You never know what will pique readers' interest. Sometimes a big article that you think will generate a ton of letters and phone calls doesn't, while a small item, tossed in almost as "filler," keeps the phones ringing for days.

To be honest, I didn't think we'd get any responses from "All in the Family," our November article on family owned businesses in the sheet metal and HVAC industries. When the article's author, Sharon Stalzer (herself a second-generation owner of Missouri equipment manufacturer Lion Machinery Inc.), first approached me about doing a series of articles about the topic, she was hoping readers would send in their stories. I warned her that although many SNIPS readers tell me how much they love the magazine, they seldom call with story ideas or even their reaction to a published piece.

But in this case, I'm happy to say I was wrong. We've received several letters from readers eager to share their stories. Anthony Martina wrote me about his father, who in 1962 started Martina Metal when his then-current employer closed its sheet-metal division. Martina's father bought some of the machinery and opened his own shop, making and installing ductwork for mechanical contractors in central Ohio.

Today, Columbus, Ohio-based Martina has about 45 employees. Anthony Martina serves as president, but says he owns the company equally with his sister and brother, who serve as secretary/treasurer and foreman, respectively.

"We have been very successful, despite family feuds and misunderstandings," Martina says. "The market ups and downs are difficult enough, but we are standing tough."

Many stories

Family owned Knoxville, Tenn.-based Engert Plumbing & Heating Inc. has so many stories, they put together a book about the 113-year-old company, which corporate secretary Donna Johnston was kind enough to send me. The author interviewed 13 longtime employees and compiled their recollections.

From surviving the Great Depression to the supposed haunting of Engert's current corporate headquarters, Engert is one company with a lot of stories to tell.

The same goes for Walter McCarthy and McCarthy Bros. Inc.

"Boy, do I have stories, too," McCarthy said. The Romeoville, Ill., company was founded by McCarthy's father in 1932.

McCarthy says he started working for his father when he was 8, sorting fittings in the basement. But he didn't receive his first paycheck - $14 for 40 hours of work - until he was a 12-year-old. McCarthy says he wasn't happy with his salary.

"I complained to my mom - even then, I knew where the power was in the family," he says. "She lit in to my father about the rate of pay being far less than the minimum wage. He replied that I had never asked how much I was going to make! As I recall, I then asked him every week for about two months, until he got tired of the game."

Things hadn't changed much when McCarthy returned after graduating from college with a degree in business administration. He announced he was ready to "run the company."

"My father's answer was to give me seven green uniforms and the oldest, saddest service truck in the fleet," he recalls. "He made me fix air conditioners before he would let me into management in any way." McCarthy is proud to say that he still knows how to fix them.

"The old man was as tough as they came," McCarthy adds. "He's been gone for eight years now, and I'm still learning from him."

Thanks to everyone who sent in their recollections. Keep them coming. We may use them as part of a larger article or perhaps we'll pick some of your companies to profile. I've said before that SNIPS is more people-oriented than many trade publications, and I'm proud of that. Hearing from and talking to readers is what makes this job interesting.

And if you're going to be attending the AHR Expo this month in Anaheim, Calif., you'll have a good chance to talk to me. As always, SNIPS will be attending this mega-event, reporting on the latest new products. SNIPS' parent company, BNP Media (formerly Business News Publishing Co.), will have a booth.

I won't be there all the time, but please stop by. If you leave a business card, I'll try to get in touch with you.