Sen. Charles Grassley speaks to employees of Scranton Manufacturing Wednesday during a visit to Scranton.  Grassley also toured the plant, which makes New Way refuse haulers.
Sen. Charles Grassley speaks to employees of Scranton Manufacturing Wednesday during a visit to Scranton. Grassley also toured the plant, which makes New Way refuse haulers.

March 31, 2016


Charles Grassley is no stranger to factories.

Yes, he’s toured hundreds of them as a six-term U.S. senator.

But as younger man, this now 82-year-old Washington, D.C., insider, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a man at the center of a national swirl of controversy over the Supreme Court, worked in a factory — the Waterloo Register. Grassley’s job at Waterloo was to put screw holes in furnace registers for 10 years.

“I did some spot welding,” the senator added during a tour of Scranton Manufacturing Wednesday afternoon.

Scranton Manufacturing’s Jim Ober, vice president for operations, noted Grassley’s experience, and after referencing low unemployment in the region, jokingly presented the senator with a winning proposition.

“We offered him a job,” Ober joked. “I told him we’re in need of labor. He has some fabricating experience.”

Following a walking look at the refuse-truck manufacturer’s sprawling Scranton complex, Ober announced that the company posted a record month in March. It will ship 102 vehicles. The highest number prior to that: 74.

“These are big, big numbers for Scranton Manufacturing,” Ober said. “We don’t see this stopping.”

Grassley, who spent Tuesday night in Denison, held a question-and-answer session at the high school in that western Iowa city Wednesday morning before heading to St. Anthony Regional Hospital in Carroll for a morning tour and town-hall-style session with more than 50 medical center employees and advocates. At Scranton Manufacturing, Grassley ended his stay with a factory-floor forum attended by the majority of the business’s 350 full-time employees.

The Scranton employees pulled no punches.

One of the first questions came from Dean Wernimont, 32, a welder at Scranton Manufacturing’s Carroll operation. He asked Grassley, who was elected to the Iowa Statehouse during the presidential administration of Dwight D. Eisenhower, if term limits would solve problems in the nation’s capital.

Grassley said he’s on record as voting for term limits once in Congress, for a measure to allow members to serve 12 years in each the House and Senate.

That considered, Grassley said, bureaucrats and lobbyists would have major advantages, and too much power, if they were working with inexperienced members of Congress in the wake of term limits.

“It takes a little while to learn how government functions,” Grassley said.

Joe Trecker, 59, of Coon Rapids, a welder with Scranton, urged Grassley to continue to block President Barack Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court, Merrick Garland, an appeals court judge.

“I hope you hold your feet to the fire and don’t even hold hearings on that,” Trecker told Grassley.

Grassley said the next president, not one his final year in office, should nominate a justice after voters have spoken in November.

Responding to other questions, Grassley said he would support the eventual Republican presidential nominee. Grassley said he doesn’t know businessman Donald Trump, the front-runner, well.

He did vouch for U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s credentials on military matters, saying the Texas Republican seeking the White House “will be for a strong military.”

Grassley received the most sustained applause from Scranton Manufacturing’s employees in calling for legislation to prohibit refugees from Iran and Syria from entering the United States until terror concerns can be allayed.

Ober, secretary-treasuer of the Greene County Development Corporation, said businesses in and around Greene County are pressed to find employees.

“We need people,” Ober said.

For its part, Scranton Manufacturing started in 1971 when company founder and CEO John McLaughlin and his brother and a friend began repairing farm equipment in a building on Main Street in Scranton.

When the farm crisis hit in the early 1980s, Scranton Manufacturing purchased Des Moines-based garbage-truck manufacturer New Way and moved its operations to Scranton. The New Way brand now boasts international cache.

Under Scranton Manufacturing’s leadership, the New Way Co. sells throughout the United States, Mexico, China, South America, Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Taiwan, Philippines and Europe.

Ober and company president Michael McLaughlin showed Grassley some yellow trucks headed from the 25-acre Scranton complex to Hawaii.

The company, the third-largest of its type in the industry and the most muscular such family-owned operation, has a joint venture in Mexico. The African continent factors in future plans as well.

Grassley joins U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Kiron, and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds as recent visitors to Scranton Manufacturing.

With his employees gathered, McLaughlin also announced two key management additions. His sister, Kim Goetsch, a co-owner, is now involved in business development; and her husband, Scott Goestch, has been named chief operating officer. The couple recently moved from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to Carroll.