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posted: 6/7/2014 8:00 AM

Industrial tradition being razed in Libertyville

Old manufacturing plant was ngrained in Libertyville community

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  • Crews continue the demolition of a portion of the former Frank G. Hough Co. in Libertyville. About 3,000 people once worked at the industrial campus making heavy equipment at what became an innovator in the field.

       Crews continue the demolition of a portion of the former Frank G. Hough Co. in Libertyville. About 3,000 people once worked at the industrial campus making heavy equipment at what became an innovator in the field.
    Mick Zawislak | Staff Photographer

  • Materials are being recycled as part of the former Frank G. Hough Co., which manufactured heavy equipment from a campus of buildings on Route 176 in Libertyville.

       Materials are being recycled as part of the former Frank G. Hough Co., which manufactured heavy equipment from a campus of buildings on Route 176 in Libertyville.
    Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

  • The assembly department at Frank G. Hough Co. is shown in this historic photo by Carl Ullrich.

      The assembly department at Frank G. Hough Co. is shown in this historic photo by Carl Ullrich.
    Courtesy of Lake County Discovery Museum

  • Hough-International Harvester employees with the PAYloader tractor shovel at the Libertyville manufacturing plant circa 1965.

      Hough-International Harvester employees with the PAYloader tractor shovel at the Libertyville manufacturing plant circa 1965.
    Courtesy of Lake County Discovery Museum

 
 

The rumble of trucks hauling debris has been continuous, as a link to Libertyville's industrial past slowly is erased.

Demolition crews have been at work for weeks removing buildings along Route 176, just west of the Des Plaines River, that were once part of the Frank G. Hough Co.

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About 3,000 people once worked at the industrial campus making heavy equipment at what became an innovator in heavy equipment and the world's largest manufacturer of rubber-tired tractor shovels.

And besides being among the largest employers in Lake County, the company also became synonymous with Libertyville.

Mayor Terry Weppler remembers touring Hoover Dam on the border of Nevada and Arizona as a kid in the 1950s and seeing a huge Hough tractor with his hometown displayed beneath the company name.

"We were a company town at that point," Weppler said. But that was generations ago, and new uses are planned for a portion of the property.

Bridge Development Partners LLC of Chicago is developing 21 acres on the western portion of the site. Buildings being demolished will be replaced with a warehouse/distribution facility, and a second building also is in future plans.

The pair will total more than 400,000 square feet and represent what village officials consider a substantial modernization of the World War II-era property.

Frank G. Hough was a mining engineer and inventor, who came up with the idea of using hydraulically operated mobile equipment to move loads of materials. He founded the company in Chicago and opened a plant in Libertyville in 1939.

His "PAYloader" was made at a time when there were no machines with shovels attached to the front or rear, and provided speed and maneuverability, said Diana Dretske, a historian and collections coordinator at the Lake County Discovery Museum. According to company literature, the PAYloader was a compact machine designed to operate in boxcars.

In 1942, the company was asked to develop and make various items for the war effort. It developed equipment used in landing strip construction and for aircraft carrier deck maintenance and was recognized by the military for excellence in production.

Innovations, such as four-wheel drive, torque conversion and the hydrostatic transmission, followed. The company continued to grow with several additions and eight new buildings.

By 1952, the business in Libertyville had expanded to more than 20 times its original size. The stock was purchased by International Harvester Co. and Hough became a wholly owned subsidiary.

Many Libertyville residents started their careers at Hough out of high school and stayed for decades.

Among them was Bruce Priebe, who was with the company for 42 years beginning in 1946. He traveled for a time as a parts representative and remained in that aspect of the business.

He recalled Frank Hough as being particular in certain traits, such as requiring desk tops to be clear at the end of the day. But he also was a people person.

"He was a perfect guy just in the way he treated employees," Priebe said. "He understood the little guys' responsibilities in life compared to the big shots."

The company was a touchstone for many people, Dretske said.

"They still care about that company and feel very passionate about working there," she said.

According to Jenny Barry, a local historian at the Cook Memorial Public Library District, it was evident from old newsletters the company cared about its employees.

Hough sponsored many extracurricular activities, such as bowling leagues and team sports, dances and picnics. Newsletters were filled with birth and marriage announcements and pictures of employees showing pride in their gardens, Barry wrote in an email.

"Hough wasn't just a place to work, it was a community," she said.

The company also was active in the town as a whole, she said. Hough funded the creation of the Rose Garden in Cook Park and introduced a beautification contest with cash rewards for homes in the Copeland Manor neighborhood near the plant.

The Hough Vocalaires singing group was well-known and instrumental in raising money for the recently demolished Butler Lake band shell, Barry said.

Hough also provided funds to Libertyville High School for drafting and typing classes and promised jobs to graduates of the courses.

"They would call the high school, the steno and typing teacher, and ask for suggestions of girls ... that's how I got my job," said Faith Sage, who worked as a secretary at Hough for six years starting in 1949.

"It was the place to work," said Sage, president of the Libertyville-Mundelein Historical Society.

Hough was dissolved in 1966 and merged with the parent company. Dresser Industries bought the plant in 1981 and formed a joint venture with Komatsu Ltd., in 1988. The Libertyville plant closed in 1996 when the partnership reassessed its U.S. manufacturing capacity.

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