Looking Back: Franklin Logger goes into production

Published 10:04 am Friday, July 13, 2012

EDITOR’S NOTE: Looking Back features past articles from The Tidewater News with commentary by local historian Clyde Parker.

July 13, 1962

Franklin Logger opens

The Manufacturing Division of Franklin Auto Supply Co., which was established to begin production of the new Franklin Logger, has evolved into a new company that will be called Franklin Equipment Co.

This new company will produce and distribute the new logging tractor. The incorporation date will be Monday, July 16.

Franklin Auto Supply will continue as a standalone auto parts business. It may be sold.

Working out of a 6,400-square-foot space in a hangar at the Franklin Airport, tractor production has begun and customers are waiting. Dealerships have been established in Williamston and New Bern, N.C.

Prior to actual production startup, Roger Drake and design engineer Walter Story worked together to fine-tune the tractor design. They put together several prototypes, which have been tested by area logging contractors.

Company President Roger Drake conceived the idea for a new type of logging-skidder, which is basically a tractor with an articulated steering section in its center and oversized rubber tires.

“These features allow for better maneuverability and less down time for maintenance and repairs,” Drake said. “The result, of course, is much better productivity. In contrast, track driven tractors produced by competitors Pettibone, John Deere and Caterpillar are far less efficient.”

• NOTE: Roger Drake died on July 1 at the age of 90. His funeral was held on July 6. Due to extreme economic circumstances, his company went out of business on Jan. 1, 2009 — a company that, over time, grew from a relatively modest business to become a worldwide major player in the timber-harvesting industry for decades.

Company production operations were centered in Franklin, where tractors were assembled. The company built and assembled tractors, and manufactured about 75 percent of its components, including axles, transmissions, hydraulic systems, etc.

A company-owned foundry in Independence, Ore., produced axle and transmission housings.

From the late 1960s, into the early 1970s, the company operated a tractor manufacturing plant in Elmira, Ontario, Canada. It was closed in 1972 in response to market conditions.

In 1990, the Drake family purchased Tree Farmer Equipment Co., a competitor in Talladega, Ala., and started producing Tree Farmer tractors. In 1991, the Talladega plant was closed and that production capacity was transferred to the Franklin location. It was like moving a new industry to Franklin. Franklin and Tree Farmer tractors were being manufactured at the Franklin plant.

The highest employment level, at all locations, reached about 400. Over the years, more than 6,000 worked at Franklin Equipment Co.

At the time of its closing, in addition to its facilities in Franklin and Independence, the company had 125 dealerships in 25 states including two that were company-owned in Franklin, Va., and Louisburg, N.C. And, there were dealers and distributors in Canada, Ecuador, France, Indonesia, Mexico, Peru, Russia and China.

Earlier, there were company-owned dealerships in Washington, N.C., and Wallace, N.C., and there were dealerships in several additional countries.

Today, even though Franklin Equipment Co. no longer exists, the Franklin and Tree Farmer logo can still be seen on tractors (and on signs) across the country and around the world.

Roger Drake — a man with tremendous ambition, perseverance and vision — was remembered last week by his family, former employees, industry associates and community. His impact on the timber-harvesting industry is well recognized and will be remembered for years.

Drake’s contributions to and involvement in Western Tidewater are hard to measure, and any effort to describe his total impact would be an understatement.)


John E. Ray III of Franklin has been promoted to vice president of the Bleached Products Division of Union Bag-Camp Paper Corp.

Ray will continue as resident manager of the Franklin mill. He will oversee two subsidiary-converting plants in Atlanta. One produces the school supplies Write Right, and one makes folding cartons and labels known as Miller and Miller. Ray also will oversee a new Write Right plant in Franklin, Ohio.

CLYDE PARKER is a retired human resources manager for the former Franklin Equipment Co. and a member of the Southampton County Historical Society. His email address is ParkerC@seva-redcross.org.