Ebenhard, Dale and Mike Gandrud
He was a man with meager beginnings, growing up on a dairy farm in rural Becker County. Ebenhard S. Gandrud attended school in a one-room schoolhouse through the eighth grade, later attending the Crookston School of Agriculture (a high-school equivalent of a boarding school), from which he graduated in 1921. It was during his years in Crookston that “he gained his nickname ‘Gandy,’ said his son, Dale. During the height of the Depression, he attended and graduated from the University of Minnesota College of Agriculture in St. Paul in 1932.
“There was little or nothing during the Depression. Everything had a purpose, nothing was wasted. Generations of families lived together,” Dale recalled, noting that his great-grandparents lived with his father’s family. “Not only did they share their resources to live, but they shared every piece of information young Gandy had learned and consequently brought home with him from school.”
While he was attending college in St. Paul, the University hired Gandy to manage their herd of dairy cows. In exchange, he had access to all the milk and cream he could consume. “It was how he survived, how he paid his way through college,” Dale said of his father.
“After graduation, Dad was hired as a county agent in Pipestone for a salary of $120 a month. This was during the AAA (Agricultural Adjustment Act) acreage set-aside era, and it was Dad’s job to measure the land each farmer had. Now the farmers knew the existing measurements were wrong, and Dad was frustrated that he could never get the same measurement twice in a row. Dad came up with a folding one- rod measuring wheel, which was later patented,” Dale said.
With the success of the measuring wheel, orders started coming in that needed to be filled, but Gandy had no place in which to manufacture and ship the product. A trip to Owatonna to visit his wife’s former college roommate showed Gandy the advantages of setting up shop in the small town, Dale said.
“There were major roadways running in five directions in and out of Owatonna, not to mention three major railroads through town. So Dad went to see the city Postmaster. Back in those days, the postmaster was doing double-duty as the local Chamber of Commerce, too – the Postmaster knew everyone and everything. He suggested a place for Gandy to set up shop,” Dale explained.
“On August 1, 1936, with a $100 loan from the Pipestone First National Bank, Mr. and Mrs. E.S. Gandrud set up their first office on Mill Street, behind the old jail. Mother was the secretary and bookkeeper, and she drove Dad to all of his business meetings. Dad was the chief salesman and head of manufacturing for the measuring wheel, but he also continued inventing things,” Dale said.
During that same period, at the start of World War II, Gandy had also designed and built a spreader-seeder, Dale said. “The war effort required all the excess steel in the country, but the U.S. Army Air Corps needed to land planes on the sandy soil of Japan. They soon discovered the spreader worked very well for seeding proposed landing strips to hold the sand from being pulled into airplane motors, and Dad never had any trouble getting the steel needed to build them,” he laughed. Dale said the advent of dry fertilizer and farm chemicals around the same period also increased the popularity of the patented seeder-spreader.
By this time, the business had outgrown its little facility on Mill Street and Gandy was looking to relocate the operation to larger quarters. They moved into the basement of the Journal Chronicle Building downtown, which is now a part of the Wells Fargo Bank building.
“It was a better location, gave the company a little more space to grow into,” he said, laughing as he recalled long-shared stories about the actual logistics for receiving raw materials and getting finished product out of the building. “There was no loading dock. I’m told they had to cut long lengths of metal pipe into smaller pieces just to get them through the ground-level windows into the shop. Finished product had to be sent back out through those same windows and re-assembled outside so they could be shipped,” he laughed, shaking his head.
By 1943, it was time to move again, and the facility was moved to its present site. The building has expanded through more than a dozen additions since then. Public record shows the business operated originally as a partnership between Gandy and his wife, Edith, and then as the E.S. Gandrud Corporation. Since the “Gandy” name was on the products they made, the name of the company was changed to Gandy Company in 1958.
President of Gandy Company since the 1970’s, Dale Gandrud earned his business degree from the University of Minnesota, and later earned is Masters’ Degree in Agronomy. “The United States was engaged in the Vietnam War at that time, but I wasn’t called up. But I did serve as a commissioned officer in the Army ROTC,” he said proudly.
While he is proud of everything Gandy Company has accomplished since 1936, he likes to emphasize that the company is ISO Certified. “That helps keep us very self-sufficient. Through the years, our people have learned to do all the tasks needed to build Gandy equipment, from running a punch press, bending pipe, welding and fabrication to doing our own powder-coating. Because we can do these tasks and have gotten the ISO Certification, we can continue to not only assemble our own products from start to finish, but we can take on shop work for other companies during our down times. We don’t want to lay off staff if we can help it. I think it’s a great spirit of cooperation between all of our departments and our people that makes us continue as strongly today as we did in the early years.”
That sentiment was echoed by Dale’s son Mike, who returned to Owatonna and his family’s company about five years ago with three degrees in Engineering and his sights set towards the future.
“I’ve spent time all around the world, working to gain multi-national experience for the good of the Gandy Company, including two years in Shanghai, China,” he said, adding that he really values the dedication, hard work and willingness to learn new things he’s experienced with Gandy’s more than 50 employees.
“Everyone was very welcoming when I came on, and I’m really looking forward to everything that is possible in this company’s future. We work hard, share ideas and listen to each other, respect opinions and learn from what we already know. Our staff believes in the “What If?” and that’s why we have so many United States patents, so many patented parts and products,” Mike added.
- Authored By Lisa Richmond