Dick Truhlar of Pelco Tool & Mold, Inc.
By Fran Eaton for the Technology & Manufacturing Association’s News Bulletin – Reprinted with permission
Pelco Tool & Mold, Inc. is one of several Chicago area manufacturers that was celebrated at TMA’s 91st Anniversary Dinner as being an association member for 50 years. And if that wasn’t notable enough, one of Pelco Tool’s three owners – Dick Truhlar – graduated from his moldmaking apprenticeship in 1971, when TMA was the Tool & Die Institute. “At the time, we had a couple of hundred in our classes and the training lasted four years,” Truhlar said. “I was surprised to learn after several years of working with one of our salesmen that he and I graduated from the Institute the same year.”
Out on the shop floor among Pelco Tool’s 37 employees, the TMA apprenticeship tradition continues with Brian Hale, who will be completing TMA moldmaking coursework in May. “We’re looking forward to attending Brian’s graduation,” Truhlar said. Pelco Tool’s and Dick Truhlar’s stories parallel the progression of manufacturing in the Chicago area, as well as TMA’s purpose and vision. Truhlar said he first became interested in manufacturing when he was in a high school vocational class. He loved making things with the machines in that class. One day on the bulletin board, he noticed a sign saying a local moldmaker was looking for apprentices. “I visited with the owner of Pelco Tool at the time – Emil Peluso – who started his company in 1963 in Brookfield with three employees,” Truhlar said. “He hired me, and then he joined the Tool & Die Institute so I could be trained there.” Truhlar worked at Pelco for 11 years before moving to another moldmaker shop where he worked and learned more about the trade for seven years. “I then got an offer to come back to Pelco as a foreman,” he said. “After seven years, the owner decided he was ready to retire at 65. I talked with two friends in the trade – Roger Wittersheim and Rob Suva – who were also interested in buying Pelco. We met together with our wives and hashed out the details, and ended up buying Pelco in 1991.” Truhlar said what they paid for the whole company is less than what they have to pay for one new machine these days.
In the beginning, like most company owners, there were many months they paid their workers more than they paid themselves. “We had to put up everything we had, but it was the best thing I ever did financially,” Truhlar said. “Pelco was a $1 million a year business with six employees when we bought it. Our best recent year we did about $13.5 million in sales. That’s not bad after 26 years.” As a moldmaker, Pelco Tool has dealt with the frustration of seeing many of their customers move their work overseas, but they’ve stayed consistently busy working with companies that make containers commonly found in grocery stores. Inventive container designs for everyday items like coffee creamer, peanut butter, laundry detergent, stadium cups and liquor caps are staples for the business. “They’re always looking for container convenience and appearance to attract customers,” he said. “It’s our job to set up the molds that make those product containers sitting on store shelves. We work out any problems the design may have, and then make the molds for plastics to be poured into.” For Truhlar, his career is a perfect fit – and he’s sure that more schools should encourage kids that like to make things to consider manufacturing training as a viable option to college degrees. The technology aspect of manufacturing has changed the career dramatically since the early 1970s. “When I grew up, you had to be mechanically-inclined to do this kind of work. Today, the machines work with kids that are used to video gaming. The tools are computerized and way easier to use,” Truhlar said.
While Truhlar, now 70, still enjoys his work at Pelco, he’s working three days a week and spending more time with his wife. The future of Pelco Tool will likely fall into the hands of his son-in-law and the other partners’ families. His passion for the next generation of manufacturers is still very evident. “The teachers, the school systems – they need to be reminded that it’s not the best choice for everyone to go to college,” he said. “The kids need to know about this alternative for their careers – many may be happier here, making something.” That’s the kind of kid Truhlar says he was in the 1970s – the kind of person that dreamed big and worked hard to achieve the American Dream. And the same kind of person and venture that TMA was founded to serve and encourage in 1925.
Pelco Tool & Mold, Inc. • 181 Exchange Blvd, Glendale Heights, IL 60139
Phone: (630) 871-1010 | FAX: (630) 871-1011
Technology & Manufacturing Association – http://www.tmaillinois.org/