By Ron Wilson, director of the Huck Boyd National Institute for Rural Development at Kansas State University.
San Francisco, California. A large metrorail construction project is underway, with the rails supported by huge 40,000 pound abutments. A heavy duty metal framework attaches to the abutments and supports those rails. Where do you suppose that metal framework was constructed? Would you believe, halfway across the continent in rural Kansas?
Doug Routh is the owner and founder of R-TECH Tools, the remarkable company which built the framework for these abutments. Doug is a Kansan. He graduated from Wamego and went to trade school in Salina. He worked in Kansas City and came back to Wamego to work at what was then Baldersons Manufacturing. For five years, he worked in a heavy equipment repair shop in California.
When Doug heard that Caterpillar had purchased a controlling interest in Baldersons, he thought that might create an opportunity for related business in the area. Doug and his wife Rachelle moved to Wamego again. In 1993, they set up a business known as R-TECH Tool and Machine, or R-TECH for short.
“We started out repairing machines and equipment for contractors or farmers,” Doug said. For the first few months, it was just Doug and Rachelle. “I’d set up the machines, and she ran them,” Doug said. She also did the books.
The company grew, but it has remained a true family business. “Every one of my kids works for me in some way,” Doug said. Rachelle still helps too. Their oldest daughter Chantel is the office manager, which includes handling human resources and accounting. Son Joshua oversees purchasing and tooling. Daughter Cassie enters orders and helps with accounting. Twin sons Jacob and Jordan are freshmen at K-State, but also help on the shop floor and office. In fact, R-TECH now has more than 50 employees.
“We try real hard to take care of our people,” Doug said. “We have one of the only climate-controlled shop floors around.”
In 2008, the company made the largest investment in the history of the business, purchasing a multimillion dollar, state-of-the-art Versatech bridge mill. “It’s one of the few of that size in private hands around here,” Doug said. “That purchase has catapulted us to the next level.”
Today, the company does large parts manufacturing, CNC machining, welding and fabrication, and prototype design and engineering.
“We work real close with customers, building products that might not be practical for them to do themselves,” Doug said. “We try to build a long-term relationship, rather than running from one job to the next.”
R-TECH has been described as “the machine shop of choice for major manufacturers.” One of those is Caterpillar, just as Doug had predicted back in 1993, but their customers extend across the nation and beyond.
An Italian engineering firm was stationed in Manhattan doing repair work on Tuttle Creek reservoir. One of their engineers stopped in at R-TECH, saw the company’s machines at work, and asked if he could bring his boss. In a few days, the boss came in and was so impressed that he called the superintendent in Boston and said, “You need to get plane tickets and come here immediately.” One week later, the superintendent was there. R-TECH is now doing projects for this company.
What are some examples of R-TECH projects? In addition to the abutments for the San Francisco metrorail, the company has done work on undercarriages for locomotives, bulldozer attachments in Waco, drilling rigs in West Virginia, silicon wafer bases in New York, and amusement park rides across the country. R-TECH products have literally gone coast to coast.
That’s impressive for a company based in the rural community of Wamego, population 4,220 people. In fact, Doug and his family live south of the nearby unincorporated rural community of Wabaunsee which has a population of fewer than 100 people. Now, that’s rural.
For more information, go to R-TECH Tools.
It’s time to leave San Francisco where we found support frameworks on giant abutments built by this company across the country. We salute Doug and Rachelle Routh and all those involved with R-TECH for making a difference with entrepreneurship in manufacturing. Rural Kansas can be thankful to have that type of support.
The mission of the Huck Boyd National Institute for Rural Development is
to enhance rural development by helping rural people help themselves.
The Kansas Profile radio series and columns are produced with assistance
from the K-State Research and Extension Department of Communications News Unit. A photo of Ron Wilson is available. Audio and text files of Kansas Profiles are also available. For more information about the Huck Boyd Institute, interested persons can visit Huck Boyd National Institute for Rural Development. -30-