One fiery night of devastation turns into seven months of anguish

February 13, 2016 at 2:20 am Leave a comment

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My son and daughter-in-law Ben and Wendy Baker were married in 1993 and a year later went to work for Farwell Products in Wenatchee, WA, a company that had been in existence for more than 50 years. Farwell Products manufactures Doc Farwell’s Grafting Seal, Tree Paint and Seal & Heal.  These are pliable, thick coatings to apply to trees and vines for grafting, tree protection and tree surgery.  The small business is a two man operation, Ben in production and Wendy in the office.

In 2003 Ben & Wendy bought the business from Wendy’s father and began to increase sales, selling to distributors all across the United States and Canada. Life was good, and business was good.  So good in fact that in 2014 they made the decision to build a bigger, more modern facility in East Wenatchee to house their business so they would be able to increase production even more.

The construction of the new building has started!

The construction of the new building has started!

Ben & Wendy excited about the new warehouse

Ben & Wendy excited about the new warehouse

In the fall of 2014 they broke ground on the new building. After months of red tape, permit issues, inspection considerations, faulty equipment deliveries and all the other headaches associated with the erection of their new building, in the summer of 2015 it was near completion.

In the meantime, Ben & Wendy ordered the new lightnin mixer in anticipation of the completion of the new building. This mixer would enable more flexibility and precision to the mixing process. A brand new fork lift was delivered.  And after a 6 month wait, the new air mixer was delivered.  Ben had started to pack up materials and product in preparation for the move.

Flames surrounding Wenatchee

Flames surrounding Wenatchee

The summer of 2015 was a hot, dry one. There had been a drought and the hillsides surrounding Wenatchee were tinder dry.  On June 28th a wildfire erupted just north of Wenatchee coined the “Sleepy Hollow” fire.  Within hours the fire was out of control.  It was the hottest, fastest fire anyone had ever seen.

The huge, not embers blowing towards town

The huge, not embers blowing towards town

By that evening the wind was carrying the enormous, flaming hot embers everywhere, making its way to the commercial district in the northern part of town.

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Flames shooting out of Farwell Products

Flames shooting out of Farwell Products

Propane and chemicals stored in the area began exploding, spreading the fire to several surrounding warehouses.

Farwell Products left in ashes

Farwell Products left in ashes

Nothing left...

Nothing left…

The next morning showed the devastation. Thousands of acres were burned, 28 homes on the outskirts of Wenatchee were destroyed and several warehouses in the commercial part of town were left in ashes.  Farwell Products was one of them.

The brand new forklift was destroyed

The brand new forklift was destroyed

Immediately Ben went to the warehouse to assess the damages. Everything was a total loss.  All of the equipment and the entire inventory he had on hand were gone.

The clay mixer pulled from the wreckage

The clay mixer pulled from the wreckage

He managed to pull out the clay mixer. Because it is made of carbon steel, it could withstand more heat.  It was warped and twisted but Ben knew it was crucial to try to salvage it since it was needed for the manufacturing of the product they produced.  He loaded it on a trailer and sent what was left of the charred mess to a fabricator to see what they could do.  The days and weeks that followed were a blur.  They dealt with insurance companies, well-wishers sent their condolences, and they waited for the final phase of the new warehouse to be complete.

Orders were coming in. Wendy was dealing with the daily phone calls explaining to everyone that the warehouse had been burned to the ground and that they were re-building as fast as they could to get operations back up and running.  Some were very understanding, others not so much.  “But can’t you just send us a couple of gallons?”, “Sorry, our entire inventory of product was destroyed and we don’t have any way to produce any more.  How can you not understand that?”  It was a very frustrating and stressful time.

The pump (the most important element to the new production process was ordered in August.

The beautiful but empty new warehouse

The beautiful but empty new warehouse

By the middle of September, all inspections were satisfied and the new building was ready to be occupied. Over the next couple of months the new raw materials were ordered and delivered.  The new mixer and tanks and machinery were ordered and slowly but surely started coming into the warehouse.  A new fork lift was delivered.  The clay mixer was salvaged and straightened and rebuilt and delivered at the end of August.  The clay was delivered in September (unfortunately the pallets had shifted during transport and the entire load had to be unloaded by hand and restacked, but it was finally here).  And the pump?  Well, it was on back order.  So they waited…

The rebuilt clay mixer

The rebuilt clay mixer

More orders came in along with more unhappy customers in need of their product.

The product is being mixed one, slow batch at a time.

The product is being mixed one, slow batch at a time.

By the middle of October all the raw materials had been delivered and all of the machinery except for the pump had been delivered. Anxiety finally overcame Ben and he decided he had to do something, so he started mixing the materials the way it was done in the very beginning, without the pump.  It was a tedious and slow process.   He tried this way and that until he finally got a product he was satisfied with.

By the 1st of December he was back in production trying to satisfy some of the orders that had been pouring in.  One slow batch at a time.  And then in the middle of December it happened!  The pump finally arrived… And it was broken! After months and months of trying to salvage the company, this was a heavy blow to Ben and Wendy.

The second pump arrives...finally!

The second pump arrives…finally!

 

On the 18th of January, four and a half months after placing the order, the second pump arrived.  It has been installed and I’m happy to say that on the 30th of January, 2016 Farwell Products is finally back in full production in their beautiful, new warehouse.

Ben & Wendy. Finally back to full production!

Ben & Wendy. Finally back to full production!

Filling orders!

Filling orders!

So many people forget the lasting effects a disaster has on the many people who lost their homes and businesses on that devastating night of June 28th, 2015.  I just wanted to tell the story of one incident…one family…one business… that took 7 months to recover, and is still recovering from that night.  I believe the key force that has gotten Ben & Wendy through this ordeal is their positive attitude, their belief in the product they produce, and their strong love and bond they have for each other.  Together they are a team.  They never lost hope.  Farwell Products, the company that was founded so many years ago, is lucky to have Ben & Wendy as the Keeper of its product.

 

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