The History of Pacific Roof Structures
As told by Dierk Peters
We formed the company in 1958 to fill a competitive need in Southern California to Summerbell; a company that manufactured glued laminated products and wood roof trusses. During the war years (1941-1945), Summerbell grew from a custom manufacturer, to a giant company supplying products for war related construction and often erecting components that they fabricated. The blimp hanger in Tustin still stands as a monument to their expertise in the use of wood.
The use of wood was natural and much used in Southern California because of the ready supply and the low cost of fir, pine, and redwood. The use of wood as structural products was limited to bolted trusses and costly glue laminated beams, radius beams, and arches. The laminations at the time were laid up by hand. The sloped cut on the ends of the laminations were held in place during lay up with a vertical wood dowel, placed in pre-drilled holes in the center of the splice joint.
After the war years, Summerbell remained busy and prosperous because of the post-war building boom. An entrepreneur in the bay area started making glued laminated products and wanted to ship them to the large Southern California area and have someone do the jobsite work and erection. Carlo Coletti and I crossed paths and realized that we could help each other. I would estimate and bid projects using his Standard Structures product. If the bid was successful we would both have work.
The design and engineering of glued laminated products were almost an unknown to architects and engineers. Summerbell had done such an outstanding job working with architects, understanding their design, and furnishing them with engineering drawings already stamped approved by the Building Departments, that a cloak of mystique kept the glued laminated projects from wide use.
To break through Summerbell’s control of rook truss and glued laminated projects required my personal calls on the leading architects and engineers to provide them with literature, data, detail, and assurance that if THEY designed or engineered plans with those products that Pacific Roof Structures would furnish and erect at a cost savings. Sometimes I had that “me against the world” feeling as I tried to make as many appointments and calls as possible, knowing it was a long time before the call, the finished plans, and erection of the projects would produce a profit.
The first year in business was a great awakening – when one person is in charge of everything and needed to do everything – because there was no one else – learning fast is a must. My usual day that year was something like this:
6:00 to 7:45 Build trusses in the yard with the laborers and carpenters.
7:45 to 8:00 French bath, change of clothes, and put on a tie.
8:00 to 12:00 Estimating, costings, payables, payroll, and hope that the phone rings.
12:00 to 6:00 Brown bag lunch, Dodge green sheet plan room for takeoffs, call on Architects,
engineers and contractors
6:00 to ? Finish the undone.
The first year was also a successful year. The company made $10, 852 profit. I had paid myself carpenter’s wages, which I believe were about $2.50 per hour.
At the time, Carlo Coletti was pushing for more work, and his attempt to be more involved in the operation of the company was difficult. A new contract with Paul Erickson of Tacoma Boat Works to provide us with the laminated products was timely and most successful. The company had made all wood mine sweepers during World War II. The structural components of the eighty-foot boats were oak laminated to exacting tolerances. The keel and ribs in the boat covered with a double layer of planking were a thing of beauty. The transition from marine work to commercial work was a necessity for his company and they did it exceedingly well.
Unbeknownst to me, the presence of Pacific Roof Structures had been noticed by others and I was invited to attend the second American Institute of Timber Constructors (AITC) meeting of laminators in Palm Springs. It was an awesome experience. To sit in the company of the four or five laminators in American representatives discussing the standards for laminated wood products was an exciting and enlightening experience. The friendships and contacts from this and future meetings of the AITC has been cherished.
In these growing years, our specialty was the furnishings and erection of church arches with solid wood decking, as well as the wood trusses for industrial buildings. The wood decking was tongue and grooved, and came in the 3” or 4” thickness, 6” wide, and clear spanned from arch to arch. Paul Toien, our fine structural engineer, helped develop a new bowstring truss for the company – a truss with glued laminated top and bottom chords. It was a giant step forward that set Pacific Roof Structures apart from the now many competitors. The field crew grew to field crews as Lowney, Carrol, the Laughery’s (five), Podraza, Schnirl, Ellis, Baker (two), and others who have followed to erect our jobs with pride and expertise.
