05 Jul Jada: Colby Canvas an All-American business
Hoffman Harvesting’s fourth stop on the map is Colby, Kan., located in northwest Kansas and only three hours from Denver, Colo. Since 1950, the town has had a population of 5,000 people and is projected to be the same in 2050. This interstate town has 700 hotel rooms which are almost always full and is one of the smallest communities in the United States with a Super Wal-Mart.
One of our favorite stops in this town is Colby Canvas—whether it is to do business or just to stop by and visit. This business has made our combine windshield covers, flags, and long and wide load signs, which are all a crucial part to moving down the road safely.
Steve and Stanley Molstad, brothers, own and operate Colby Canvas. Steve has an 18-year-old son named, Kyle. Stanley and his wife Meredith have two daughters; Katie a mechanical Engineer in Kansas City, Mo., and Erika a recent Fort Hays graduate who will be teaching in Deerfield, Kan. next semester.
Colby Canvas opened its doors in 1927 and has been based in Colby, Kan., ever since. In the 1960s, the Molstad’s took over the business. The family was destined to be business owners. Previously they owned a Chrysler dealership, a Firestone dealership and a John Deere dealership which they sold. Their old John Deere dealership is where Colby Canvas is located today.
“If custom harvesters are asked what has changed most about their business today, they would say the equipment,” Steve said. “One harvester told me that when he started harvesting the front tire of his combine was smaller than the back tire of the combines he owns today. That is what happened to the old John Deere Dealership that now houses Colby Canvas. It just got too small for the equipment.”
Steve explained that the dealership used to house three tractors on display in front and a work space to hold two combines in the back to be worked on. Now, you could not get one tractor into the building. However, the building works perfectly for their business.
Perry Hoffman and Steve Molstad talk business. I do not know if they were joking around or actually conversing about ordering new wide and long load signs.
Colby Canvas first started solely working with canvas that was used to make swather canvases. The business was contracted by John Deere and Heston, to produce swather canvas. Later on, they worked in aftermarket through a company in Canada making swather canvas. Truckloads of swather canvases were then hauled up to Canada.
Since the biggest piece of fabric they have comes in five foot increments- 5 ft X 110 yards (330 feet). In order to make larger items, they need to fuse the material together. This machine has a gas flame that helps fuse the material together. The operator can control the heat and speed of the machine to suit the type of fabric they are using.
The business has gone from a full production line specializing in swather canvas to a custom fabrication shop. Today, the business has ten employees and specializes in hay stack, drill and planter covers, wide and long load signs, rollout and house awnings, swimming pool covers, tarps, boat covers, banners, tents, billboard and business signs, and much more. Over the years the material is better quality.
“When we started out, we worked strictly with canvas,” Steve said. Today, we barely ever use canvas.We use vinyl, nylon, polyester, and acrylic.”
Colby Canvas employee, Carmel, works on a dog shade for dog kennel using a Consew sewing machine that does four stitches per inch and sews faster than your typical sewing machine. She says she can do one boat tarp in a day and when working with another co-worker can do 15 truck tarps per day. The largest thing she has sewn is a 40 X 100 foot circus tent.
This business is truly a custom shop. Their website ColbyCanvas.com, has fueled this change. One day, Steve received a call from Martha’s Vineyard. A couple was online looking for planter covers and found Colby Canvas. While the website was advertising “Ag Planters” and the couple was looking for covers to cover their plants while they were on vacation, Colby Canvas was able to make the couple exactly what they were looking for. Another gentleman from Hawaii who steams clams as his profession was looking for a breathable cover that would store his wicker basket cookers when he wasn’t working. Colby Canvas had the fabric and design that worked perfectly for the gentleman’s needs. As you can see, Colby Canvas does some interesting custom work and has done business in virtually every state of the U.S. and reached audiences outside the country into Canada and Mexico.
Steve shows the aluminum that is used to help build their signs. The sign department designs billboards and signs such as the one pictured above. The graphic artist makes the design and then someone paints the vinyl the desired background color. A mask, or a stencil, is then used with acid which eats the original paint color off. Lettering in the desired colored is then stuck on the top of where the stenciled/acid area was. This method allows lighting from behind the sign shine through and display the right color at night. The Smokehouse sign has aluminum frames welded together for support which will be mounted on the building.
Jada Bulgin can be reached at email@example.com. All Aboard 2009 Wheat Harvest is sponsored by High Plains Journal and DuPont Crop Protection.