With years of experience as a mechanic, welder, and fabricator, Willie Freshour decided seven years ago to strike out and start his own business. Freshour previously worked as a heavy equipment mechanic, a welder in traditional manufacturing, and a fabricator, building off-road race cars. He had the experience and the basic equipment in his home garage to launch Freshour Precision.
“The decision to work for myself was as easy as quitting my job and going to work in my garage at first,” Freshour says.
As the business steadily grew in the first two years, Freshour realized it was time to move to a larger location. He bought a farmstead near Hortonville, Wisconsin, with his wife and began rebuilding the old machine shed as the new home for Freshour Precision. “Before I even had the building done, all of the sudden, I had like five employees, and I didn’t even have a sign out yet.”
SOLVING WITH METAL
The business swelled to 20 employees at one point, but Freshour decided he preferred a smaller operation that allowed him to maintain more control over jobs and quality. Now back to four employees, in addition to Freshour and his wife Angela, the business focuses on welding, fabrication, and repair for farming, construction, industrial, and heavy equipment customers.
“It became apparent that farmers and customers with heavy equipment have constant needs, so we set up our shop for them,” Freshour says. “They need their equipment to keep working, and they want it done as fast as possible.”
Freshour enjoys that hustle and the gratitude of customers when he saves them money by reducing their downtime. “They are losing money by the minute and we stop the bleeding. I really like that part.”
Designed as a one-stop business, Freshour Precision can machine and weld parts in the shop and also make repairs and complete installation on customer jobsites, thanks to a fleet of work trucks. “We can help with projects from start to finish,” Freshour says. “We solve problems with metal.”
VERSATILE TRUCK FLEET
The company’s work truck fleet is constantly changing as older trucks are replaced with newer models. The fleet typically totals seven or so trucks, with most work happening during spring, summer, and fall. In the summer, the business can have six or seven trucks running every day for weeks.
Trucks in the fleet range in age from 1986 to 2018 models. Freshour prefers Ford Super Duty trucks because they have heavy-duty chassis and are available in different sizes, and he’s had good luck with maintenance. He buys a lot of Class 5 trucks, which provide plenty of cargo room and hauling capacity for welding gear and other accessories. “Fully loaded, it might weigh 14,000 lbs, but you can still hook up a trailer and throw a big telehandler on it, load a bunch of steel on the roof rack, and still safely drive down the road,” Freshour says.
Outfitting the truck with the right accessories is important. Freshour and his employees frequently reorganize their work trucks to maximize space. Along with having an engine-driven welder/generator on every vehicle, key accessories include mechanic tools, rigging, an air-arc setup, grinding tools, and come-alongs. The trucks also carry ladders, personal protective gear, and safety equipment for fall protection.
During the busy season, some trucks are built out lighter, and those are typically used on new construction jobsites. Other vehicles in the fleet are more heavily stocked with equipment and tools, and those are designed for repair work. “When you’re doing emergency repair work, you have to bring everything but the kitchen sink,” Freshour says. “Repair work is very unpredictable.”
WELDING IS CRITICAL
Choosing the right welder/generator is key to completing a wide variety of jobs. Freshour typically wants a welder/generator that can power two welders simultaneously and weld up to three-inch-thick plates. The company uses mostly stick welds on customer jobsites but also needs the capabilities and tools to weld with wire when the application calls for it. “The heart of the whole operation is the welder/generator,” Freshour says. “As soon as you throw one on the back of a flatbed, you have a service truck.”
The Miller® Trailblazer® 325 gas welder/generator is a favorite for Freshour Precision. It offers fuel efficiency and reduced engine noise for a quieter jobsite, and the compact design provides space savings, so there’s plenty of room on the truck for other tools and gear. “If you’re welding with 1/8-inch 7018 electrodes, another guy can plug in with another inverter machine and weld with 1/8-inch electrodes, and the Trailblazer has plenty of power for that,” Freshour says.
The company’s mechanic-only truck also includes a crane body, therefore it has a Bobcat™ 200 Air Pak™ welder/generator on board. The rotary-screw air compressor can power air tools, including most impact wrenches, supplying 28 cfm at 175 psi and 100 percent duty cycle.
The slower winter months are a good time for Freshour Precision to thoroughly inspect the work trucks and reorganize them as needed, but it’s also important to stay on top of truck and welder/generator maintenance during the busier seasons.
“In the summer when the trucks run all week and drive a few hundred miles a day, we might spend all weekend maintaining the trucks. Just keeping up with oil changes is hard,” Freshour says. “But you can’t run your truck that many miles and your welder all day and not maintain it, or you’ll run into problems.”
Freshour knows that staying on top of regular maintenance—even during the busiest seasons—is a key part of keeping his busy fleet on the road to serve customers. He also suggests not using work trucks as personal vehicles, which helps limit the wear and tear on them.
Investing in quality equipment and tools—and taking the time for proper maintenance—are keys to success for Freshour Precision.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Joe Gitter is a technical applications specialist at Miller Electric Mfg. LLC. Miller builds advanced, solution-focused products and meets crucial needs for welding safety and health. Find out more, visit www.millerwelds.com.