ELKHART — This “hidden gem” of Elkhart County business isn’t hidden because it’s subtle, or because it’s an unknown name.
Bull Moose Tube has one of the largest manufacturing facilities in the county, and it’s a name that’s been known around here for decades. But what they do in that building might surprise you.
Bull Moose Tube
FOUNDED/WHY THEY’RE HERE
Bull Moose, a Missouri company, bought Bock Industries in Elkhart in 1990. Bock started as an RV supplier but pioneered methods to create structural steel tubes, which is what Bull Moose does here to this day.
WHAT THEY DO
“We get steel from the steel mill in wide-band form as it comes off the hot strip mill. We make tubing of all different sizes,” said Jack Isles, who recently retired as general manager of the plant. They slit the steel to the right size, then spool it up and weld it together so the mills can operate continuously and run it through the mill, cutting it to length and stacking it before moving it into the warehouse area, where it’s loaded on trucks or train cars. Despite its start with the RV industry, only about five percent of Bull Moose’s production goes to the RV industry today, said Rick Thyen, plant manager.
WHAT YOU DIDN’T KNOW YOU KNEW
Their tubing holds up gymnasiums and mines and makes up the frame of armored military vehicles. It’s also used for guard rails. Bulldozers and tractors use Bull Moose tubing in the roll cages, and the tubes go into buses and rail cars.
WHERE THEY REACH
The structural tubing made north of Jimtown is used around the world. They’re used in mine shafts in Chile, and the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, use 3,000 tons of Bull Moose tubing in their framework. According to Isles, it’s much stronger than an H-beam or an I-beam.
They compete around the world, but specialize in the niche of high-yield steel, which is about twice as strong as the standard steel.
One of their two Elkhart mills is “one of the biggest mills in North America,” allowing them to make tubes 12 inches by 12 inches, with walls up to 5/8 of an inch thick, according to Isles. They work with tolerances of 15/1000ths of an inch.
Their cavernous facility, which covers about 360,000 square feet or 8.6 acres, has two rail lines in it, one for delivering steel and one for picking up finished tubes.
They can handle several semi trucks inside the shipping end of the building at any one time and send out about 35 truckloads of steel each day, Thyen said. They can load 10 trucks at a time.
Every tube can be tracked to the date it was produced in the steel mill and the second it was produced at Bull Moose.
They test their own steel with a variety of machines, including one which stretches the steel like taffy until it breaks, to make sure it meets load specifications.
Every bit of steel that doesn’t get shipped to customers is recycled, Thyen said.
The seams of the tubes aren’t technically welded. The edges are melted and forged together under intense pressure.
They go through about 800 tons of steel each day.
Coolant/lubricant is constantly used on the steel as it rolls continuously through the mill, with metal grates keeping workers from splashing through the coolant, which is recirculated.
When loading tubes onto rail cars, they took a page from the RV industry and installed lifts that elevate work platforms to the level of the steel on the cars, greatly increasing safety, said Isles.
Do you know of an Elkhart County business that would surprise most people? Let us know about your “hidden gem” by sending an email to Justin Leighty at firstname.lastname@example.org.