If you want to see the first multihead machine Gripnail Corp. ever made, don’t go to the company’s headquarters in Rhode Island.
Instead, head to Loveland, Colorado — but don’t expect to see a museum-quality piece. The well-used 1973 machine is in Kuck Mechanical’s sheet metal shop, attached to a coil line, where it runs every day, fastening insulation to ductwork.
And as Gripnail prepares to celebrate the company’s 50th anniversary this year, they’re pretty excited to have found it.
“It’s still putting in Gripnails and still working like the day it was built,” says Dave Ashton, president of the East Providence, Rhode Island-based company.
Although Gripnail dates back to 1966, Ashton points out it was the company’s multihead fastening station that really made its name in ductwork fabrication.
Not a stand-alone piece of equipment, the five individual driving heads, introduced in 1973, were designed to fasten onto Engel or Welty-Way coil lines — the forerunner brand to Iowa Precision — and they really sped up the application of insulation, Ashton says. It could run at up to 50 feet per minute.
“The thing about this machine is it would keep up with the coil line,” he says. “Gripnails, because they fasten instantly, because they’re just impactors — no welding — you don’t have to wait for the welds.”
Tracing its history
The machine’s lineage was verified by Rob Snyder, Gripnail’s national service manager, when he recently visited Kuck Mechanical.
“I knew it was a very old machine because it was welded to the back” of the coil line, Snyder says. “You can’t kill these machines. They’re built like tanks.”
That’s what Ted Kuck, president of Kuck Mechanical Contractors Inc., says attracted him to the machine when he bought it blind for $1,200 from Red River Machinery in Ennis, Texas, six or seven years ago.
“It basically was like fixing up a 1956 Chevrolet when we bought it,” Kuck says. “It was terrible. It was just a frame. There was not much there: just a frame and some pieces laying in a box and some heads. So over the next six months, we rebuilt it from the ground up.”
And like an automotive hobbyist working on a Chevy Bel-Air, that meant scouring the Internet and other sources for parts. It was during the restoration that Kuck realized he might have something special. The serial numbers on the heads were 101, 102, 103, 104 and 105.
“I figured it was kind of rare,” Kuck says.
Ashton says Gripnail has records showing that the machine was sold to Snodgrass Sheet Metal in Indianapolis — now part of Bright Sheet Metal Co. Inc. — shortly after it was manufactured. But where it went from there until it was bought by Kuck is a mystery.
“It’s had a series of owners,” Ashton says.
David Daw, now with Mestek Machinery, was a recent college graduate and new Gripnail employee in 1973 when Gripnail’s multihead came on the market. Daw says the machine was so popular, it outsold competing products 8 to 1.
“Unbelievable,” he says.
Ashton says the Gripnail had a waiting list of HVAC construction contractors wanting to buy the multihead. Many asked if they could purchase the unit Gripnail representatives used to showcase the technology.
“They didn’t want us to leave with our demo machines,” Ashton says.
At the time the Gripnail multihead was introduced, Daw says, up to 35 percent of all ductwork was lined, making the machine a game-changer in ductwork fabrication.
“The big advantage Gripnail had was it didn’t cause any fires. It was a much better method for (applying) duct liner,” he says. “You could use it on the fly and the loading was simple. You never had to stop the machine. You could just dump a bunch of pins inside those little hoppers and away they went.”
Ashton estimates that Gripnail has sold hundreds of multihead systems since that first unit was installed at Snodgrass in 1973. Newer Gripnail equipment does a lot more, but the basic idea remains.
“It’s evolved over the years,” he says. “There are now more sophisticated electronics on it, not as many moving parts. It has different feeder bowls, but its’s still a Gripnail multihead.”
And for some customers, a basic machine meets all their needs, Ashton adds.
“A Gripnail machine can sit in the corner for three months waiting for a duct job and then you put a little WD-40 on it and get it going and it will just purr like the day it was built,” he says.
Kuck says he has no complaints about his vintage Gripnail.
“We use it every day,” Kuck says. “Sheet metal machinery, if you take care of it, tends to last a long time. It’s not the latest and greatest, it doesn’t have all the newer features … but it does exactly what we need it to do.”
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