Drake's Early Years

Recently, we caught up with Russ Martin, past president of the Drake Company, to learn about Drake’s founding. Russ was a Drake employee for over twenty years and president for fifteen years. He is an excellent source of information regarding Drake’s early years.

Drake: “Thanks for making time to talk to us, Russ. What can you tell us about Drake’s early years and how the company began?”

Russ: “Drake started as a spare parts business in 1979. My stepfather, Fred Drake, worked as the General Manager of Speedco, Inc from 1974 until 1979. When Speedco went out of business, their former customers suddenly found themselves with machines they could not keep running. As the former General Manager, Fred had all the engineering drawings for their machines, so he started manufacturing spare parts for these companies to keep their Speedco machines up and running.”

Drake: “I’m sure they appreciated what he did. How did Drake transition from building spare parts for Speedco machines to designing and manufacturing our own line of hot dog loaders?”

Russ: “Great question. One of the Speedco machines was a collator style hot dog loader. This machine had a reputation for being a ‘frank chopper.’ Unlike Drake’s current collator style loader, in the Speedco loader the hot dogs fell from the collator and moved away from the loading head. Then they moved to a transfer wheel that reversed the hot dog’s direction and dropped them onto the intermediate conveyor. As you can imagine, it was near impossible to get the opposite direction transfers all working right and a lot of Speedco’s customers’ hot dogs got chopped up and damaged in the process, which is how the Speedco loaders earned their nickname.

Well, Fred Drake’s big AHA! moment occurred when he realized that if he turned the collator around, the hot dogs could drop from the collator directly onto the intermediate conveyor. This one change meant the collator and intermediate conveyor would both be moving in the same direction, which eliminated the transfer wheel that the Speedco loader used and greatly decreased the likelihood of damaging the hot dogs. This was in 1983 that Fred designed the first Drake hot dog loader and started the F.R. Drake Company. Fred had both a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering, as well as a long career in machine design, so he was well suited to design a better collator style loader.”

Drake: “That’s really cool. So, what happened next?”

Russ: “Turning around the collator and eliminating the transfer wheel was a huge improvement, but not the final one. Another huge Drake innovation during my time was the CLX loading head. The idea came from my brother, Gregg Martin, who worked as a Drake engineer for over thirty years. The CLX loading head allowed for even smoother and better hot dog loading. The first CLX loading head went to Argentina, where it worked perfectly. Gregg was at the startup and within an hour there was a parade of employees streaming past the machine and marveling at the performance. Everyone was amazed.”

Russ Martin sold Drake in 2005, before retiring from Drake in 2007. In 2015, he purchased IMMCO (www.uniflow.works), which manufacturers hot melt drum unloaders. He currently resides in Richmond, VA.

Drake – Your Partner in Automating the Food Industry.

Want More Info? / Need Help? Call +1 (540) 569-4368