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Former McCulloch Chainsaw employees talk about fun times during reunion

October 9, 2018

As they had done seven times before, the former employees of the McCulloch Chainsaw factory gathered on the first Sunday in October at the Elks to reminisce about the fun times they shared. The McCulloch chainsaw was the market leader in innovation, quality and production. It became Lake Havasu City’s first corporation when Robert P. McCulloch moved the factory from Los Angeles in 1964.

Havasu’s founder knew his young city would need to have businesses that could hire workers. He invested about two million in the facility at 900 Lake Havasu Ave., and when completed, it covered a half-million square feet. The chainsaw factory hired hundreds of workers and became the city’s largest employer. The wage was competitive, bosses treated the employees fairly, passed out turkeys for Thanksgiving, hams for Christmas and held parties for their children.

In 1968, the Power Mac 6 became the lightest chainsaw in the world, and the factory cranked out more chainsaws to market than any other company at the time. According to Gary Martin, retired vice president of operations, “at its peak, McCulloch could produce 3,200 saws a day using two shifts.

Dody Lee-Hietpas, a 20-year veteran of the factory has organized all of the reunions since they started in 2006. Inspired by the Havasu Pioneers reunions, she coordinates a reunion every other year, always on the even-numbered years. Dody was a group leader on the paint line and said she, “enjoyed the people and the bosses. It was family-oriented.”

“We were family, and everyone looked out for each other,” Kay Tedrey said, agreeing with Lee-Hietpas’ sentiments. That was important in her first assignment in the die-cast department where the workers dealt with molten metal and breathed air that had a “machine smoky smell.” She later worked on the assembly line that built chainsaws from scratch—start to finish. At the end of the line, the saws were started and adjusted so the customer wouldn’t have to do it.

Tom Belza worked in tooling for 26 years.

“It was a great place to work,” Belza said. “Mr. McCulloch was compassionate and caring. He made sure everyone was taken care of.” He said moving to Havasu was the best move they ever made and their three kids went through ASU, and their oldest daughter has also made the city her home. “I used to leave my house in the morning and tell my wife, ‘I’m going to have fun!’”

Jerry Saldana also worked in tooling and came to Havasu from Los Angeles when the plant relocated in 1964. “They told us that if we relocated to Havasu, they would give us $300 after the first day of work,” he said. “If we stayed for six months, we would get another $300.” Saldana planned to get the bonus money and go home. He stayed because everyone in Havasu treated him so well. “If you were by yourself at one of the parties under the bridge, people would invite you over to their group and buy you a drink.”

Grant Foley, an inspector, came over from California. He bought a 1,100 square foot, three-bedroom house on a lot for only $21,800 in 1975, just a little more than his used Road King Harley Davidson, which cost $19,500. He loved his job at the factory and has been to all of the reunions.

After chowing down on some chicken parmesan and a “McCulloch Cake” made by Pam Short, Dody challenged the 98 attendees with a trivia test. Robert McCulloch’s granddaughter Jeanie greeted everyone, drawings were held for gift bags, gift baskets and a 50/50. All donations went to the Norona Effect for its work in providing transportation to children requiring out of town medical treatment. Everyone left with something—a fond memory.

“It’s uplifting for me to see everyone,” Lee-Hietpas said. “We’ll do it again in 2020.”

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