This week, we had the rare opportunity to finally meet a family fundamental in our company and family’s past.

Since our founding by George Frasier in 1918, our family has had the privilege of working with many other Northwoods families and companies that have been and still are cornerstones of the Rhinelander community.  The nature of what we do (plumbing, heating & cooling services) has given us the opportunity to work with some families for generations.

A reunion half a century in the making:  Phil Frasier (right) with the 3rd and 4th generations of the Abel family - Ryan, Ed & Jim.

A reunion half a century in the making: Frasier’s owner Phil Frasier (right) with the 3rd and 4th generations of the Abel family – Ryan, Ed & Jim.

The Abels were one such family, and the story goes back nearly 100 years.

Up until the 1930’s there were very few cars or trucks in the Northwoods of Wisconsin.  The majority of transportation was handled by rail, horse, or boat.  George Frasier’s plumbing business was no exception.  Everything needed for plumbing and heating jobs was hauled on horse-drawn trailers, like this one:

horse drawn toilet cart

George Frasier and crew on a horse-drawn toilet cart in the early 1920’s.

From toilets, to the tools and materials for pipe repair – it was all hauled in these carts.

As you can imagine, hauling around hundreds and sometimes thousands of pounds of equipment with a horse was laborious.  Plumbers also had to tend for their horses, or hire a stabling service.  When the snow got deep in the winters, business would often grind to a hault.  Horses were limited on their hauling distance, and jobs that today could be done in a few hours…sometimes took days if not weeks.  As the business grew, George Frasier knew he had to scale.

George Frasier needed a service vehicle.

This is where the Abel family comes in.

One of the first automotive dealerships in Northern Wisconsin was the Abel Studebaker Shop.  Thankfully for Frasier’s Plumbing, the Abel’s needed plumbing in their new car dealership.

 

In 1927, as trade for plumbing the entire Abel Studebaker building, George Frasier got our first plumbing service vehicle:

A brand new, 1927 Studebaker Sedan.

first Frasier's plumbing truck

Note: Frasier’s was first called, ‘Oneida Plumbing’, then ‘Westside Plumbing’ before taking the family name under Bill Frasier.

 

George Frasier, with the first Frasier's Plumbing service truck.

George Frasier (this time, sans mustache), with the first Frasier’s Plumbing service vehicle.

The leap in business that this partnership enabled George Frasier to make was significant.  No more taking care of horses.  No more worrying about tipping the toilet and pipe carts.  No more hauling plumbing supplies by horse or boat (unless the boat was completely necessary).

With his new service truck from Abel’s dealership, George could plumb almost anywhere in the Northwoods.

The tool kit for a plumber in those days was simple, but very heavy.  Compared to today (when our plumbers are driving around with iPads, sophisticated diagnostic equipment, and hundreds of tools), this kit may seem simple.  Do not let the simplicity fool you – this was work for an educated individual.

We actually still have a few of George and his employee’s tools in our offices today:

Nearly all pipes in the first half of the 20th century were made out of iron, and soldered with lead.  Little “plumber’s fire pots” like this one were used by Frasier’s plumbers to melt lead.  The lead was then paired with oakum rope to make a seal in the cast iron pipe joint.

lead melting pot

“Plumber’s Fire Pots” like this one were part of any good plumber’s tool bag up through the 1970’s.

 

Before the lead could be poured in to the joint, the pipe would need to be yarned with oakum rope using tampers like these.

plumbing tamping tools

These tampers were found in the Frasier’s basement not long ago.

 

Small hand-held torches like this one were used to melt the lead in the fire pot and to help remove any gaps left by the lead in the cast iron pipe joint.

old welding torch

This is an actual torch used by Frasier’s plumbing as far back as World War 2.

 

The February 1956 edition ‘Popular Mechanics’ magazine shares more detail of this process:

Popular Mechanics cast iron pipe article link

It should be noted that page 146 has a pretty sweet article about a “motorized bait jigger” for ice fishing.

Back to the story…

In 1958, our business office was located on Stevens Street in downtown Rhinelander.  George Frasier’s son, Bill Frasier, needed a new building with room to expand.  He needed a building with room for more inventory, and a lot with room for more service trucks.

That’s when Abel’s Studebaker Dealership came up on the market.

old shop

The Abel Studebaker dealership – now the location of Frasier’s at 310 North Brown Street in Rhinelander, WI

 

A deal was struck up, and to this day, Frasier’s Plumbing is located at the original location of the Abel family’s dealership – 310 North Brown Street, Rhinelander, WI.

 

Frasier's shop - formerly a Studebaker dealership

The new brick in the foreground was added in over where the dealership’s service entry garage doors had been.  The sign in the image above was the Frasier’s sign from the Stevens Street location.  It was done up by Bill Cleveland, of the local 3-generation family business – Cleveland Signs.

 

So, there it is – the story of the first Frasier’s service vehicle and how we came to be at our present location.  All of it, connected to the Abel family.

In many companies, especially those that are not family owned, this kind of history would be lost.  In fact, I have to confess, I did need to call my grandpa (Bruce Frasier – 3rd generation owner) to clear up some details.  I learned more of how our business came to be, about different Northwoods families who were involved, and more about local partnership.

Recently, after a short stint under a management team that was going to buy in to our company, the Frasier family has taken back complete management control of Frasier’s.  We are thankful for the many great families and their businesses in this community that we have the privilege to do business with and for.

With Phil and Joanna Frasier at the helm, and with 3 amazing new team member additions from the community just this week, we’re looking to continue the tradition of family/business partnerships for the next 100 years.

 

Jared Frasier