By the 1950s, Hannay was producing about 3,600 reels annually.
Clifford Hannay preferred the hands-on work of his business and left the desk work for others.
By the 1940s, Clifford Hannay's two sons, Dwight and George, had joined the business.
George Hannay, Don Jordan, Dwight Hannay and Art Johnson beside the company's Aero Commander in the 1950s.
The first hose reel built by Clifford Hannay in 1933
The company's single-wrap aviation reels make it virtually impossible to tangle a hose.
An advertisement used heavily in the 1970s highlighted the full range of the company's product line.
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.
While Eric admits there’s only so many ways to make a reel for an industry in which a “new” product could mean one that came out 20 years ago, the company continues to refine the reels it offers to companies throughout the world.
For our industry, the company has always offered an all-aluminum or 304-grade stainless steel fluid path core for its reels, and now offers the same non-ferrous options for the overall exterior construction of the reels as well. A combination bearing and swivel joint assembly eliminates a pipe thread connection, making the reel easier to service and less prone to developing a leak.
Perhaps the most noted advancements are grounding reels that prevent dangerous static electrical build-up in fueling operations.
A non-sparking ratchet, for example, reduces risk of combustion. If the cable is rewound quickly, this feature prevents sparks that can emanate from the rotating metal. Each reel features a declutching arbor that controls cable payout and rewind, ensuring maximum cable control and less time handling the cable. This mechanism automatically locks to hold the cable in place or loosens for rewind or longer payout.
One of the most obvious safety precautions ground support personnel must take can be made even easier through static grounding reels. Using a cable reel increases safety during operations by providing a quick, convenient connection to prevent the buildup of static electricity in volatile areas.
Also, the company has incorporated deadman emergency shutoff systems that prevent major fuel spills and leaks.
Finally, the single-wrap reels, lightweight despite their size, virtually eliminate a tangled hose.
“Speed means everything,” Eric says. “Consider how quickly Southwest Airlines wants to turn its planes. The last thing the airline wants is to spend time untangling a hose.”
The company continues to invest in its 200,000 sq. ft. campus that’s grown to 22 buildings over the years.
Just five years ago, on the heels of its Diamond Anniversary, the company expanded its headquarters by 44,000 sq. ft. to accommodate expanded fabrication, assembly and shipping departments. The shipping department has more tripled in size to 25,000 sq. ft., greatly improving efficiency and lead times.
Eric mentioned, for example, the company is selling more reels with the hose already installed at the factory. In order to do this before the recent expansion, the reels had to make a long journey between different buildings by forklift all of which greatly increased the chances of damage.
Now, Eric says, the reels can come right out the ovens and travel directly overhead to the hose installation work area, shaving up to 48 hours off delivery time of a reel requiring a hose.