Leon Pfannenstiel read the raised lettering on the metal pedestal of a stoplight pole awaiting painting at his shop, Leon’s Welding & Fabrication, on the US-40 highway bypass.
“Eagle Signal Co., Davenport, Iowa,” Pfannenstiel read out loud.
The pole is one of seven in his shop, all of them taken down on Main Street from the corners of 11th and 12th streets in Hays.
The City of Hays hired Leon’s Welding to refurbish the lights, said Public Works director Jesse Rohr.
“We just took them down for general maintenance,” Rohr said. “They are being sandblasted and powder-coated black. They’ve been yellow forever.”
In a couple weeks, the stoplight signal heads and poles will be re-installed, but in the meantime traffic at those intersections on Main Street is being routed by temporary stop signs.
The 11th, 12th and 13th street stoplights, all of which stand on poles and pedestals, are significantly older than other stoplights in Hays, Rohr said. But he couldn’t hazard a guess as to their age. The fabricator, Iowa-based Eagle Signal, appears to have been absorbed over the decades through a variety of corporate transactions, and internet sellers now refer to the lights as vintage.
“It’s probably been decades since they were all refurbished at one time,” Rohr said of the signal heads and poles. “It has been a really long time, well before my time. I’ve been here 18 years.”
One of the eight poles at the intersection was mounted in concrete, so that pole wasn’t removed. The others, painted in place for many years, were unbolted a couple weeks ago from their anchor plates and hauled to Leon’s.
“We’re the only ones in Hays who can powder coat,” said Pfannenstiel, owner of Leon’s Welding.
Leon’s has two ovens for the process. Leon’s employee Ronald Julian spray paints the metal items with primer first, then with powdery pigment, and next he rolls the item into a furnace, where the powder melts to a durable shiny finish, in this case, black.
“I can’t get anybody to come in here in the summertime when it’s 140 degrees in here,” he said last Monday, as he prepared to powder coat the poles and signal heads. A chilly 50 degrees outside on Monday, Julian pointed out it was a cozy 80 degrees in the powder coating room.
Leon’s big furnace is 36 feet long by 12 feet tall by 9 feet wide, and can handle jobs as big as combine trailers, tank trucks, and vacuum tanks, Pfannenstiel said. A smaller one, 8 feet by 8 feet by 16 feet is the one that started the business, he said.
“You can bring me your lawn chairs from your patio, signs, anything,” Pfannenstiel explained.
When he opened the furnace door, there was no big blast of heat, just radiating warmth.
“Whatever’s inside bakes at 400 degrees for 10 minutes. Then we pull it out, let it cool, and it’s done.”
In the parking lot last week was a truck from U.S. Tower Corp., Lincoln, pulling a long, oversized trailer carrying two big towers. Prebuilt and galvanized elsewhere, Leon’s applied the powder coat, a desert-sand color.
“That was an expensive powder,” Pfannenstiel said. “Those are headed for Afghanistan.”
Pfannenstiel and his wife, Melinda, started the business on their farm south of town, then seven years ago upsized to large metal buildings on Old 40, which house a two-bay powder cook shop and a four-bay welding shop, plus offices. Julian is one of the company’s 14 employees.
“We fabricate anything and everything,” Pfannenstiel said, walking through the shop. At one station, a welder was building a lead pot for battery maker EnerSys. Also in the making was a manure-spreading shaft for a business in Dighton, an aluminum fuel tank for another customer and a metal threshold for the entrance to Domino’s Pizza.
“We are a job shop,” said Pfannenstiel, who is certified for natural gas pipeline work. “We do anything and everything.”