Founder of Franklin Equipment Co. dies

Published 9:26 am Wednesday, July 4, 2012

FRANKLIN—Roger Drake, founder of the former Franklin Equipment Co., died Sunday at age 90.

“He was a self-made man,” said Clyde Parker, who worked for Drake’s logging machinery company for 40 years. “He was a very unusual man. He built his company from scratch to become a worldwide competitor with John Deere and Caterpillar.”

Juanita Drake said her husband of 30 years passed at the family home on Drake Road, Franklin. Roger Drake’s health had been failing for about a year. He suffered from kidney failure in May 2011 and had been on dialysis. His mobility had been limited since October.

Drake founded Franklin Equipment in 1962. Located across the Blackwater River in southern Isle of Wight County, the company manufactured diesel-logging tractors, primarily for the timber industry.

In the mid-1980s, the company peaked with 350 employees in Franklin and a total of 400 with a foundry in Independence, Ore. Franklin Equipment also had a plant in Elmira, Ontario, Canada, until the late 1970s, Parker said.

Franklin Equipment owned a retail sales and service outlet in Louisburg, N.C., and outlets in 25 states and eight countries. In 1990, the company purchased its competitor in Talladega, Ala. — Tree Farmer Equipment — and began making its machinery.

Franklin Equipment was known for the Franklin Logger, for which Roger Drake had patents. The machine — used to drag logs from the woods — was made with oversized tires instead of tracks and featured an articulate center steering section, which made it easier to maneuver, Parker said.

“He was a pioneer,” Parker said.

The human resources manager until the company closed in 2009, Parker said Drake was an equal opportunity employer when it came to minorities and women.

“He gave those people supervisory positions early on,” Parker said.

The economy attributed to Franklin Equipment’s demise.

“It was unfortunate the company went out of business,” Parker said. “In this world economy we are now in ….”

A resident of Franklin since 1942, Drake was a member of Franklin Baptist Church for 52 years, a lifelong supporter of the Boy Scouts and instrumental in starting the James L. Camp Jr. YMCA in Franklin.

He also served as the first chairman of the board of directors at Paul D. Camp Community College and was on its Foundation Board of Directors.

PDCCC recently named Drake director emeritus of the Foundation Board. He was the first Foundation Board member to be honored with this distinction.

Drake provided service to the college as an active member of the Foundation Board of Directors since 1997 and supported the Regional Workforce Development Center with professional and financial contributions. Roger Drake’s son, Wilson Drake Jr. called his father a modest man.

“He was in the forefront of his industry,” Wilson Drake said. “I had the honor of working with my dad.”