Steel In Business
story and photos: Wyatt Olson
80 YEARS OF GERLINGER STEEL
Anyone who has driven through downtown Redding has likely noticed the large red sign emblazoned with, “Gerlinger Steel and Supply,” but few realize that inside those retro brick buildings operates one of the oldest companies in Redding. Gerlinger Steel opened 80 years ago and has been involved with some of the most groundbreaking and important construction projects in Northern California, such as Shasta Dam, Keswick Dam, Interstate 5 and more.
Fred Gerlinger Sr. and his son, E.E. “Bert” Gerlinger, founded this landmark Redding business as Gerlinger Foundry and Machine Works in 1929. The poor health of Fred’s wife encouraged the family to move from Salem, Ore., shortly before this. They came for the hot, dry climate in hopes that it would help bring her back to good health. “It must have worked because she lived to be nearly 100 years old,” says current company president Fred Gerlinger, Bert’s son.
The early 1930s were not an easy time for anyone, and for Gerlinger, cash was short. According to Fred Gerlinger, Bert was once in danger of not making payroll back then because a customer owed him money. Turns out that this customer had the same problem as Bert - his client hadn’t paid yet. Being insistent, Bert went to his customer’s customer and got the same story. “So he kept following the trail, getting the same story every time, until he finally got someone to pay, and that person paid the next, and so on until his customer paid him, allowing Bert to make payroll.”
As the company matured, the types of services and products that it offered changed and evolved. In the 1930s, when a client failed to pay on several gold dredgers, the company began mining gold with them for a short time to make up money lost. The 1940s through the 1970s brought many infrastructure projects to Northern California, including Shasta, Trinity, Keswick and Oroville Dams, Interstate 5, Highway 44 and various irrigation projects. Each resulted in business for Gerlinger. In the early 1990s, the company expanded dramatically by opening branches in Sacramento and Nevada City to better serve the Central Valley region.
Since then, the foundry has closed because of the introduction of EPA regulations, but Gerlinger has expanded its machine shop and other offerings. It now sells a variety of steel and aluminum products. Also, its extensive welding and fabrication shops can process the metals to a customer’s exact specification. It also offers an assortment of industrial supplies fasteners, pipe fittings, ornamental iron and even machinery.
Gerlinger Steel and Supply is still family owned and operated, with its third and fourth generations of family in the business. Fred and his wife Jo run the company together, and their son Tim is vice president. Their youngest son Scott also helps out his brother at the Sacramento shop. The business employs about 65 people among its three locations.
More and more businesses are changing their products to keep up with the rapid adoption of “green” materials, but as Fred Gerlinger says, “Metal sales and metal recycling is one of the original ‘green’ businesses, as most metals are easily recycled and many products can be made from metal.” In fact, 95% percent of all the metals that Gerlinger sells are recycled. Also, the company’s delivery trucks have nearly tripled in fuel mileage in just 25 years and can haul more than ever, helping to keep fewer vehicles on the road. Even with those improvements, Gerlinger has also made it a mission to cut down further on waste and trash within the company, reusing everything.
“We even use the flip sides of office paper before discarding them in the recycle bins,” says Fred. They’ve reduced their trash from 16 yards a week to only four, even while product sales increased substantially.
Many things have changed in Redding over the years, but one thing will always stay the same, Fred Gerlinger promises: “As with the past 80 years, we will continue to work with customers to serve their present needs and adjust our goods and services to provide for their future needs.”