After two years of law school and four years in sales for other companies Andy Ulven decided that “hot metal” was in his blood, and that he wanted to control his own destiny. Andy and his wife, Diane, purchased Molalla Iron Works with $3,000 from her savings account. Located in Molalla, Oregon this was a two-man operation producing low volume products, mostly pins and repair parts, on a 500 pound Little Giant trip hammer. As a custom, open die shop they filled the one and two-item orders that larger companies turned away. Order by order Ulven Forging earned a reputation for on-time delivery, quality products, and fair prices. In 1973 they moved the plant to an open building in Hubbard, Oregon that had housed a brick and tile factory back in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s. The approximately 13,000 square foot building was on four acres and is still in use today.
From its open die forging roots Ulven Forging has expanded its capabilities to include closed die hammer forging, press forging, upset forging, and machining. Today they are known to be one of the most versatile forge shops in the U.S.
In 1986, after several years of talks and negotiations, Andy and Diane purchased the assets of Skookum/Rope Master from DRH-Johnson. Skookum was established in Portland, Oregon in 1890 as Columbia Engineering Works and manufactured boilers, wigwam burners, and other items for the area’s loggers and sawmills. They began repairing damaged logging blocks as a side business, and loggers would request to have them strengthened and beefed up - “make them Skookum”. The transition from repairing to complete manufacturing of blocks for logging use followed quickly. In the early 1920’s the name was officially changed to The Skookum Company. Today, while continuing to serve the timber industry, Skookum also serves customers in defense, petroleum, vehicle manufacturing, infrastructure, commercial fishing, maritime, and general rigging industries. In addition to products developed by Skookum over the years they manufacture well-known product lines developed by companies they have acquired.
When Ulven's expanding customer base suggested that they get in the foundry business to supply them with quality castings Andy took them seriously, went to an auction and bought a foundry, and set it up on the Whisky Hill property where Ulven Forging and Skookum were located. In 1989 Wolf Steel Foundry poured its first heat of steel and has continued to grow ever since. Wolf serves customers in petroleum, defense, infrastructure, recreation, food processing, pump manufacturing, and several other industries. in 2013 they embarked on an expansion project that doubled their capacity.
In 1995 Ulven Forging teamed with Brookway Manufacturing Corporation, a CNC machine shop, to provide forged and machined cross brace lattice work for the renovation of the Brooklyn Bridge. After the successful completion of this project Ulven purchased Brookway, which added CNC Machining capabilities to their portfolio. This acquisition was instrumental in Ulven’s growth because it allowed them to bring in-house what has become one of their key strengths, the ability to provide precision machined forgings and castings that meet the customers’ specifications and are ready to use.
In 1996 Houston Structures was incorporated to acquire the assets of STX Structures in Houston, Texas. Ulven Forging and Wolf Steel had been supplying forgings and castings to STX for years, making this a natural acquisition. Houston Structures’ primary focus is on infrastructure projects that use wire rope and bridge strand assemblies, such as suspension bridges, stadiums, towers, and dams. In 2003 Houston Structures was moved to Oregon and located in the same industrial area as the other Ulven companies. This move created a closer working relationship with the other companies and enhanced their ability to develop practical solutions to complex projects.
In 1998 the Ulvens purchased Hale Iron Works, a company founded by the Hale family in Rossville, Georgia in 1930. They were a well known manufacturer of oblong master links and pear shaped links for the rigging industry and of other small forgings. They continued to operate in Georgia until 2011 when the equipment and inventories were moved to Oregon and incorporated into the other Ulven companies. The Hale Iron Works product line has been integrated into Skookum's product line and can be found in the Skookum catalog.
In October 2013 Skookum acquired the brand name and all of the intellectual property for the SOWA line of oil field blocks, hooks, and shackles. SOWA was founded as a general blacksmith shop in Woodburn, Oregon in 1898, and became a leader in oil field products in the 1980’s. The SOWA name is synonymous with quality and service, and this tradition continues under Skookum. The addition of the SOWA line, coupled with Skookum’s state of the art engineering and manufacturing, brings a world class line of oil field products to market from a single source.
From a single hammer in a small shed in Mollala, the Ulven companies (Ulven Forging, Skookum, Wolf Steel, and Houston Structures) have grown steadily and now occupy over 159,500 square feet of building on 34.5 acres. From the beginning the Ulven family has maintained a commitment to customer service and to taking care of their employees. They believe that maintaining this commitment will carry them well into future.
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