Four Generations Serve the Industry

I noted with interest your request for anecdotes and incidents that reflect on the industry for your 75th anniversary celebration. As No. 3 in a family that has a four-generation relationship to this fine industry, I thought I might offer you some interesting ideas. I will mix in a little family history along with the stories for your consideration.

My grandfather, William Lafayette Heglin, upon returning from the Spanish-American War began a career with the Peerless Ice Machine Company of Cincinnati, Ohio. He taught himself refrigeration and power house (stationary engineering) with great success. He became a field supervisor of installation for the ammonia plants sold by Peerless, primarily to meat packing houses and breweries in the Midwest.

However, one such plant was sold to a large greenhouse in Connersville, Indiana. A year or so after the installa-tion, my grandfather received a wire from the owner indicating he was going to sue the company as the plant had developed an ammonia leak and the NH3 had resulted in turning all his carnations a bright green. My grand-father caught a train there to survey the situation. Upon arrival he ascer-tained that indeed there had been a leak and the result was as indicated. However, noting the date he told the owner he would buy all the flowers and instructed him to ice and ship them to the flower mart in New York City. As it was about the 10th of March, my granddad assumed there would be a good market for green carnations in New York that week. When the owner of the greenhouse figured out the reason for the request, his only response was, “After you fix the leak, you can put a valve in so I can do this when I please.”

I still have my granddad’s notes as to how to make ammonia on site. I once showed them to Dr. Joe Glass at DuPont. After examining them, he indicated that although effective, I was lucky to be alive as the retort used could have easily exploded, ending our family involvement at one generation.

I also recall going with my granddad to the Stroh’s and Altes breweries in Detroit as a boy. He explained to me how one of the duties of the operators was to walk through each plant each day with his shirt off. The purpose, of course, was to search for ammonia leaks. Leak detectors were just being developed, so other means were required. Since the odor of ammonia was omnipresent, the bareshirted one would feel for leaks on his body and then try to isolate the source. It only demonstrates how far we’ve come.

The next generation was my father Edward K. Heglin. After graduating from the University of Detroit during the Great Depression, he too was able to find employment as a stationary engineer. However, due to his background in refrigeration, at the outbreak of WWII he found he was in great demand. In fact, he was categorized as a “Critical Defense Worker” and his place of employment was in fact determined by the War Production Board. His first assignment was at the Chrysler plant in Evansville, Indiana. This facility was devoted to the production of .45 caliber ammunition. This required a controlled environment, which was my dad’s responsibility.

After two years at this facility, he got a cryptic message to go to the Hotel Farragut in Knoxville, Tennessee, to a designated room. He was told to bring clothes for three months and that his family would be contacted as to what happened next. As you may have surmised, he was soon involved in establishing the temperature control scheme for the gaseous diffusion loop uranium refining system being built by Ford, Bacon, and Davis for operation by Union Carbide for the Manhattan Project.

The interesting anecdote related to this situation relates to leak detection. Clearly this process, which relied on uranium hexafluoride under high pressure, required a system which was leak-free. Since speed was imperative, the need for testing the welds became a prime issue. According to my dad, it was here that halogen leak detection was developed, which of course we still rely on. Since DuPont was the fluorine supplier, I suggest that it probably played a role in this development. The domestic refrigeration industry was still using soap bubbles and dip tanks, in case you wondered.

After the war, my dad went to work for Chrysler Airtemp. His boss was Jonathon Winters Sr., the father of the comedian of the same name. My dad was a part of Chrysler’s great attempt at setting up the so-called “Four Star Dealership.” This failed strategy attempted to set up a contractor as a distributor — with a predictable outcome. Those that were successful did so by the result of their own sales as contractors, wisely hardly ever doing business with an erstwhile competitor.

My dad continued his career in the mechanical contracting business with a long string of successful installations. Nothing as exotic as the Manhattan Project, but certainly bringing the benefits of our technology to a wide variety of customers. One comment of my dad’s has always stuck with me. When we would reflect on the growth of the South as a retirement or attractive business location, he was fond of saying, “There are three reasons it is possible for people to live in the South: 1. indoor plumbing, 2. air conditioning, 3. DDT,” two in which our contractor friends are involved.

As the next generation, I can recall as a boy my dad bringing home your paper and encouraging me to read the musings of George Taubeneck and Phil Redeker. After attending the University of Michigan and getting my engineering degree, I began to work with a plumbing wholesaler, W. T. Andrew Co. in Detroit. Shortly thereafter, I was recruited by General Electric Co., which was setting up company-owned distribution throughout the U.S.A. for their Weathertron heat pumps and related products. As such, I lived through those terrible years as GE pioneered, at a very high price, the refinement and commercialization of this product. It is clear to me now that the only company that could have afforded this exercise was GE. We all ought to keep that in mind as we see the soaring sales of heat pumps and their contribution to the economic success of the industry.

