WORLD-CLASS MARINE PRODUCTS MANUFACTURED IN GOLD BEACH

January 01, 2002 12:00 am
This is one of the patented hatches that made Freeman Marine world famous. ().
This is one of the patented hatches that made Freeman Marine world famous. ().

GOLD BEACH To people in Curry County, Dugie and Bo (or Bo and Dugie), as they are referred to by their employees and friends, are a couple of nice, smart, hard-working guys.

Among the movie stars, sport celebrities and oil billionaires who own the worlds mega-yachts, however, Dugie and Bo are as famous as Rolls and Royce.

Thats because Dugie Freeman and Bo Shindler add up to Freeman Marine, and have for more than 25 years.

Folks in Gold Beach and Curry County may vaguely recognize that name as one of the bright spots in the local economy.

Dont they make portholes or something? is a common reaction if the name is mentioned.

People got the chance to find out when Freeman Marine held an open house last month.

The first thing visitors discovered, while enjoying plenty of refreshments, was that Freeman Marine earned the governors International Business Achievement Award as the 2001 Oregon Exporter of the Year.

Then they got to tour the Hunter Creek factory to find out what makes Freeman Marine so special.

The tours, guided by employees, started every few minutes from 2:30 to 7 p.m., and took from eight to 30 guests at a time.

Shindler and Freeman, who still work at the plant every day that they are not out selling their products, did their best to spend some time with each tour.

According to Sales Manager John Cary, the partners started out building all-aluminum fishing boats. He said of the 40 to 50 they built, all but two are still out on the ocean working.

There was just one problem. The hatches Freeman and Shindler had to put on their boats did not meet their own high standards.

Freeman, described by more than one employee as an engineering genius, had an idea for a better hatch, and patented the closure latching mechanism.

It wasnt long before others wanted those hatches. The company that started out in a garage in 1975 now makes doors, hatches, portlights, windows and hardware for the yachts of the rich and famous.

If its on a boat, and people, cargo, air or light must pass through it, Freeman Marine will custom-fabricate it out of molten aluminum.

David Brooks, in charge of quality control, said he once heard the owners of two mega-yachts arguing about whose ship had the most Freeman Marine pieces on it.

The U.S. Coast Guards new 47-foot motor-lifeboat does not go out to save lives until every door and hatch on it says Freeman Marine.

Brooks said every part made for the military is inspected to make sure the taxpayers are getting everything they are paying for.

He bristled when asked if Freeman Marine enjoys the same kind of reputation for quality and reliability in its field that Toyota does for automobiles. He thought Mercedes-Benz might be a better analogy.

Brooks was one of the last stops on the tour, because he is one of the last employees to deal with the products.

Tours began at the opposite end of the process. Our guide was Doug Dettmer, who is nominally called a maintenance man.

Magician or miracle-worker might be more like it. Two men are responsible for keeping all of the machinery in the plant running, no matter what happens, and Dettmer is one of them.

His intimate knowledge of nearly everything in the building that whirrs, grinds or clanks served him in good stead as a guide.

The place was so clean and quiet for the open house, however, that Dettmer barely recognized it.

He was surprised at the sound of one machine, because hed never been able to hear it above the din the others usually make.

The first stop on the tour was the Drafting and Design Department. Zane Adams said its his job to fill the gap between the sales people and the clients.

He said 90 percent of Freeman Marines large projects are custom designs. Using the Solidworks computer program, designers make three-dimensional real-size drawings of their concepts.

Those are broken down to subassembly drawings. Its just like putting a model together, said Adams.

He showed the drawing for a door being designed for the mega-yacht of golf superstar Greg Norman.

The sliding door must match the angles and curvature of the yacht so it blends in with the hull when it is closed.

Normans yacht is so big that it carries a 47-foot boat, the same size as the Coast Guard ships in Brookings, as an auxiliary runabout.

Freeman Marine will build most of the fittings for Normans yacht. Adams said the name Freeman is specified in many contracts.

Thats pretty remarkable for Gold Beach, Oregon, he said.

After going through drafting and design, custom parts next go to one of the companys true artists: Bean Moore.

Moore makes all the patterns for Freeman Marine. Its his job to turn wood and plastic into models of hatches, doors or fittings.

He showed the tour a model of an aluminum hatch cover that looked like the real thing.

