By SUSAN CLARK PORTER firstname.lastname@example.org
LYONS — Dan LaGasse’s handlebar mustache is a sign of his artistic side.
The Lyons resident grew up in his father’s business, LaGasse Iron and Welding Co. As a young man, he had no intention of following in his father’s footsteps. Nor did he envision a life as a starving artist.
“I’ve always enjoyed art but never felt that doing art was a legitimate way to benefit mankind,” LaGasse said. “I needed to build something that served a purpose.”
Since he started working with his late father in 1979, LaGasse has been building lots of things with lots of purposes.
Cliff LaGasse founded LaGasse Iron and Welding Co. in 1954. Today, it’s situated in a 10,000-square-foot building on Old State Route 31, its fourth location.
After graduating from high school, Dan LaGasse entered the job market but found it “wasn’t as easy as I thought.” He went on to study mechanical technology at Corning Community College and ended up working at a civil engineering firm in Newark, Harnish and Lookup Associates (it eventually became part of the MRB Group).
In 1979, LaGasse left that job to help his father, who was experiencing health issues. At one time his father had seven employees; by the time his son joined him, there were only two.
LaGasse holds his late father in high esteem for several reasons. One was his willingness to let his son take over the reins of the business, which had to adjust as customer needs have changed. The name has changed too, becoming LaGasse Iron Works before morphing to the LaGasse Works moniker it carries today.
For a long time, the company focused on fabricating conveyors and tracks for canning factories and fertilizer plants, but as those industries dried up the firm needed to diversify.
As LaGasse ticks off some of some of the company’s projects, it’s clear that has happened.
In 2004, the company built a galvanized steel cross for St. Michael’s Church in Lyons, a job that served as a springboard for other church work throughout the Rochester diocese. LaGasse has created a new steel cross for St. Patrick’s Church in Seneca Falls, an elaborate railing for St. Michael’s Church in Newark and, most recently, another cross for St. Mary’s Church in Waterloo.
Other recent projects include the fabrication of an earth drill for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, something that’s used for the custom planting of seed stock at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva; a bin trailer for a Wayne County apple orchard; and a special trailer for Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard in Yates County.
At Wiemer, winery workers handpick grape clusters and place them in plastic bins, LaGasse said. He designed and built a custom trailer where the bins could be placed neatly next to one another without moving.
“I went down there, listened to what they needed, took notes and designed it,” said LaGasse, who serves as the company’s project designer.
Six of the business’ 10 employees are fabricators.
“This is what absolutely energizes me, when somebody comes in to me with a problem,” he said. “I have become a good listener, which is key. I sketch pictorially to try and communicate. That’s designing in its basic form ... The customer kind of tells me what he wants, then we design a control system.”
LaGasse’s customers include a robotics firm and a manufacturer of Styrofoam trays. They also do small jobs for customers, often making a part for a machine that may be obsolete but still functioning.
“We do manual machines and a lot of one-of-a-kind parts,” LaGasse said.
LaGasse noted that many welding companies don’t do fabrication, but his business is able to combine the two.
The LaGasse Orchard division, which is geared toward agricultural customers, is a big part of the firm’s business. In addition to bin trailers that hold five bins for apples, the company makes hedgers, and standard and over-the-row pruning platforms. As apple growers have planted more high-density orchards, mechanization to maintain and harvest those orchards has developed commensurately.
LaGasse credits his relationship with Alton farmer Scott VanDeWalle as key to his company’s growth in terms of making such equipment.
And, about a third of the company’s business is with the Harder Dump Box Spreader, a device that works in a dump truck to spread salt or sand for road maintenance. Designed by former town of Arcadia Highway Superintendent Ken Harder, LaGasse manufactures about 50 of the spreaders annually and also makes replacement parts. LaGasse said the regional market for the spreaders continues to grow, with more and more townships buying them every year.
The business recently sold a pair to the city of Flagstaff, Ariz.
When it comes to the spreaders, LaGasse covers A to Z — from searching out the raw materials to designing and making the spreaders, to dealing with product lines, product promotion and shipping.
The shop is divided into two sections — the fabrication side and machine and assembly sides — with office space in between. A quick walk-though yields projects of all kinds ... a tray for a food dehydration machine, sprockets for an apple-processing plant and a guard for a Styrofoam tray-making machine. Elsewhere, a burner for the Midland Asphalt plant was being repaired, as was a hydraulic hammer for an Elderlee Inc. truck.
Also in the shop is LaGasse’s personal project: an ornamental iron railing with a tree motif that he’s making for his home. It’s a piece of art equal parts beautiful and functional.
LaGasse admits the variety of work is what keeps him engaged.
“I could not stand at a machine and make the same widget hour after hour, day after day,” he said. “Every day is different. You just don’t know what’s going to walk in the door.”
This story appeared in the Finger Lakes Times, in Geneva, NY, a daily newspaper serving Ontario, Seneca, Wayne and Yates counties. Included here with permission.