Walker Manufacturing was founded as a family-owned and run business back in 1957. Now, 57 years later, it not only remains such but is also a family comprised of loyal employees and down-to-earth management.
The Timnath-based company is known throughout the U.S. and in 28 other countries as a leader in commercial, zero-turn mowers. But its roots extend back through the decades to 1953 Fowler, Kansas, where 7-year-old Bob Walker received a particularly special Christmas gift.
His father, Max Walker, was a full-time farmer. In what little spare time that occupation affords, he’d designed and built his little boy a miniature Caterpillar. Originally powered by pedaling, the child’s dream machine was later known as the Power Track and driven by a 4HP Kohler engine.
Bob and his three siblings spent untold hours gleefully motoring around the farm on the device while Max’s creativity moved on to invent bigger “toys.” And a grown-up Bob Walker recalled the many twists and turns that led to his family’s current manufacturing business.
In 1957, a salesman friend suggested to Max that a gas-powered golf cart would outsell the typical battery-run models of the day that often died before a round of golf could be completed. Non-golfer Max went to work and designed the Walker Executive Golf Cart. Its production began in the farm shop with a cutting torch, an electric welder and a handful of hand tools including a hacksaw. Humble beginnings indeed.
That project lasted until 1963, when Max sold the patents to a Salina, Kansas investment group that continued production. A total of 1,000 golf cars were made.
But in 1962, Max had again put on his thinking cap. He’d realized golf carts were seasonal with a limited market. He designed his prototype Walker Power Truck, eventually accepted as a year-round run-about vehicle for industry, mail delivery and more. Rather prophetically, a lawn mowing attachment was also built, allowing son Dean to drive into town to groom his grandparents’ lawn.
Max sold his company in 1968 to investors and relocated his family to Casper, where he became just one of the employees at the facility; he retained no management capacity whatsoever. After a couple years, the new and inexperienced management’s decisions ran Walker Manufacturing into financial distress and closure. Times became very lean for the Walker family.
A Greeley company called Byco approached Max in 1971 about developing an agricultural truck cab cooler. This he did, sold its design and manufacturing rights to Byco and used that profit to buy back Walker shop equipment from the foreclosing bank. Byco then gave Max a contract to manufacture the new coolers. Max Walker and his company were survivors.
Moving closer to Byco, Walker Manufacturing relocated to Fort Collins in 1974. Max leased 15,000 square feet in the DL&G Industrial Building on East Harmony Road, now home to Coldstone Creamery and other businesses.
Walker Manufacturing President Bob Walker said that after 15 years in that location, his father bought 50 acres from a Larimer County turf farm that initially allowed Max and his designer/engineer son, Dean, to test their new prototype mower on their property. That business relationship led to the land purchase (now increased to 60 acres) for the present 5925 E. Harmony Road facility.
All of which leads Walker Manufacturing into the present day. Still a Larimer County business, it’s currently in annexation negotiations with the Town of Timnath.
Walker told Timnath News, “We’re being pro-active, trying to be good neighbors and good citizens.”
If Walker’s management style and business model are any indication, the company has already accomplished that goal. It runs level manufacturing, which maintains a steady rate year-round. To accommodate the resulting constant mower production, the 200,000 square foot factory includes storage capacity for up to 1,000 machines that might be awaiting shipment at any given time to 46 worldwide distributors with 1,200 dealers below them. Some top foreign outlets are Australia, Canada, New Zealand and European countries. Exports account for 30 percent of mowers produced here since the 1980s.
Walker said level manufacturing benefits employees because “nobody has just a part-time life.”
The company’s office staff affirms that Walker Manufacturing is a family. A tour of the spotlessly clean and safe facility further confirms it. Everyone at every stage of production in the pleasant work environment happily chats with Walker as easily as with a family member. He not only knows each of the current 160 employees by first name (and they on a first-name basis with him), but also personally greets them and hands out their checks each payday. Loyalty results from such equitable and respectful treatment. Some people have been with the company for 20-30 years.
“We provide an opportunity for people who are smart and skilled craftsmen. We have good schools in the area, like Aims Community College in Greeley and Front Range Community College in Fort Collins. We hire people right out of those programs. We’re very proud of the high quality of our company’s workmanship,” Walker happily reported.
Walker is a loyal and proud husband and father as well. He and Barbara, his wife of 48 years, have three daughters and nine grandchildren. There are also nieces and nephews ready to come onboard. And it’s those next generations that greatly encourage the Walker family about the company’s future. In fact, transition planning for the financial and human side of future management began 10 years ago.
“The thought of selling out to another corporation doesn’t at all appeal to us,” declared Walker. “We expect to be here in Timnath for a long time as a family-owned business. We realize we’re a niche product. Some big groups like John Deere and Toro do other things, too. We also intend to expand and build.”
World War II had interrupted Max Walker’s college education. Unlike college-degreed sons Bob and Dean, he had no formal training in business, manufacturing or mechanical engineering, reminded Walker. “These are not the normal credentials to start a manufacturing business. But my father and mother (Margaret) had a dream, faith and asked for God’s help. They always gave Him the credit,” he added.
Walker treasures being able to work with family all these years and noted it began at an early age.
“My brother Dean and I had the privilege of growing up in it. We were allowed to sit in on any meeting but not allowed to speak, only sit and listen.”
The knowledge and business skills acquired by every step on the road to Walker Manufacturing’s success can carry it on for generations yet to come. And the Walker family — by blood or business — intends that it will.