By ESTHER AVILA
For the Porterville Recorder
TULARE - Garry Wilson, of the Strathmore Ladder Company, likes to tell his customers, “If there were a better orchard ladder on the market, we would be building it.”
The company, located in the heart of the citrus belt - Strathmore - has been around since the 1920s as a manufacturer of wood tripod and citrus ladders. But it has been owned and operated by the Mike D. Wilson family - Mike and Geanie Wilson - since 1975. And by the time son Garry was in junior high, he too started working with the family business and has been there ever since.
And like their name - ladders are their business. They carry all of the harvesting supplies - bags, pails, harnesses, clippers and gloves - but their main products are their ladders.
“Our top-of-the-line wood ladder was in great demand until the early seventies when the lightweight and more durable aluminum ladder started growing in popularity,” said Wilson, who is also the general manager of the place. “It was at this time that we started producing high-quality aluminum ladders at our plant, as well as our wood ladders.”
But after nearly 70 years of production, the wood ladders were phased out because of the lack of demand and the quality of wood needed to produce them.
“Good wood cost too much. As soon as the wood ladders cost as much as the aluminum ones, people stopped buying them. The aluminums are better.”
An average aluminum ladder can last a very long time. If used for home or landscaping work around the yard, one ladder can last a lifetime. But for harvesters, they can use the ladder every single day for 10 years before they need to start buying replacement parts or think of replacement, Wilson said.
Because of their central location in one of the largest fruit producing regions of the world, Wilson said they have been in the unique position to inspect and repair thousands of heavily used orchard ladders.
“This has resulted in us being able to see first hand where improvements could be made,” Wilson said. “Many of these improvements have been incorporated into the design of our ladders over the last 30 years, making it what we believe to be the finest on the market.”
Sales representative Richard Lopez agreed - and not just because he works there, he said.
“This is definitely the best product on the market,” Lopez said. “We feel confident about our products.”
With manufacturing experience of more than 350,000 ladders, it is easy to say that it may be the last brand orchard ladder people will ever buy, Wilson said.
In all, Strathmore Ladders offer two types of ladders, six designs and many heights. With more than 1,000 ladders in their store right before certain seasons, there are plenty of choices to pick from.
The ladders are available at Strathmore Ladders and are also distributed locally by Fruit Growers Supply of Porterville.
“We make all kinds of ladders - from 6 to 14 feet for our tripods. Straight ones go all the way up to 22 feet,” said Wilson. “Occasionally we'll get a custom order to make a ladder for someone in another state.”
Regional ladders are popular in other places, he said.
“Eighty years ago, most of the ladders were homemade. Some pickers in different areas of the country like the old ladders. They don't want the new ones so we have to modify them,” Wilson said.
And through all those years, the Strathmore Ladder Company has been well known.
“We have always been a small, hometown business where service and quality is our working motto. Since the early days of this company we have continually built a high end product,” said Wilson. “Our desire is not to be as good as the other name brands - we strive to be better."