Century-old companies are business leaders in communities across Kentucky, but Pittsburg Tank & Tower Group of Henderson turns 100 years old this year as an industry leader with clients around the globe. Mostly it designs and builds but it also performs maintenance and sometimes dismantles water tanks and communications towers, said Ben Johnston, president and owner.
Some of its 400 employees occasionally spend all their working hours in precarious positions more than 100 feet – or even several hundred feet – off the ground.
In addition to recently redoing all 14 Kentucky Educational Television broadcast towers and building more than 100 towers for Appalachian Wireless in Eastern Kentucky, PTTG has products in 54 countries, Johnston said.
The company, which has annual revenues of $75 million to $80 million, has put in facilities for terminals in Russia, Australia, South America, Nigeria and other African nations, Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Marshall Islands, he said, and NASA called in Pittsburg Tank & Tower Group to inspect a derrick the space agency needed to take down to analyze how best to dismantle the rig.
PTTG designs and builds tanks for fuel, milk, corn, dry pellets of all types, hemp and many other liquids and solids, but its origins are in water tanks and smokestack maintenance. Joseph Boyd McClelland began the company in 1919 in small, rural unincorporated Pittsburg, Missouri.
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The exact date is lost, so the company will observe its platinum anniversary all year long with the highlight coming in August with a variety of events out in Henderson that involve the community.
Cloyce McClelland, son of the founder, moved the company in the 1940s to, oddly enough, another town named Pittsburg, this one in southeast Kansas. It remained there for four decades until Don Johnston, a longtime subcontractor for then-PT&T who had his own Globe Industrial Contractors, bought it and moved the merged operations to his hometown of Henderson in 1983.
The Johnston family – current president Ben is the son of Don – started Allstate Tower to provide turnkey solutions to the communications industry. In 2012, PTTG was formed to oversee Pittsburg Tank & Tower, Allstate Tower and Pittsburg Tank & Tower Maintenance.
Ben Johnston is a former president of the Henderson County Board of Education and PTTG has a strong relationship with the local public school system, Henderson Community College and Murray State University. PTTG has a strong safety culture now headed by Vice President of Risk Management Chris Johnston.
The E.D. Bullard Co. of Cynthiana is well into its second century, but its primary product, the iconic construction hardhat that Bullard invented, is 100 years old this year. To celebrate the anniversary, the company handed out 10,000 hats of a certain blue color at a University of Kentucky home basketball game in January.
A 121-year, fifth-generation, family-owned company, Bullard manufactures safety products for workers in the industrial health and safety, and emergency responder markets. The company’s innovative products have protected safety workers worldwide for more than 100 years and include thermal imagers, fire and rescue helmets, head and face protection, and respiratory equipment.
Having begun in 1898 in San Francisco, Edward Dickinson Bullard originally supplied carbide lamps and mining equipment to California gold and copper miners. His son E.W. returned from World War I with the idea of developing a version of the “doughboy” soldier’s helmet into mining headgear and created the Hard Boiled leather hat.
As a result of the Golden Gate Bridge project in 1932 being the first to require hard hats for its workers, who had to sand blast steel that had rusted during its long, ocean-going shipment to San Francisco Bay, Bullard recognized the need for and developed air respirators. Various respirator systems for construction and emergency workers, especially fire fighters, remain a major Bullard product line.
A more recent Bullard innovation is the thermal imager technology it developed in 1998 for firefighters, adapting a new use for military technology that had just been declassified. Fire helmets are another significant product line that is sold and used in 80 countries.
Bullard first shifted some of its operations to Cynthiana in 1972 for logistical reasons to better serve customers in the eastern United States and elsewhere. In 1993, Bullard built a new, custom-designed facility and moved all its manufacturing operations to Cynthiana.
The number of hats the 240 employees in Harrison County produce annually is propriety but is in the millions, said Wells Bullard, the current CEO. There are another 35 employees at a Lexington research and development facility and 60 more at a variety of sales and service locations, including Singapore.
Hard hats last two to five years, Bullard said, because ultraviolet rays degrade their ability to protect a worker against 8.5 pounds dropped from 6 feet. Hats are removed from service after an impact also.
Other Notable Kentucky Business Centurions
• Luckett & Farley of Louisville is one of the oldest continuously operating architectural firms in the United States and designed such landmarks as Churchill Downs, the Louisville City Hall Clock Tower and the L&N Railroad Office Building. It was founded in 1853 and is 100% owned by its employees.
• Claiborne Farm in Paris is a Thoroughbred horse farm specializing in breeding, racing and sales. Claiborne is best known for being home to Triple Crown champion Secretariat, including his gravesite. It was founded in 1910 and today has around 120 employees during its peak seasons.
• Whayne Supply in Louisville is one of the largest Caterpillar dealerships in the world. It was founded in 1913 and now has 1,500 employees in locations across Kentucky and Southern Indiana.
• Farmers National Bank in Danville is a community bank serving Boyle County. It was founded in 1879 and has 187 employees.
• Peoples Exchange Bank in Winchester is owned and now operated by a fourth generation of the Beach family. It was founded in Beattyville in 1912 and has 103 employees.
• Milward Funeral Directors in Lexington is the city’s oldest business and is owned and operated now by a sixth generation of the family. It was founded in 1825 and has three funeral homes locations and a crematory in Lexington.
• Bavarian Waste in Walton is owned and operated by a fifth generation of the Brueggemann family. It provides waste disposal and landfilling needs in Northern Kentucky, southwest Ohio and southeast Indiana. It originated in 1901 as the Brueggemann Trucking Co. and today has 53 employees.
Mark Green is editorial director of The Lane Report. He can be reached at [email protected]