A.E. Thorson & Sons Manufacturing passed the torch to MSF Farm this week closing an era in Montana and continuing another in Missouri.
The A.E. Thorson & Sons Manufacturing Company began in 1948 in Wise River when A.E. built his first cattle chute. He patented it, relocated the company to just north of Corvallis and grew the livestock equipment manufacturing business.
“World’s finest quality livestock handling equipment” became the motto for the outstanding company with the highest standards of providing safety to operator and animal. They made livestock chutes, head gates, body clamps, sliding gates, tilt tables, runway-alleys, loading chutes, palpation cages, squeeze chutes able to handle buffalo and many more custom items.
Sons Don and Bob Thorson added four helpers and worked hard.
“There was a demand for it,” Don said. “Sometimes we were 30 and 60 days out trying to fill orders.”
“Sometimes more,” Bob added.
“We sold to multiple colleges, universities, zoos and research facilities. We had customers all over the world,” Don said. “Often times some of these things took a whole lot more time because people called with specific problems.”
Custom design projects included stainless steel squeeze chute for a Level Four research laboratory in Ames, Iowa; a 25-foot radius sweep corral for a company studying animal genetics and embryo implants in Idaho; and specialty calf tables for a research facility in Logan, Utah.
Purchasers included many cattle operations in the Bitterroot Valley, the River Ranch in Idaho, Upjohn Laboratories, Rocky Mountain Laboratory, a lab in Florida, USDA facilities, the national zoo in Bangkok, Thailand and stanchions for Louisiana, which had to be galvanized.
Don said the most interesting experience was the sale to Thailand where their product was presented to the king.
“Probably the best dealers we ever had was Quality Supply and before them, Les Davies - John Deer,” Don said.
The A.E. Thorson & Sons Manufacturing Company closed in 2006, but the brothers retained the designs and tools for some hobbyist tinkering.
This week Mike and Sharon Fries, owners of MSF Farm, came from Linneus, Missouri, to purchase the designs and take notes on the manufacture of livestock handling equipment.
“We also came to pick up some more knowledge of Bob and Don and speed up the process of knowing the product and building it and putting it together,” Mike Fries said. “It will be a good challenge and we will have a good chute in Linneus, Missouri. We decided to call it the ‘MSF “T” Series.’ It is a Thorson chute with a new name and a few new updates down the line.”
Most of the details were locked in the minds of the Thorson brothers who were recalling the calculations, designing and manufacturing of a lifetime.
“I didn’t work from plans on stuff I did every day,” Bob said. “That plus having not done it for over 10 years has been a little challenging at times. I have a great memory but it isn’t perfect. We haven’t had glitches and we haven’t made mistakes.”
“A lot of it was maintained up here,” Don said as he pointed to his head. “We were dealing with numbers. A lot of what we did was strictly in our minds.”
Mike Fries said Don and Bob were just being humble.
The brothers were eager to share their knowledge with the purchasers.
MSF Farm is continuing the tradition of the quality workmanship their farm has been known for since 1862. The seventh generation company builds and installs fence and fence products. Their son, Jeff, does the majority of the welding plus hired staff.
“It’s a family run small business,” Mike Fries said. “We got a hold of Bob and he introduced us to Don and one thing led to another and here we are. The MSF Farm is expanding to include chutes.”
“We entered in to an agreement and they bought some of the treasures we’ve been sitting on,” Don said. “We hoped somebody some day would purchase these treasures. When we sold the business in 2006 there was no one interested in these kinds of things, to them it looked like scrap iron. These were jigs and various forms that we had used to build the equipment.”
It takes a trained eye to see that the pieces of scrap iron are actually tools.
“It’s been an interesting adventure,” Don said. “We didn’t really want to see it die.”
“We’re bringing it back to life again,” Sharon Fries said.
“We’re passing the torch,” Don said. “It’s neat that here’s another family that would like to do what we spent 40-50 years doing. Our dad started it and we grew up doing it. It’s nice to have someone to pass it on to. It gives it to a new generation of people.”