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Comfort zone: Beaver Brothers Inc. marks a century

'A Century of Comfort'

Appreciation day

What: Beaver Brothers Inc. of Salisbury will host a community appreciation day to celebrate with the public the company’s 100th anniversary.

When: 1-7 p.m. June 1

Where: New Sarum Brewing, 109 N. Lee St.

Look for: Live music, games and prizes

Sponsorships: All proceeds go to first responders in the Salisbury community. Sponsorships available include platinum, $1,000; gold, $500; and silver, $250. To find out what it means to be a sponsor, call 704-433-4558.

SALISBURY — You could say with great confidence that Beaver Brothers owes its beginnings to steam engines and the railroad.

A century ago, Clarence Beaver Sr. and his brother, Clifford, were working in steam engine repair at Southern Railroad’s Spencer Shops when they figured out they could translate their skills into a side business connected to plumbing and heating.

“Even today,” says Trip Beaver, “that’s our specialty — hydronic heating.”

The steam boilers and piping related to engines were not all that different from the steam boilers and radiators in people’s homes. Also, a lot of the residential furnaces were coal-fired, just like the railroad’s steam engines.

“It might as well have been a steam engine in the house,” Beaver says.

It didn’t take long for the Beaver brothers to go into plumbing and heating full time, establishing their first business office in the 100 block of East Fisher Street.

To go quickly through the company timeline, its other locations through the years were 109 S. Church St., where the Salisbury Post loading dock is now; 1029 Old W. Innes St., sort of behind Sam’s Car Wash; and 807 Corporate Circle, the company’s home since 1989.

Today’s Beaver Brothers Inc. concentrates on heating, air conditioning and solar heating.

And the company name still fits after 100 years, because brothers Mike Beaver, president-treasurer, and Trip, vice president-secretary — grandsons of Clarence Sr. — steer the ship.

The Corporate Circle offices, shop and warehouse cover 12,000 square feet. The company employs 16 people and has a fleet of 12 service vehicles.

A fourth generation is now deeply involved with the company — Mike’s son, John, a 2016 graduate of Appalachian State University who deals with sales and service.

“I knew there was a good opportunity here, and I definitely wanted to grow this thing that already was pretty big,” John says.

To mark its 100 years in business, Beaver Brothers is inviting the public to its “A Century of Comfort” community appreciation day June 1 at New Sarum Brewing. (See the accompanying box.)

Sponsorship proceeds from the day will support first responders in Rowan County.

Mike and Trip wish their father, Clarence Beaver Jr., could have lived to see the family business celebrate 100 years. Clarence Jr., a pioneer force in solar heating, worked for the company until his death in 2015 at age 85.

Ask the Beavers the secrets to staying in business for a century and you hear things such as customer service, loyal customers, dedicated employees, innovative thinking, problem solving and the continuity that family brings.

When it comes to customer service especially, the brothers complete each other’s sentence.

“If you take care of the customer … ,” Trip says.

“… They’ll take care of you,” Mike finishes.

In addition, Trip says, there has always been “a passion of creation” at the company — a deep appreciation for designing something, then seeing it perform, or figuring out what a problem is and fixing it.

John Beaver says “being able to make someone happy” by repairing their air conditioning or heating also is a great feeling of satisfaction for employees.

“It makes somebody’s day,” John says. “It makes their weekends or holidays. We get a lot of gratitude.”

Many of Beaver Brothers’ employees have been with the company for decades. Service manager Ernest Dunlap has, for example, almost 32 years on the job.

“We’re very fortunate to have the team we have,” Mike says.

The brothers still speak reverently of their father, who raced in the Beaver Brothers’ Soapbox Derby car in 1942, when he was 13.

During the Korean War, Clarence served in the Army and was assigned as a draftsman to Headquarters Company of the 32nd Engineer Construction Group in Wonju, Korea.

His group designed 100 highway and 34 railroad bridges that kept men and supplies moving.

Clarence Jr. was always thankful for the time he spent behind a desk and once told the Post his wartime days were mostly 8 a.m.-5 p.m. six days a week. He found time to follow his passion for flying radio-controlled airplanes on the parade grounds on Sundays.

It was in Wonju, a town of about 30,000, that Clarence noticed some of the Koreans’ mud-and-stucco houses with thatched roofs had in-floor, radiant heat. A homeowner installed a tile pipe under his dirt floor and had a fire pot on one end of the room and a chimney on the other end. Heat from the fire pot would go through the tile pipe and be released through the chimney, while warming the entire floor in the process.

Clarence witnessed how comfortable the small homes were, and he would later apply the same principles with the in-floor, radiant heating Beaver Brothers came to excel in later.

Clarence Jr. also believed strongly in solar thermal heating, and Beaver Brothers installed solar water heaters and solar heating systems in places throughout Rowan County and the state.

The N.C. Zoo in Asheboro was one of Beaver Brothers’ customers. Trip Beaver recalls jobs for recreation departments, homes, schools, and manufacturing companies from Watauga County to Raleigh.

In the early 1980s, the company installed 30 solar panels on Livingstone College’s Golar Hall. The solar panels heated the water for 186 students in the dormitory.

The brothers think Clarence Jr. may have installed during the 1960s the first solar domestic hot water system in North Carolina at his home.

Clarence was one of the four founders of the N.C. Sustainable Energy Association, and he helped design the N.C. Solar House at N.C. State University.

In the 1970s, he received the Governor’s Energy Achievement Award, one of the many mementos, photographs and artifacts in the offices at Beaver Brothers.

As with Clarence’s home in Salisbury, the Beaver Brothers offices — both on Old West Innes and Corporate Circle — have relied on solar heating, which Mike says has become the red-headed stepchild of solar energy, now that the emphasis is to use the sun to produce electricity.

Still, Beaver Brothers does service work on solar thermal systems installed in the past and gets calls to put in solar thermal packages.

“It’s still a good thing,” Mike says.

Mike and Trip grew up around the shop and worked for the company in the summer. Mike remembers helping his dad as a 6-year-old install radiant heat because he was the right size for crawling under the house.

Both Mike and Trip are N.C. State graduates — Mike in engineering; Trip, in physics.

They treasure the rich history of the company. Most people don’t realize that the city of Salisbury contracted with Beaver Brothers to install water and sewer lines in Fulton Heights in the 1920s. Clifford Beaver also worked for many years with the Utilities Department.

Beaver Brothers installed the steam heating system for John Hanford’s big greenhouse and nursery operation and routinely would receive service calls to take care of plumbing problems at Spencer Shops.

Mike says so many Salisburians were customers for life, and the Beaver men on occasion have served as pallbearers at some of their funerals.

Clarence Jr. had a 1951 Ford truck restored — a former Granite Quarry firetruck — and it became a symbol for the company, besides a good service vehicle.

Clarence Jr. often drove the truck as the Beaver Brothers entry in local parades, and many members of the Beaver family have had numerous rides in its cab or on its flat bed.

The company continues to receive calls on occasion to take an old steam boiler out and put a new one in. The original Mount Zion Baptist Church on North Church Street recently received a new boiler, replacing one that Clarence Sr. probably had installed.

Mike says a banker with Wells Fargo told him Beaver Brothers is its oldest commercial customer in Salisbury, if you go back to the days of Wachovia Bank.

And the brothers also are proud of a certain number — No. 146, which means their company was the 146th mechanical license for plumbing and heating ever issued by the state of North Carolina.

Trip says those license numbers are in the six digits today.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or mark.wineka@salisburypost.com.

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