The early days of Grove


Wayne A. Nicarry, one of the founders of Grove (Worldwide), died May 29th at his home in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, aged 85. Nicarry’s contributions to Grove were immense. His sound operational and conservative financial guidance proved critical to its survival during the more challenging times over his four decades with the company. See Wayne A Nicarry 1920-2005

Wayne Nicarry joined Dwight and John Grove’s business on May 13th 1946. The business had been started by Dwight L. Grove in a rented two-car garage in Shady Grove, Pennsylvania during February 1946 to build the farm wagons that Dwight had originally designed for use on his farm.

John L. Grove joined his elder brother’s business two months later when his employers, Westinghouse in Philadelphia, shut down due to a strike.

Around Christmas, the three men, as equal partners, sat on the floor of Nicarry’s living room in Shady Grove as Nicarry drafted the agreement that officially founded Grove Manufacturing Company effective January 1st 1947. From that day until his retirement in April 1969, Dwight Grove was company president. Nicarry was company treasurer with responsibility for sales while John L. was company secretary, responsible for engineering and production.
The Original Grove partnership agreement

In November 1967, John L. left the company after the board voted, against John’s wishes, to sell the business to Walter Kidde & Company.

The sale of the business had been negotiated by J. Martin Benchoff who had joined Grove as its first salesman in 1954 and who had driven the company’s focus on hydraulic cranes.

Benchoff took over from Dwight as president of Grove in 1969 and for the next sixteen years, with Benchoff and Nicarry at the helm, Kidde funded Grove’s dramatic and highly profitable growth to the zenith of the worldwide hydraulic crane industry. Nicarry retired from Grove in mid-1985, serving as president and chief operating officer to chairman and CEO J. Martin Benchoff.

Of Nicarry, J. Martin Benchoff says, “Wayne was one of the greatest people I’ve ever met. His talents in the business world were tremendous and his contributions to Grove Manufacturing Company were truly outstanding”.

John Wheeler, Executive Vice President, Manitowoc Crane Group-Americas and the senior executive at Grove, who was recruited by Wayne Nicarry in 1974, said, “Wayne Nicarry’s vision and commitment to the future of Grove helped make our business the success that it is today. He personally mentored me and meant a great deal to me. His contributions to the company were significant and appreciated by all Grove employees.”

Early in his life Wayne Nicarry proved himself a shrewd investor and businessman. In the summer of 1946, weeks after joining Grove Brothers, as the business was originally named, Dwight approached Wayne to put up some additional capital to fund the business. However, Nicarry’s bankers wouldn’t go along with it so, as Wayne said, “we ploughed on without additional funds”.

One morning that summer, when Nicarry and the Grove brothers arrived at the ‘garage’ the employees were waiting, saying they wouldn’t work because there were too many chiefs and not enough Indians. That proved to be the only work stoppage. In that first year the company had sales of about $100,000 but only hade a profit of $99!
Wayne Nicarry, in his late 30s, at the controls of an Industrial 810, Grove’s largest crane at the time (1957) with a capacity of 8-tons at 8ft radius or 10-tons at 4ft.

By April 1948, the company was again out of cash. Nicarry approached Jacob Miller, who he’d met through the Church, who agreed to become a fourth, equal partner. Grove Manufacturing Company was incorporated in Pennsylvania on May 19th 1948 and Miller’s investment quite possibly saved the company. Soon after that, the company moved into a ‘larger’ 20ft x 36ft cement block building on 2 ½ acres of land owned by Nicarry at the east corner of the 308-acre site that today remains Grove’s headquarters.

Wayne Nicarry was born in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania on December 15th, 1919 and on September 22nd 1939, he married Frances O. Oberholzer. Wayne and Frances Nicarry had two sons, Ronald L. and Wayne F. Nicarry. Frances passed away on April 14th, 2000.

Wayne started out farming in Franklin County, Pennsylvania, while studying civil engineering through a correspondence course. Upon completion of the course he went to work on the construction of the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C. After its completion Nicarry returned home and joined The Landis Tool Company in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, where he became a machinist and also met Dwight and John L. Grove.

Meanwhile, Nicarry continued his religious education, being ordained a minister of the Church of the Brethren in 1944, aged 25. Later, Reverend Nicarry became a member of the Elizabethtown College board of trustees, a position he held for 31-years with 7 of these as its chairman. He received his honorary doctorate degree from the college and continued to serve as a trustee emeritus

In a rare series of interviews afforded the writer in the parlor in his longtime home in Greencastle, Pennsylvania, during June 1995, Nicarry gave a flavor of the early days of Grove.

“Austerity and hard work was the name of the game in those early days, but growth was constant and acceptance of the product increased. We needed some kind of mobile handling equipment (to move the farm wagons), but didn’t see anything that we felt our limited capital allowed us to purchase, so we decided to build a crane of our own.

That was 1949. That first crane was fully hydraulic and self-propelled but didn’t have a telescopic boom It wasn’t until 1952 that we developed our first telescopic boom industrial yard crane.”

Indeed during the early days it was literally all hands to the pumps. Occasionally, to make ends meet, the partners even turned their hands to painting the roofs of customers’ barns and custom combining for area farmers. Nicarry ran the cranes in the yard, towed farm wagons behind his car en-route to customers or trade shows, did whatever it took to get the job done. In Shady Grove, the lamps always burnt late.

“It wasn’t exactly easy (working alongside the Grove brothers)” Nicarry conceded, “We were entirely different personalities, abilities and make-up. We overcame these differences whenever we faced a decision and we always worked as a team. We worked through our different opinions, made a decision, and implemented it. It was those very differences that helped us achieve the growth and success we attained.

Even though the company grew, it was profitable every year from the date of its founding, but cash was a scarce commodity.
J. Martin Benchoff and Wayne A. Nicarry (right) at the Shady Grove plant on January 9th, 1979, standing in front of the 20,000th Grove crane - the new 80-ton capacity RT 980, at the time, the world’s largest rough terrain crane - beside the original 2-ton

“It could not have been achieved by any one of us individually. Together, our differences enabled us to be an effective team. Dwight was the ideas man, John L. was the designer and production man, and I was the man behind the scenes. And then of course in 1954, we were joined by J. Martin who had the vision and unquestionably should go down as one of this country’s greatest industrial leaders – for within the possibilities of the industry in which we operated – his achievements were enormous”
Wayne Nicarry

Wayne Nicarry will be remembered for his many philanthropic gifts to local hospitals, schools and charities. He was an extraordinarily shrewd investor, following the Dow Jones with relish. His only tools were ‘a yellow pad and a No. 2 pencil’. He believed intensely in hard work and thrift.

Although he died a very wealthy man, like John L. and Dwight Grove, Wayne Nicarry lived a very modest life, with little interest in the visible trappings of wealth. He cared deeply about his community and his many lifelong friends.

Stuart Anderson
August 2005
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