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Storied Sioux City manufacturer returns to familiar place
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Storied Sioux City manufacturer returns to familiar place

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SIOUX CITY -- At Rocklin Manufacturing, everything that is old is new again. Or at least, that's the case with their building. 

The longtime Sioux City manufacturer of the Rocklinizer carbide applicator and MoldMender micro-welder recently moved back into the two-story 1912 building that the company's founder, I.J. Rocklin, purchased in 1942. Originally the home of the Automatic Valve Seating Machinery Company and later Albertson & Co., the building had sat largely unused for decades. 

I.J. Rocklin founded the firm in 1934, first specializing in farm-related equipment before transitioning to war manufacturing. In the 1960s, he developed the Rocklinizer, which applies a thin coating of tungsten or titanium carbide to industrial surfaces (like the tip of a drill bit), lending an extremely durable edge. Decades later the firm developed the MoldMender, which repairs steel molds and dies. 

Ross Rocklin, I.J. Rocklin's grandson and the current president of the firm, said that up until recently the manufacturer was housed in an adjacent one-story building -- one of two hastily built during World War II, when Rocklin was pressed into service making tank escape hatches and running gear, and needed more space for 250 workers. 

Rocklin Manufacturing

Rocklin Manufacturing last year completed a refurbishing of a 1912 building, shown above in downtown Sioux City, which founder I.J. Rocklin purchased in 1942. The structure, which was originally used by the Albertson and Company, has been added to the National Register of Historic Places.

The company's wartime production earned it a prized ordnance flag, which currently hangs framed in their building. 

The manufacturer stayed put in one of the added-on structures virtually since the war. Meanwhile, the main building -- despite its sturdy bones -- began to fall into disrepair. 

"That brick building had really lost its utility and become a bit dilapidated, and not really used for much other than car storage, which wasn't really relevant to our business," Ross Rocklin said. 

When it became clear they should leave the wartime-era building, with its non-air-conditioned shop and cramped space, Rocklin decided the 106-year-old, nearly-8,000-square-foot building, with its large windows and storied architectural features, was a suitable place to house the whole works. 

"We'd really outgrown our space that we were using, and so looked to that brick building for everything that we do," Rocklin said. "And now we have much better space -- we now have a conference room and a show room, a lab where we can complete samples, we'll have much better office space and room for growth, for adding people. A much better production area, a better room dedicated to testing and quality control, a larger shipping room." 

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The move to the new-old building began shortly after the second-generation family leader, Jim Rocklin, died in January 2017 following a 25-month battle with pancreatic cancer. The company's expansion plans had been underway prior to his death. 

Ross Rocklin says the firm went out of its way to preserve and show off as much of the building's original character as possible -- its interior features the same exposed brick walls and beams visible in photos of the firm's early days. Where doors and windows needed to be replaced, they tried to keep them as authentic as possible. 

They're hoping to get the building listed on the National Register of Historic Places. 

"We really went through a lot to have the building work for us, but also have it appear the way it did historically," Rocklin said. 

The building's distinctive mural facing Gordon Drive is also being restored. Jim Rocklin's image will be added to the mural, which has long depicted I.J., smiling and dressed in a yellow jacket and red tie, standing with mid-century Rocklin workers. 

Rocklin Manufacturing

Rocklin Manufacturing's longtime mural facing Gordon Drive is undergoing a restoration project. Second-generation leader Jim Rocklin, who died in January 2017, will be added to the mural alongside his father, I.J. Rocklin. 

All 10 Rocklin employees have been moved into the main building. During a tour, general manager Chris Rosener said Rocklin still occasionally gets repair orders on Rocklinizers that were manufactured in the 1960s. 

"We'll get, every once in a while, a call from somebody: 'My Rocklinizer just quit.' We'll look it up, and it was built in 1968," Rosener said. "There's a lot of them out there, that age, still running." 

Rocklin Manufacturing

Chris Rosener, general manager of Rocklin Manufacturing, talks about the company's distribution of laser markers and micro welders during a tour of the firm's rebuilt facility. 

Demolition of the World War II-era structures began Thursday.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony led by Mayor Bob Scott is scheduled at the main building Aug. 16. 

Standing in the rehabbed building the day before demolition began on its counterpart, Rosener said he won't miss the old Rocklin shop when it's gone. 

"Nope," he said with a laugh. "We're ready to move out of it. And this is where it started." 

Copyright 2018 The Sioux City Journal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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