Made out of 27 pieces of laminated wood, however, its weight was only a fraction of the real thing.

The models then go into machines similar to giant waffle irons. Instead of waffle grids, each half of the machine is packed with sand.

When the model is compressed between them, it leaves an impression. Molten aluminum is poured into that to make the part.

At this point, Freeman took over the tour for a few minutes. He said it takes 100 pounds of sand to cast every 1,000 pounds of metal. The sand is silicon-free and nonpolluting.

Freeman Marine also has a degassing machine that uses argon gas to take the hydrogen bubbles out of molten aluminum for Navy-quality metal.

Freeman said aluminum-magnesium is miserably difficult to cast, but the Navy loves it. It has to be cast at 1,420 degrees.

He showed the tour his companys two furnaces, which look like giant washing machine tubs. One holds 600 pounds of molten aluminum, the other holds 1,000 pounds.

The furnaces are kept full 365 days a year. If the power goes out, however, the aluminum can swell and burst the furnaces.

Freeman said when there is a power outage, he and other employees have to come in and work under battery lights to bail the aluminum out of the furnace and cast it into ingots.

Freemans name may be a household word among the rich and famous, but that doesnt get him out of the gritty work from time to time.

Once cast, the parts go to cleanup, where the rough edges are polished off.

Ron Bossi showed aluminum parts that had been polished to a mirror-like surface that looked like chrome.

It takes a lot of practice, he said of the polishing.

The buffing produces black grit from polishing rouge, so the craftsmen wear breathing masks for the finer work.

Debbie Gamble showed off her computerized milling machine, which cuts uniform curves and notches in aluminum parts. She said it even mills grave plates out of bronze.

Ron Dykes showed off hydraulic benders that can bend solid aluminum to within a 20th of a degree on a warm day.

Dykes said aluminum doesnt bend as easily on cold days, but the craftsmen still get the work done right.

He showed off the shearing machine, which can cut half-inch-thick plate aluminum or stainless steel with one chop. Freeman Marine doesnt use saws.

Dykes said the machines can bend 12-foot sections of aluminum. Special alloys allow bends of 90 degrees.

After three years with the machines, Dykes said he is just getting comfortable operating some of them.

The hatch department offers Lexan hatches for skylights above bedrooms and bathrooms. Gas struts make lifting effortless.

Custom-designed windows can take up the whole side of a boat. Pantograph hinges allow large watertight doors to swing aside with little clearance. One door was 19 feet by 9 feet.

Dugie Freeman got the idea for his hinge designs from airplane doors. Another of his inventions was a chain-driven door for the Coast Guard that turns all its cams at once.

Dettmer said, Weve developed things that are unreal, just to put on one boat.

Some of the hatches and doors are painted. They are first coated with three primers and baked overnight at 100 degrees, then shot with polyurethane paint and baked at 120 degrees for an hour.

Richard Salgado assembles the hatches with neoprene gaskets to make them watertight.

He said the company started with its patented hatch mechanism. Dettmer said hatches were Freemans primary product at first. They now go on 90 percent of work boats built.

Salgado said the 15-inch by 24-inch hatch is the most popular. The company always keeps 500 in stock.

At the other end of the spectrum, Freeman makes hovercraft engine doors for the government.

Salgado said government work, including for the Navy and Coast Guard, makes up about a third of what Freeman Marine does.

That brought the tour back to Quality Control, where it doesnt say Freeman Marine until Brooks says it does.

He said the fabricators advocate for strick quality control because they dont feel they did a good job unless the customer is happy.

Brooks said quality control is involved in every aspect of the facility, from drawing to shipping.

He inspects incoming materials, looks at castings and parts, inspects paint quality for luster, and tests closures with pressure and stress. He even certifies welders.

If the part cant be tested at Freeman Marine, it is sent to where it can be tested. Products not up to standards are reworked or rejected.

There are not a lot of sendbacks from customers, said Brooks.

He said some customers want every part inspected. For other products, the processes are closely controlled, and the parts are inspected at random.

Doors and hatches are inspected, preassembled, sent to the paint shop and photographed before they are shipped.

Dettmer said Shindler spends about a month and a half a year overseas showing his products at boat shows.

The company may be known worldwide, he said, but most of its fabricators are graduates of Gold Beach High School.