Two of northeast Arkansas’ conveyor manufacturers have deep roots in the region’s farming tradition, going back a half-century and more.
Gay W. Roach Sr. moved to Trumann from Marked Tree in 1953 to manage a cotton compress and warehouse. He arrived with a store of technical knowledge he’d gleaned from German prisoners of war, mostly well-educated pilots, who had labored for him on World War II construction projects.
Roach recognized that his compress needed a much better way of weighing, moving and tagging massive bales of cotton. The conveyor system he devised for that job became the foundation for Roach Manufacturing Corp., later rebranded as Roach Conveyors.
“Cotton bales were dad’s first patent back in 1953,” said Mike Roach, the company’s vice president for production and manufacturing. “At that time the bales were moved by hand. No motors, just a lot of people using two-wheel hand dollies.”
Inspiration struck. “Dad designed and manufactured a conveyor system, and he used a war surplus forklift to set bales up on the conveyor for weighing and tagging.” The system eliminated the need for 16 workers and was so successful the cotton company wanted to buy it and move it to one of its bigger cotton compresses.
“Dad saw the writing on the wall, went out and got a patent and moved the manufacturing operation to a local site so he could start selling that product to his company and putting the system into cotton warehouses across the United States.”
Gay Willie Roach Sr. died at age 86 in 2012, “active to the last day.” His children continue to own and operate the business, which is expecting $70 million in revenue this year. Mike Roach is vice president of production and manufacturing, his elder brother G.W. Roach Jr. is CEO, and his sister Margaret Parks is an executive VP.
“G.W. is the CEO and the man in charge, but he never tells me or Margaret what to do,” Mike Roach said. “Dad worked us all, and we know our jobs and we do them.”
Nine years after Roach Manufacturing was born in Trumann, Hytrol Conveyor Co. Inc. sprang up a dozen miles northwest in a field on the outskirts of Jonesboro.
“Hytrol was started by one man, Tom Loberg, and he was dedicated to producing conveyor systems,” said Paul Mixon, an engineering professor at Arkansas State University. “He built the factory in the middle of farmland, and now the city has grown out around it. But I don’t think it’s a coincidence that a hotbed of conveyor manufacturing developed smack in the middle of farm country. It’s our bread and butter.” Loberg died in 2004.
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