GLEN LYN, Va. – A fabricator in Glen Lyn, Va., is back up and running after a fire in November 2021 severely damaged the 100,000 square feet. establishment.
Production of enclosed trailers at the Interstate Group plant resumed on Monday.
The facility, located in the former GE Fairchild factory on Fairchild Lane, began full production in 2018 with 50 employees after former Governor Terry McAuiliffe was on hand for the 2017 announcement that the USA-based company Idaho would move there and invest $4.1 million.
Interstate designs, manufactures and markets trailers, offering radius and flat top car carriers, multi-purpose recreational and snowmobile trailers, motorcycle/ATV trailers, cargo/construction trailers and utility trailers.
All products are sold at their TrailersPlus retail stores.
Anthony Hecker, production manager at the Glen Lyn plant, said he arrived in May 2018 after moving from Arizona and production increased that year, continuing until the day after Thanksgiving. , November 26.
“I got a call around 5 a.m.,” he said. “When I got here, the back of the building was completely engulfed in flames.”
Someone passing on Rt. 460 saw the flames and reported the blaze to the Giles County Sheriff’s Department, thinking it was a wildfire because the flames were so high, a he added.
Hecker said the fire started in the “tool cabin” where a propane heater was located.
For some reason, when the igniter clicked automatically, it kept clicking, he said, referring to what was shown and heard in surveillance footage recovered from inside the building. Then a huge “whoosh” was heard as the leaking propane ignited.
A valve malfunction may be the cause.
“There wasn’t really an explosion,” he said. “We lost 3,000 gallons of propane…and it was a very hot fire,” so hot the roof beams crumbled.
Fire crews who responded included those from Glen Lyn, Oakvale, Rich Creek, Narrows, Pearisburg and the Celanese, he said, and the Celanese brought a ladder truck.
One of the Interstate employees is also a volunteer firefighter and was one of the first on the scene. He quickly turned the emergency stop on two huge propane tanks only about 100 feet from the fire.
Hecker said the fire was only contained to part of the rear section, including an office and bathroom as well as the tool crib.
However, much of the installation was damaged by heat and water.
After the fire, as many workers as possible came to help clean up, but numbers were limited for safety reasons. McDonald’s, Hardee’s, Food Lion and Walmart helped provide them with food and drink.
Servpro was also called in to start professional cleaning.
Hecker said all employees were kept on payroll and doing what they could. Call center staff were working from home. “The company allowed us to ride.”
Servpro have cleaned the entire installation, including the removal of insulation, and the company remains on site as general contractor to ensure that all electrical, plumbing and other work are finished.
After being shut down for just over three months, production resumed on Monday.
But since the restoration work has not been completed, the production line only has a capacity of 400 feet, so 37 employees are working.
“We should be back to 600 feet and full production this year,” he said, and then all 50 employees will be working.
Full production means about seven or eight trailers built per day, or about 2,000 years.
“It fluctuates depending on the size of the trailers,” Hecker said, adding that the facility also builds custom trailers.
Kevin Covey, another production manager who moved here from Arkansas, said he’s been at the plant since it opened.
Covey said no one initially knew how long it would take before production could resume after the fire, but Servpro then gave them a deadline of around March 1.
“The electricians did an incredible job of seeing what they could power,” he said. “They were able to power this part (final stages of work on the trailers) first, then temporary power to get the office back up and running. They’ve recovered one section at a time and they’re almost to the point where we’re going to have full power in the factory. »
Any of the three on-site production managers can oversee each production area, the entire factory, he added.
“We all work together,” Hecker said.
All stages of trailer production are carried out at the factory, including construction of the steel frame, attachment of a chassis, construction and installation of walls, interior and “skin” , or exterior metal.
All wiring is completed, lights installed, undercoating done on site and even decals are placed on each trailer.
This is why, at full production, a 600ft. production line is needed to complete the whole process.
Hecker said many different sizes of trailers are made with the longest 28 feet. Three sizes of dump trailers are also manufactured on site.
The final product exits the back door of the Glen Lyn factory and goes directly to the company’s TrailerPlus outlets.
“We ship to 14 stores (in this region),” Hecker said, but the company has 80 stores across the country. “The nearest store here is in Charleston, and the one in Linwood, North Carolina. There’s also a store in Morgantown.”
Interstate has four manufacturing plants, the others in Nampa, Idaho, Conway, Ari. and Kingman, Ari.
Hecker said the Kingman facility is the largest.
“They build as many trailers in a day as we build here in a week,” he said.
Not only was last year’s fire unlucky, but Hecker said in late July 2021 that heavy rains had collapsed the roof of part of the facility, so the renovation of that part is also in progress.
“We called this area ‘the hotel’,” he said, because it served as accommodation for visitors, whether for training or just to visit the factory.
“Fortunately no one was in that area at the time,” he said.
Hecker said the plant has seen fires and rain, so maybe in 2022 everything will be back to normal, with no wind.
— Contact Charles Boothe at [email protected]