I had a wonderful and exciting career in this industry.

Two specific incidents related to my time in the industry are worth noting. The first relates to my first visit to the ARI-ASHRAE Exposition. It was held at the Chicago Stockyards building, some portion of which had dirt floors. I can clearly recollect standing at the York Tonrac exhibition, introducing this advanced, gear-driven centrifugal chilling wonder, and noting the dirt floor. My second recollection was in my role as vp and general sales manager for Tecumseh Products Co., dealing with the funeral of its dynamic founder Ray Herrick. My responsibility was coordinating all of the visitors from customers, suppliers, and friends from throughout the world at this event. With the very limited staff at my disposal (part of Tecumseh’s success), it was a great challenge. With a few small problems, we managed to get all to Dawson Auditorium in Adrian, Michigan. As I stood in that hall, I could see 2,000 attendees that covered the range from the lions of industry (GE, Emerson, Fedders, etc.) to the fellows from the line that Ray Herrick had made a job for in 1932 against all odds. It was a dramatic demonstration of the scope and impact of our industry. One wag said if there had been an explosion there that day, it would have been a major disaster for American industry. He was right. I really enjoyed all aspects of it as I wind down my business career with a little consulting and expert witness work.

My son, Andrew, now works with Midwest Component Sales in Chicago, which makes him the fourth generation in our family to serve this great industry. He works in sales with many of the same manufacturers and wholesalers that provide the products and services to our industry and its customers. Although I did not lead him in this direction, I was pleased when it worked out this way.

In my work life, I have had the opportunity to interface with a number of industries. Among these were: automobile/truck, chemical, metals and metal refining, real estate, and in my most recent work, the wild world of semiconductors and related equipment. The comparison has taught me how fine and unique the air conditioning and refrigeration industry is. This was reinforced by my work with our great industry association ARI. The standards of integrity and fair dealing are exceptional. Perhaps it is because so many of the executives and practitioners are engineers. Or maybe it is because the people who started and built this great industry, Carrier, Trane, Herrick, Knight, Hussmann, Goldberg, etc., established such a great tradition which endures. I do know we should not take it for granted and work hard to maintain it, for it is a truly precious heritage.

R.T. Heglin McMurray, PA

Remember the 60s?

Back in those days [the 1960s], it seems life was so much simpler. I used to carry two tanks of refrigerant on my truck — 12 and 22. I always hated to use 22 because it was so expensive ($40/ tank). As I remember it, we could buy 30 lb of 12 for $15 to $20. Then along came Refrigerant 502. Oh what a big deal that was.

I used to work on old “open” refrigeration units and sometimes find Indian head pennies in the dirt or mud around the units. (I still have the pennies.) That was in downtown Pittsburgh, PA, and these units used to run the beer coolers and other refrigeration equipment. They would also have a little air compressor down in the basement with the refrigeration units for draught beer. Scotsman, Carrier, and Frigidaire were about the only type of ice machine you could buy, and flakers were big sellers.

Friedrich (now the a/c people) used to make supermarket equipment with its famous hot gas defrost.

The two largest selling ice cream machines were Taylor and Sweden (I don’t think Sweden is in business any more). Most ice cream machines were water cooled. Water was cheap in those days, and water cooled worked and works the best.

The government wasn’t involved in the small contractor’s business. Your license was if you could do the job. If you couldn’t do the job, the market would put you out of business, not the government.

It is hard for me to think of how it was without my:

1. Cell phone;

2. Computer;

3. Beeper;

4. Fax machine;

5. Air conditioned truck (here in South Florida this is a must);

6. OSHA;

7. EPA;

8. MSDS sheets;

9. County and state inspectors that don’t know the trade telling me how to do my job; and

10. Supply house counter people that had knowledge of the trade and the products they sell.

Back then, the refrigeration man was a tradesman and young people wanted to get into the business and learn the trade. Ah, for the “good old days.” Do I want to go back? No! But things could be changed for the better.

Paul J. Arthur

Put to the Test

I’d like to tell a little story about hvacr history, going back to 1958-59. At the time I was Klixon’s [Tecumseh Products] resident engineer. During that time, the first internal line-break overload was developed and put into production. At the same time, The Air Conditioning, Heating & Refrigeration News (at a location in Fort Wayne, IN, I believe) took a 3-ton air conditioner (with capacitor start and capacitor run components) and welded the relay’s contacts shut.

The News called in 10 servicemen to troubleshoot the unit. The results were published and only one serviceman diagnosed the problem correctly. Five servicemen wanted to replace the compressor.

The News soon got a letter to the editor from RSES, complaining that The News was biting the hand that feeds them. To which The News replied, “Does the truth hurt?”

