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Running a business for nearly 100 years

By |  June 27, 2016

The moving and sand-and-gravel industries don’t go hand in hand, but that’s exactly how William H. Willard managed to start Bill Willard Inc., a family aggregates business in the early 1930s in Florence, Mass.

Bill Willard, William’s grandson, owns the western Massachusetts-based sand-and-gravel operation today. Bill says his grandfather saved money from his moving and storage business to start the sand-and-gravel business, which was a big feat considering he launched it at the height of the Great Depression.

“I think he just saw a light at the end of the tunnel and realized aggregates were where he needed to go,” Bill says.

William H. Willard, founder of Bill Willard Inc., started his sand-and-gravel operation with money he made from his moving business called Bill Willard the Mover. The moving business continued to operate until the 1950s. Photos courtesy of Bill Willard Inc.

William H. Willard, founder of Bill Willard Inc., started his sand-and-gravel operation with money he made from his moving business called Bill Willard the Mover. The moving business continued to operate until the 1950s. Photos courtesy of Bill Willard Inc.

When William launched Bill Willard Inc., he had no prior experience in the aggregates industry. Being a newcomer to the industry didn’t scare William away from constructing his own washing and screening plant for the site. Bill says his grandfather likely had to do a lot of research for this as a novice in the aggregates industry.

In the 1930s, William built a washing and screening plant out of wood from a local lumber mill with some help from employees who were family and friends.

While it was a little unusual for William to build the plants out of wood – most washing and screening plants were made of steel at the time – Bill says his grandfather had to be thrifty as a result of the Great Depression.

William also placed a small crusher near the handmade washing and screening plant and added a rotary screen at the top of the plant.

Billi Willard, William’s great granddaughter and vice president of the company, says William didn’t make any updates to the washing and screening plant until after World War II.

She says production levels and demand began to increase after the war, so William decided to make some additions to his washing and screening plant, doubling its size.

A local Massachusetts newspaper ran a photo of Bill Willard Inc.’s original wooden washing and screening plant, built by William H. Willard in 1934.

A local Massachusetts newspaper ran a photo of Bill Willard Inc.’s original wooden washing and screening plant, built by William H. Willard in 1934.

William recruited help from his employees and the owner of Eessco, a New England equipment distributor, to construct additions on the plant. William completed the steel structure in the early 1950s.

“When my great grandfather put the wood and steel plants together, the owner of Eessco would even come out and stay at his house while helping to build the plants,” she says.

More than 60 years later, the steel portion of the washing and screening plant still stands at Bill Willard Inc. To the Willards, the plant serves as more than just a tool to do business. It’s an antique that represents the company’s early years.

“That plant is pretty much the original way my grandfather William built it,” Bill says.

Billi adds that the company installed two more stone bins to the washing and screening plant since William built it, but she says that’s been the only major change.

The company keeps up on the machine’s maintenance, meeting Mine Safety & Health Administration standards so it can remain at the plant.

Operations today

Today, the washing and screening plant constructed by William H. Willard still operates at Bill Willard Inc.

Today, the washing and screening plant constructed by William H. Willard still operates at Bill Willard Inc.

Only a couple things have changed throughout Bill Willard Inc.’s history, including a crusher, the trucks and some people. Bill also added recycling to the business in the late 1980s, when he noticed gravel supply was running low.

“It’s near impossible to get a permit to expand operations around here,” Bill says. “Adding a recycling side to the business saved some of the raw gravel here, and it did other people in the area a favor by protecting the environment.”

Aside from those things, Bill says much of the business has remained the same over the years.

Even though almost a century has passed, Bill Willard Inc. retains its focus on the family at the operation. Billi says the company also makes sure employees not in the family feel like part of the family.

Billi is a fourth-generation owner at the company, and she hopes her son will mark the fifth generation someday.

“This company stayed in our family in Massachusetts due to dedication,” she says. “We hope to keep this a family-operated sand-and-gravel business as long as we can.”

About the Author:

Megan Smalley is the associate editor of Pit & Quarry. Contact her at msmalley@northcoastmedia.net or 216-363-7930.

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