The Last Word on Roof Truss Wizards

By Joe Kannapell

Four roof truss innovators have changed our industry, from its beginning to the present day. Their names may be largely unknown now, but their work lives on and is worth assessing. 

The most notable is A. Carroll Sanford, whose machines are still cranking out trusses (see my March 2020 article). Mr. Sanford was a South Florida architect who created the Sanford Gantry and Finish Roller, and literally gave birth to our industry. Although those machines have been vastly improved, they still dominate roof truss production. Ironically, though he possessed great patent protection, Mr. Sanford exited our business in the 1970s, making way for Bill McAlpine’s new company. He has long since passed away, but his legacy endures. 

 When a Sanford Gantry landed at Imperial Components, the union workers on the day shift rejected it. But it was quickly embraced by an enterprising young man on the night shift. When he produced a record number of trusses, the owner, Dave Chambers, told him, “if you can do that consistently, I’ll make you a rich man.” That man was Don Hershey and he took Dave’s challenge to heart, becoming a production icon. In the late 1970s, Don engaged a Chicago industrial engineer to develop labor metrics, and, in the 1980s, was the first to automate shop floor data collection. That engineer, John Houlihan, went on to boost production at dozens of truss plants across the country, and his methods remain effective today. Don went on to own the business, and became President of SBCA in 1992–93 and the 1995 Hall of Fame award winner.

 Lenny Sylk entered our business in 1960s and challenged every existing practice in the plant and office, including the Houlihan methodology. With an MBA from Columbia, he “suffered no fools” and optimized his South New Jersey plant like none other. He installed overhead cranes to unload trusses and a carwash-type chain-conveyor in the floor to move bundles of trusses out of the plant unattended. His legacy continues in Joe Hikel’s Shelter Systems business. Hall of Fame awards went to Lenny in 1990, Joe’s late Dad, Dwight Hikel, in 2011, and Joe Hikel in 2014. 

Building on the work of Sanford, Hershey, and Sylk is Clyde Fredrickson, developer of the Wizard auto-jigging system. Though a generation removed from these pioneers, Clyde’s system optimized the performance of the Sanford (and its successor) gantries. And it has proven, so far, to be incredibly durable (see Part XI in this issue). The data it collects effectively automates what Don Hershey painstakingly collected by hand. And it enables the true job labor costing that Lenny Sylk strongly advocated. 

There are many other roof truss wizards in our industry, but few with the entrepreneurial instincts of these individuals. Lenny Sylk left our industry in the 1990s and has since devoted much of his energy to philanthropy. Don Hershey passed away ten years ago, but his son, Ben, a consultant and 2009 President of SBCA, continues in his footsteps. Clyde Fredrickson continues inventing, now as part of MiTek Inc. 

Authors note: my above assessments are based on observing Carroll Sanford, supplying Lenny Sylk, working for Don Hershey, and working with Clyde Fredrickson. 

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