Harry W. Brown (retired)

(The former) H.W. Brown Engineering Co.

Great Barrington, MA

A Life and Times in the Industry

Thanks for your interest in my impressions and experiences of the hvac industry over the years.

I think I have been in a unique industry position, as I have gone through the ranks not only in field service but also in design/sales, especially during the 70s energy crisis. I was there firsthand to see how our industry responded to meet the needs of those days, and how a transition started in the hvac field from mechanical design and influence to electronic design and influence.

I started in the Washington, DC, area as a favor to a builder friend of mine. He was somewhat like a father to me and insisted on my getting into [the field], as he told me one day while we were riding around in his 1952 blue Cadillac convertible. “See all the silver things on the rooftops? That is what I want you to get into. That is the wave of the future,” or words to that effect. I still remember the building we were driving in front of and the fact that he was pointing to a cooling tower which, at the time, I had no idea what it was. I have been thankful to him ever since for his advice.

Soon after I graduated high school he introduced me to a service manager of a local hvac company who was repairing his building’s air conditioning. The service manager offered me a job (around $1.00 per hour, if that much) on the condition that I attend a local two-year trade school for hvac. I agreed and started out as a refrigeration apprentice at 17. In Washington, DC, at that time 18 was the legal age to drive a commercial service truck. I didn’t tell anyone I was only 17 so I could keep the job.

I stayed as a refrigeration apprentice, installing and servicing everything from small commercial refrigeration units to office building air conditioning systems for a little over a year until I was offered a job from a control company.

One night at trade school the dean said a control company was looking for a pneumatic controls application engineer. I didn’t know what that was but the name sounded neat and I really could see that control people were in demand.

So I applied and got hired and worked as a pneumatic controls application engineer for about two years.

Then [the] Vietnam [War] came along, and I went in the Air Force. The second day at basic training we had to choose a career field. On the board in front of us were listed critical careers desperately needed in the Air Force at that time.

Hvac technician was first on the list so I was told I had to chose that because of my previous experience. My service duty introduced me to a large West Coast airbase where I found I was the only GI that knew anything about pneumatic controls. So for almost four years I rebuilt and repaired almost everything. I also received a lot of awards.

After my discharge, I returned to the Washington, DC, area and eventually opened my own business because of the demand. I took the tests for Master HVAC Mechanic Limited for Washington and passed. I was 28.

I attended a class in the early 70s on residential controls by another large control manufacturer and knew I wanted the instructor’s job. I loved what he did and how he trained. So I applied and got a position in the company’s commercial division, which was during the period of the nation’s gasoline and oil crisis.

I found myself in a position where office building owners and managers needed energy-saving advice and devices. So for five years I sold and designed pneumatic and electronic retrofits to commercial customers including dealing with the White House and many embassies, including the Russian Embassy.

During that time — around 1975 to 1980 — I noticed that the computer industry was strongly influencing the hvac field, and that whatever I designed and sold became obsolete, usually within a year. To shorten this story, I moved back to the West Coast for a better family life and bought and sold rental property with an old service buddy that we would renovate, including all the mechanical systems, until moving to my present city which was about 10 years ago.

In moving to the larger city I worked as a troubleshooter for three companies on systems ranging from all types of controls, refrigeration, computer rooms, central control systems, package systems of all sizes to process control and hvac systems.

The one thing I found during this period is that the only way I could maintain my level of skill was to work on my own. So I have been self-employed for about five years now and mainly work from customer referrals.

This is a very brief summation of where my years have taken me. Writing about the various systems I have experienced, such as B-52 flight simulators that required equipment cooling or troubleshooting the newer electronically run equipment, could go on for days.

As for the introduction of package units in the 60s, I did not experience that. I may be splitting hairs, but I remember their introduction and wide use in the early 70s. In my point of view, package units were and are one of the best inventions in this industry. There are only two differences I see in modern day package units from the original designs. One, introduction of electronic controls including flame controls. Two, present day introduction of scroll compressors.

As for cap tubes and/or expansion valves — in my estimation the cap tube was introduced to package systems as a cost-saving device by the manufacturers and for no other reason. I do remember technicians arguing about the pros and cons about cap tubes vs. expansion valves.

The only field drawback I would run into from time to time was proper charging of these cap tube systems. Back then we did not “weigh” in a system’s charge. We never heard of such a thing. We would charge the systems by somewhat of a “balance” point of view. Temperatures and pressures were considered that were taken across the evaporator coil temperature drop ( i.e., Delta Ts). Also the feel of the suction line and the head pressure were taken into consideration. We were concerned about “super heat” but only from a point of view of the operation of the expansion valve. I think this is what caused many technicians to feel out in left field when attempting to charge cap tube systems. Many of them thought cap tubes only belonged in domestic refrigerators.

