Clifford B. Hannay was running a gas station/luncheonette in rural Albany County, NY, in the tough-luck days of 1933, when he had a chance encounter with a local fuel-oil delivery man.
The man was tired of delivering kerosene to his customers in five-gallon cans. What he needed was a pump and a hose installed on his truck. But that mechanical work still didn’t amount to the real dilemma.
No, what the delivery man really needed was a quick way to reel the hose back up after each delivery.
The poor guy had tried and failed to make a hose reel. In fact, he still had the bag full of parts he’d used. So Hannay, who was also an electrician by trade and enjoyed just this sort of challenge, took the bag of parts, and then went off to a junkyard.
There, the inventive Hannay found some other parts from the real axle of a Model T and built the first hose reel of the millions the company has produced over the past 80 years.
Drive up New York State Route 143 today, and you can still stop by Hannay’s original shop he made out of the gas station, now turned into a museum in his honor.
Across the two-lane highway, however, is where you’ll find 145 employees of Hannay Reels Inc., turning out some 90,000 reels a year all made right here near the village of Westerlo, NY, population 300, a farming town now just as much as then.
“It probably was unusual to start a manufacturing business in the Depression,” says Eric A. Hannay, president and CEO of Hannay Reels, “but I’m sure that my great-grandfather along with many others had an entrepreneurial bent and did what had to be done to earn a living.”
Eric and his sister, Elaine Hannay Gruener, COO, represent the fourth generation to steer the family business.
The “family” business also extends to its employees. The company is by far the largest employer in the county. And in such a small town environment, Eric says the average length of employment is currently 20 years with a lot of sons working alongside fathers or brothers and brothers or husbands and wives.
“We have a lot of know-how that is hard to replace,” Eric says, “so if we know an employee with a great work ethic has a younger brother or sister, why wouldn’t we interview them?”
While our readers know the company by way of the aviation fueling industry, over the years the company has made hose and cable reels ranging from models small enough to store fiber optic cable all the way up to reels 10 feet in diameter used for ship-to-shore bulk oil transfer.
Its full line of product includes air hose reels for pneumatic tools and machinery; water hose reels for wash-down, power-washing, potable water or in-plant fire protection; dual hose reels for oxygen/acetylene welding; hydraulic hose reels for powering tools and machinery; and hose reels for fuel, antifreeze and off-road lubrication. The company also supplies to the OEM markets for fire protection; liquid petroleum/gas, as well and other refined fuels besides aviation.
The company has always been an advocate of advertising and took part in trade shows as early as the 1930s to promote its work. Exports became an important part of the company’s sales by the early-1970s. In fact, when the 2 millionth reel built by Hannay came off the assembly line in 2012 for a shipment to Australia.
“But the aviation fueling market helped the company grow in its early years as aviation took off in the 1940s and 1950s,” Eric adds. “And it remains a big part of our business today thanks to the relationships the company made decades ago.”
It also may have helped to win accounts in the aviation fueling business considering that the company was an early proponent of corporate aviation when it bought an Aero Commander in the 1950s.
“That’s been a very important part of keeping in touch with our customers,” Eric says. “Many of our top customers are located in tiny, hard-to-reach towns as well. Travel that could take days going through the Albany airport can be done in just one day.” Currently, the company owns a Beechcraft Premier I purchased in 2007.