” As it turned out, the project engineer had compared machines and how the pipe was being fused in each case and had asked the competitor’s operator to cut out a number of joints.

Bill said he was proud to be using a McElroy machine and fusing Driscopipe that day. When he left the jobsite, the 14" pipe was still lying on the ground, untouched.

Growing the Business

Throughout the rest of the ‘70s and into the early ‘80s, business was booming at MaskellRobbins. They grew from 2 to 80 people. They moved from the Seattle basement office and eventually to a building in Mountlake Terrace, Wash. They opened offices in Salt Lake City, Reno, Anchorage, Houston, Tucson, Watsonville and Santa Ana. Bill said they never had a problem hiring people and they never had to look. They had earned a great reputation and people came to them. Customers from the mines came to work for him as well as people in construction, engineers, bankers, accountants, the metal industry, PE pipe manufacturers and relatives.

Selling the PE Solution

Maskell-Robbins was selling for industrial projects including sewers and chemical plants and were doing a lot with the mining industry. They successfully demonstrated to the mines that they could save them a lot of money if they replaced their stainless steel with PE pipe, which came to be a godsend for the mining industry.

Bill found the best way to have more PE pipe on jobs was to work with consulting engineering firms. They would meet with the engineers during their so-called Brown Bag lunch hours. They would talk about PE pipe and usually have a small McElroy machine that they could use to fuse pipe. Brown Bag lunches were very beneficial to Maskell-Robbins because the engineers they talked to would alert them when a project they designed was going out for bid.

“Having the confidence of the engineers really helped when dealing with contractors,” Bill said. “The engineers would almost always recommend Maskell-Robbins as the preferred supplier. The engineers knew we had the necessary equipment and experience to do the job. We were ready to go.”

The 1648's First Job in Africa

McElroy’s large-diameter market wouldn’t be where it is today without Maskell-Robbins’ tremendous successes on big jobs in the formative years. As one of the first four owners of the 18" machine and the first owner of the 36" machine, they would also own the first production 1648.

It was around 1982 when Bill was working with a South African engineering firm that was determined to land a major water and sewer line project for a pulp and paper mill in Richards Bay that extended into the Indian Ocean. Bill and the engineers flew in to Tulsa and told Art they needed a 48" machine. Bill said it was the most positive thing the engineers had heard on their trip when Art said, “No problem. I’ll have your machine ready before you’re ready to fuse pipe.”

Ralph would spend two years in South Africa fusing pipe with that first 1648 machine. He fused 48", 42", 36", 24" and 18" pipelines — all of them about 18,000 feet long. The 1648 definitely made an impression. The engineers were ecstatic.

“It was a very large project for us,” Bill said. “The machine was flawless and worked very well under some very windy conditions. The contractor had to replace the tent Ralph was working under four times during the fusion of pipe. Ralph also had to watch for alligators after seeing the posted signs.”

Complementing the machine’s prowess was the fusion operator who kept the machine spotless.

“Ralph was the kind of guy that wiped a machine down after every joint. He was German and meticulous. Wherever he went, he had a rag sticking out the back of his pocket to wipe the machine down,” Bill said.

Maskell-Robbins would come to sell and fuse pipe around the world. They went to Alaska, Peru, Chile, Burma, Jamaica and even the former Air Force Base on Johnston Island not to mention all the jobs in the States from Houston to Dutch Harbor and Barrow, Alaska. Because they were developing such a good reputation, they would often get calls from industries when they were in a jam.

One such emergency involved a problem at a pulp mill. An immediate fix was needed or they would have to shut their mill down. It went something like this: “You’re highly recommended by a pulp mill engineer in Vancouver, B.C. Canada. They said you know as much about fusing as anyone in the country. Can you come tomorrow?”

When they found out the caller was in Durban, South Africa, it didn’t dissuade them. Ralph boarded a plane and got there as quick as he could some 33 hours later.

How to Sell a Machine

Bill says it was easy to sell a McEloy machine — all you had to do was let them look at it. If someone was interested, they’d invite them to a jobsite to see how it worked. It wasn’t unusual for a group of 30 to 40 engineers and city officials from sewer and water departments to surround their machine and watch them fuse pipe.

“You have 100 percent on every weld if you do it the way it’s supposed to be done. There was not a machine around that could even compete with a McElroy machine,” Bill said.

Legacy

McElroy would not have grown to where it is today without Maskell-Robbins. Bill was a huge force in establishing PE in new markets. Looking back on his career, he describes it as both fun and challenging.

“It was kind of a gamble and it paid off,” he said. “I was pretty confident we could do it.”

And with a good dose of confidence, it never hurts to be in sync with your fusion machine manufacturer and to share the same passion for the fusion industry.

“I really enjoyed Art. He was a good guy. Smart. He knew what he was doing,” Bill said. “When he developed Centerline (Guidance) fusion, it made a big difference in fusing pipe. Using hydraulically-operated machines was also a big plus as it made the process of fusing pipe much easier and faster for the fusion tech.”

Bill is now 86 years young and living a great life in Bellingham, Wash., with his wife, Ann.

Nominations Accepted

Who would you nominate for the Fusion Hall of Fame?

Selection for the Fusion Hall of Fame is based on the long-term influence and impact an individual has had during their career in the fusion industry. Hall of Famers may be inducted posthumously; living inductees must no longer be active in the fusion industry.

The selection committee consists of representatives from McElroy and selected industry partners. The winner(s) will be announced during the McElroy INFUSION conference in September.

If you are a McElroy employee, channel partner/distributor or industry partner/end user and would like to nominate someone in honor of their contributions to the fusion industry, please fill out the form below by May 1 to be considered for this year's awards.

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