During the 70s, I replaced a 5-ton cooling tower on top of an office building in Washington, DC on an Easter Sunday during the time period when the Metro subway system was being dug. I know because I had to hire a very large crane and one of the concerns was whether the weight of the crane would exceed the ability of the covers above the tunnel to hold.

In my estimation, the hvacr industry will transition through a dramatic change in the next 10 to 15 years. Where possible, systems will become more componentized, therefore requiring less skilled labor because only replacement will be necessary at a system failure. Continued talk about a shortage of highly skilled technicians will be only that — talk. If our industry truly has a shortage, economic and physical forces would have already moved in to relieve that shortage. All we are experiencing is a temporary and painful transition period while manufacturers and designers design and build around systems that require skilled craftsman for installation, maintenance and troubleshooting. We are quickly turning into a throwaway society through our “plug-and-play” mentalities and technologies.

This field has been a dynamic, challenging, and exciting field for my last 39 years. I have been privileged to hold a set of gauges in my hands and make machinery work the way it is supposed to. And, I still use that same set of gauges today. I have been privileged to work with some of the nicest and most intelligent people walking this earth. But in today’s world where all hands-on, sense-centered skilled trades such as nursing, auto technicians, plumbers, carpenters, and generalized mechanics are also fading away, I can only say that I am glad I got into this field and am sad to see what I have experienced passing.


George Caton

A Leader and a Gentleman

I read aboutThe Newsand its request for stories to mark its 75th anniversary and hvacr history. The name of the late Roy Poage immediately comes to mind when I think of hvacr history. The one word that describes Poage isgentleman, and the dictionary should have a picture of Poage alongside the definition of that word.

When I joined Pameco-Aire in the late 70s, Poage was the president. Pameco instituted a project where they took all of the people like myself who knew nothing about hvacr and trained them from the bottom up. I am still in the industry because of the training.

When Poage would visit a branch, such as the Seattle branch where I worked, he would come by himself, not with an entourage. He would not disrupt the flow of business and only asked questions as needed. He always took time to talk with anyone who needed him — and I had no qualms about approaching him with any ideas, questions, or suggestions.

Under Poage’s leadership, Pameco-Aire was a leader in training and rewarding achievement. In-house training and correspondence courses were always encouraged, and he gave out partial reimbursement for out-of-pocket expenses. Profit sharing, advancement, and salary reviews were a part of the business under Poage; and it was definitely the best business to work for.

I feel that it is important to remember him and to let his family and former associates know how well he is thought of. In the world of wholesaling, Poage set a very high example for others to follow.

Phil Ayers

Parts Manager

Wyatt Refrigeration Co.

Everett, WA

Some Things Never Change

We at ACCA would like to congratulateThe Newson your 75th anniversary and thank you for bringing information to our industry for three-quarters of a century. We wish you continued success throughout this new century.

We visited our archives from 1926 when ACCA was then the National Warm Air Heating and Ventilating Association (NWAHVA). While certainly technological, scientific, and mechanical changes have been made for the better over the last three-quarters of a century, our archives show that many of the business aspects of the hvacr industry haven’t changed that much. The November 1926 NWAHVA monthly bulletin ran an article titled “The Furnace Installer: A Frank Talk on Competition.” [Editor’s Note: For the complete text of the article, see page 21.] By changing just a few references, this article could be about today’s hvacr contractors battling for fair competition with utilities, coming to terms with manufacturers, or putting together a solid business plan to ensure success.

The feature article focuses on the issue of “unfair competition” from dealers “who sell cheap goods and who sell to a cheap market on almost any price they can get.” It goes on to state that, “by [practicing] methods of good business, good workmanship, and intelligent service…customers cannot be won over by any argument or inducements.”

In conclusion the article points out that, “If a dealer really sells his goods — not just takes ‘phone orders; if he sells goods of quality, installs them according to standard code, gets a good price for them and then stands back of them with honest service, he need fear no competition for there is always a ready market for that kind of merchandising in any community.”

Whether in 2001 or 1926, those are words for contractors to live by.

In another issue, the author of the recurring “Furnace Installer” series asks, “[Wouldn’t it] be interesting to know how many furnace dealers there are in this country who are living today and doing business a generation ago[?] Their thoughts, habits and whole point of view are based on conditions that prevailed when dad wore side whiskers.”

Today all you need to do is replace “side whiskers” with “bell bottoms” when considering present-day contractors operating a generation ago. Clearly the issue of “changing with the times” is still a topical concern of the hvacr contracting industry.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Contractors should take comfort in knowing that while the times and technologies have changed for the better, the daily business problems (and solutions) you face are not unique and tie in significantly to our heritage.

Larry Taylor,


Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA)

Publication date:04 30/2001