Alabama Facility Leads the Industry : Plant Makes 400 Fire Plugs Daily
Most people take fire hydrants for granted, but not the manager of a plant that turns out 400 a day.
“I can’t pass one without looking to see if it’s one of ours,” said Lloyd Darnell. “I can tell from the car whether it’s ours or, if not, which competitor’s.”
Darnell manages the Mueller plant, a 380,000-square-foot complex at Sand Mountain Industrial Park. He said the plant turns out more fire plugs than all other manufacturers in this country combined.
“We made a lot of dogs happy,” said Darnell. “We made about 100,000 last year.”
Buys Old Tracks
The plant buys old railroad tracks from a nearby scrap dealer and melts down 325,000 pounds a day. It also pours 30,000 pounds of brass daily for fittings in the hydrants.
Although a supply of basic parts is kept on hand, no hydrants are made without orders for them. That, Darnell said, is because there are so many varieties in the specifications.
“They can order any color or color combination, different sizes of pipe, hydrants with one, two or three nozzles, different threads on the nozzles, hydrants that open right or left, and different length pipe,” he said.
The basic pipe sizes are 4.5 inches and 5.25 inches in diameter, although Mueller has a few 2-inch pipes on hand for rural fire districts and estates that have their own systems.
Most hydrants are 32 inches tall--the part above ground--with pipes that go underground four or five feet. The 2-inch ones stand 22 inches, which entices Darnell into saying “we make those for Chihuahuas.”
Before a hydrant is shipped, it is put under 300 pounds of water pressure, with its valve alternately closed and opened. Explaining the rigorous testing, Darnell said, “If they have to dig one up, I have to pay.”
Painted Various Colors
A recent visit found the shipping lot with hydrants designated for Baton Rouge, La.; Jefferson City, Mo.; Tulsa, Okla.; Plano, Tex.; Jackson, Miss.; Springfield, Ill., and overseas points.
A batch of hydrants destined for Houston was painted blue, the same shade the Houston Oilers use on their uniforms. But red, Darnell said, is the most popular color, with yellow next.
“I wish they were all red,” he said. “It would make our job a lot simpler.”
Darnell said it takes three weeks or less to fill an order.
The average hydrant weighs 500 pounds. Each one is stamped with the company’s name, Albertville, Ala., and the year.
The company, founded by Hieronymus Mueller as a gun-and-machine shop in Decatur, Ill., in 1857, is still owned by his descendants. The Albertville plant opened in 1975 with 59 employees. It now has 500 workers and a $9-million annual payroll.
Asked why the company relocated to Albertville, the company’s chief executive, Edward D. Powers, cited a large labor pool, a sound work ethic and cooperative state and local officials.
But over the years neither he nor Darnell has found the answer to a question that has long perplexed man.
“I never figured out why dogs like them,” Darnell said.