As business increased I hired a retired lady to take telephone calls and do the payroll, then a salesman who was experienced in trusses. True-Joist, a new component manufacturer was contacted. We became their exclusive sales agent in Southern California. We now hired more salesmen and the office efficiency was lacking. I hired Judy Braaten from the Weyerhaeuser Company that was a selling us glued laminated components in 1967. Suddenly we became a balanced operation.
Shipping of the glued laminated products, decking, and lumber was usually by rail. It was inconvenient and costly to unload at railroad siding. Discussion with the railroad agent for low priced rail property, which might be purchased, gave us many location options for consideration. Montebello, our present office and yard site, was very centrally located. However, it seemed that the major growth areas were the San Fernando Valley and eastward to Orange County. Disney was going to Anaheim; the I-5 freeway was going to be completed to Santa Ana. Probably because I lived in Fullerton, I chose a property in Orange for our future home. After holding an option for five years, the transaction had to be completed. In 1968-1969 we built an office-warehouse and paved the four-acre yard.
Wow, we felt we’re “big time” with our own place…private railroad siding, storage area for glulams, decking, and lumber, a warehouse for the assembly of job materials as steel, nails, bolts, shear plates, split rings, etc.
The move to Orange was for a cause with a very positive effect. We now had the capacity to handle more work with far greater efficiency. We did jus that. This started another cycle of hiring for the office. Overby, Buchman, Severson, Larson, Eggleston and Gregg provided new abilities and expertise. Slowly but surely we became a strong player in the panelized roof business, which had been dominated by Simpson, Bevan-Herron and Duke Timber Company.
The I-5 freeway was now completed to San Juan Capistrano and from there to San Diego one used either Highway 101 along the coast, or the 395 inland through Corona and Escondido. Looking for an opportunity to increase sales and profits, my weekly sales calls were changed rom established customers from Ventura and Santa Barbara to San Diego. The systematic calling on contractors, architects, and engineers was most gratifying. Later, the San Diego area provided Pacific Roof Structures with 40% of total sales one year. Unknowingly, we had entered a roof structures vacuum on the “other side of Camp Pendleton,” and had been accepted with open arms and we were greatly rewarded.
In 1984, I received a call from Duke Cooper, the owner of Duke Timber Company to come over and play tennis for an afternoon and talk about some things. I soon found out that to my surprise that the occasion was not about tennis, but to talk about buying his Duke Timber Company. The generalities of that summer afternoon became a reality in 1985. Pacific Roof Structures became Duke Pacific, Inc. Sadness, even tears, for the name change. Excitement for the unknown future, and accomplishments of a new company now twice its former self. We moved from Orange to Chino, which had new offices, and larger operating facilities.
The timing of the purchase coincided with a long upswing in construction, especially with tilt-up concrete warehouse market. We grew bigger and bigger to serve our customers. At one time we employed 180 carpenters per day in the field.
There has always been a swing, a rise and fall in economics. The high market of the eighties fell into disaster in the early 90’s. Banks, Savings and Loans and financial entities had over loaned and made risky loans in their greed to make as much money as possible. All money for construction dried up. Valid contractors and jobs disappeared as sugar in coffee. We fell on hard times.
We hung on. With our wonderful customers there was always someone who needed something – an addition, a repair or reinforcing, even a new building. The reservoir roof covering for the City of Los Angeles, a large and unusual job, was particularly timely.
The opportunity that America gave this immigrant kid was and is an emotional wonder. To arrive in this country at six years of age, not knowing the language, have the privilege of going to school and two years of college – couldn’t do an athletic scholarship because of my need to help support a widowed mother, grandmother and four sister during the depression. Servicing in WWII for five years, working my way up in construction from carpenter, to field office, to estimating, managing for a fine company and then trying it on my own. I expressed my desire to a few people that when I had fulfilled my working years that the Company could be passed on to someone else who would appreciate the opportunity to do the business in our fee enterprise system.
In 1993, I offered that opportunity to Judy and Greg. They considered, talked, considered and then said yes. I was pleased about their decision and that they asked me to keep my office.
It is an unbelievable pleasure and satisfaction to me to see the on-going success of the company. The rewards to the investors, the continued providing of livelihood for the many loyal employees, and our determined effort to supply our customers with the best product possible.
May my dreams continue…