Federal’s Family Legacy

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plant workers standing outside

No corporation, especially one whose business is manufacturing, can long survive and thrive without a skilled, dedicated workforce and a supportive community. Fortunately for Federal, it has had both. Federal might have landed in Anoka, Minnesota by chance, but it was a lucky break for both company and town.

Federal has provided well-paying jobs and, just as importantly, community leaders to the community. In turn, Anoka has grown generations of the ingenious, hardworking employees that are a prerequisite for manufacturing success. Dozens of “legacy families” continue to work at the Federal plant, some logging more than 600 years of combined dedication. Some can identify their great-great grandparents in an employee group picture dated 1925. Here are some of those stories.

The Boards

There’s been at least one member of the Board family working at Federal for almost 70 years. The line starts in the mid-’50s with grandparents Wayne and Mary Board. Wayne worked at Hoffman Engineering when it was part of Federal, while Mary was in the rimfire department.

In 1958, son Bill joined the quality department, which then as now included metallurgical and chemical testing, gauging, and final product quality assurance.

Bill quickly rose through the ranks, becoming director of quality in 1969. While he was in that position, a chance encounter on a winter trip to Federal headquarters, then at the Foshay Tower in Minneapolis, changed things, not only at Federal, but in ammo factories all over the world.

Bill and a co-worker passed a building construction crew driving piles into the frozen ground and wondered how the workers calculated the energy required for the job. They decided to pull over and ask. The foreman replied that a new piezo-electric transducer measured the driver’s impact force, allowing an accurate calculation of how hard to drive the pile. He helpfully provided contact information for the firm that made the unit.

The Federal men immediately wondered if the method could be applied to pressure testing, which at the time was performed with copper crushers that had to be measured before and after firing. The manufacturer indicated it could be done, and Federal began a long testing program to demonstrate the piezo method was accurate for shotshell, rimfire, and centerfire rifle and handgun ammo.

Bill was a prominent member of the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers Institute technical committee, and in the early 1980s, he helped the group approve the piezo testing process, and it since has become the standard method for pressure testing.

Bill served as director of quality until 1989 and worked as a consultant for several years after that. His brother Donnie worked at Hoffman Engineering from the 1970s-’90s.

Another Board brother, Bob, chose education as a career and was a high school teacher. That job provided an off-season, and he worked many summers for Federal in the 1970s and ’80s.

More importantly for Federal, Bob’s son Jeff came aboard in 1994. He had a business degree and wasn’t necessarily planning a career in ammunition but took the opportunity when a job opened up in his uncle’s old department.

He started as a gunner, shooting pressure and accuracy tests in the indoor range all day, but soon advanced to quality technician, developing loading data. He moved on to quality engineer, helping troubleshoot problems on the factory floor.

In 2016, he stepped into his uncle’s old boots as Director of Quality, proudly carrying on a family tradition of more than 60 years. He supervises 62 technicians, who, thanks to automation, do more work than the much larger staff his uncle led.

It doesn’t stop with him, though; four of Jeff’s five children have worked summers at Federal, and the fifth hopes for a summer job after graduation.

The Colliers

Thousands can say they have worked at Federal, but only a few can say they’ve lived there. Scott Collier is a member of that select group.

He grew up in a 1900s-vintage house that came with the original factory land purchase. Federal retained it for years as employee housing. “It was on Federal property, but the fence skirted around it, so it was open to the street. I only jumped that fence once as a boy, and it didn’t take long for them to find me,” Collier says. The house is long gone, but its garage still stands and Federal stores machinery inside.

The family’s extensive history with Federal began with his grandmother, Evelyn Sutherland, who packed rimfire ammo in the 1950s and ’60s. His father, Ronald, joined Federal in 1961 after military service. “He was part of the pipeline that brought people from Ida Grove, Iowa, to Federal,” Collier says. Founding president Charles Horn was from the tiny town about 130 miles northwest of Des Moines and 300 from Anoka and kept an open door for townsmen to join his company.

Ronald worked at the Anoka plant until 1999, rising to superintendent of rimfire and primers and put in more time as a consultant after retirement. Uncle Wayne Sutherland was a scrap trucker, hauling scrap metals inside the plant with a forklift from the 1960s to the 1990s.

Scott himself joined Federal in 1999 after Army service, where he was Non Commissioned Officer in charge of ammunition for five depots during the Persian Gulf War. “I guess there was always something with me and ammunition,” he laughed.

He started as a bullet adjuster and worked his way from job to job, now serving as senior shotshell manager, supervising almost 200 people. A cousin is part of his organization, and along the way, a couple of aunts and his mother worked during peak times. He estimates more than 15 family members have worked in the factory over the years.

Not everyone in the Collier family had the knack for ammo making. Brother Kyle put in three years in the shipping department but went on to be an insurance executive. Son Victor didn’t last long and has gone on to become a bank vice-president. “Not everyone is cut out for manufacturing,” Collier chuckles. “Me, I love the work. When I’m not here, I’m thinking about it.”

Looking back on his years of service, Collier says the big difference from earlier times to these days is that Federal runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and is still hard-pressed to fulfil the demands of the market.

The Stoeckels

The insatiable demand for labor means that employment has grown by almost 40 percent in recent years, outstripping the old tradition of hiring among a limited circle of family and friends. Even so, Federal retains much of the family atmosphere it had when Collier first saw it over the back fence. Rick Stoeckel grew up near Crown, Minn., about 20 miles due north of Anoka. The locals had two notable things in common: dairy farming and working at Federal.

Even in the 1950s, running a small dairy farm wouldn’t reliably support a family, and a steady industrial job was a lifeline to financial security. Rick’s father Lawrence milked cows before sunup, then set out in a carpool to Anoka with other Federal and Hoffman Engineering workers. After a full day on the factory floor tending shotshell loaders as an adjuster, he’d carpool back to the farm, milk the herd again, and get ready for the next day. He kept up this strenuous routine from 1958-’78, then worked at Federal as a consultant for several more years.

Horn found the dairy farmers of Crown made ideal employees. They weren’t afraid of work, were undeterred by bad weather, and most importantly, grew up working with machinery, learning the knack of maintaining and modifying it.

When new workers were needed, the word was put out in the plant, with employees urged to recruit friends and family. This personal touch worked both ways: Federal veterans endorsed the company to prospective employees while vetting the new workers to Federal. The result: generations of a tight-knit, cohesive workforce that carried Federal through depression, a World War, and multiple ownership changes.

Stoeckel himself graduated from college in 1984 and found himself choosing between Federal and Hasbro Toy Co. in Chicago. Fortunately for both Stoeckel and Federal, he selected the hometown company. He was hired on as a sales rep, covering Minnesota and Wisconsin.

“Sales reps got a company car. I picked up a brand-new Chevy Impala and they loaded it up so full of ammo and literature the rear end practically dragged. I drove it home to show my dad, and it was one of the proudest days of his life. He was so happy I was going to work at Federal,” he recalls.

Stoeckel advanced to regional sales rep and then, in 1999, to brand manager, an entirely new function at Federal. Throughout, he was surrounded by relatives and Crown townsmen. “To this day, I bump into them in the plant and we catch up,” he says.

The Stoeckel family connection continues into the current generation, too. Son Ryan spent five summers mowing grass and doing other maintenance work around the plant as a college student, while daughter Brittany first worked for Federal as an intern, taught school for a while, and returned to work in a supply-chain function.

Stoeckel now works with employees who were competitors when he began his career. “When I go out to Lewiston to visit CCI or down to Lonoke to Remington, it’s the same thing. Lots of long-tenured employees and lots of families working together. There must just be something about the ammo business.”