Rural Builder Hall of Fame: Bill Thul

Bill Thul has been involved in the metal building industry for more than 55 years, all with Klauer Manufacturing. Through his purchasing of steel capacity, he worked with steel mills in the development of prepainted galvanized steel for fabrication of metal products, which helped lead to the availability of more than 100 colors on the market today. He also worked with builders, steel mills, and the in-house machine shop at Klauer in the development of roll formers for metal building trim products. His efforts spawned such processes as roll-formed rake and corner trim, ridge cap, door post trim, door track cover, and door jamb trim. Bill was also an active participant in the Rural Builder Show. Though semi-retired, he still remains active in the company.

Rural Builder: Tell me about what you’re doing nowadays.
Bill Thul: I love to go out and see the guys in the plant, just to say hello. I help out with accounts receivable, open the mail. After Mr. Klauer died, I asked the guys if they wanted me to stay around, and they said, “You’re a legend, we don’t want to lose you.” You do that in a privately-owned corporation, there’s little perks.

RB: How did you get involved in the industry?
BT: After I got out of the service in 1947, I came home and worked in the construction business in Dubuque. I worked mainly in procurement, purchasing. I did that for a couple years and thought, well, I should go back to college. But I also decided it was time to get married, and the head of the construction company I worked for happened to be Bill Klauer’s brother-in-law. So I opted to come to Klauer and went into inside sales. I started March 1, 1950. At first I traveled extensively, but after awhile I got into the purchasing end.

RB: What products were you involved with at first?
BT: At first, it was mostly rain carrying equipment, gutters and downspouts. We used to sell to lumberyards direct, and also some builders, then we decided to go to distributors. We did maintain relationships with Varco Pruden, Star Buildings, a lot of the main steel builders, most of them in rural building.
In the ’70s, I was selling an account, Patterson Lumber, that was very active in pole building. They said, “You know, we’re press braking little items — ridge cap, rake and corner trim.” We had all sorts of brakes, and I wondered if we should get into roll forming. We started putting together used equipment and making our own machines to get into making trim items for steel buildings.

RB: You worked with the development of prepainted galvanized steel, tell me more about that.
BT: When I first started, it was all bare galvanized, but you could see the advent of the painted product. I can remember when the first load of painted product came in, nobody in our company said, “Oh Lord, you can’t bend that.” We made elbows with bends so severe … even using higher tensile steel. Through the years people have said, “How can you make something like that out of a painted product?” but we had it formulated. It’s amazing how this painted product has transpired. Now you’ve got guarantees from 10 years, to 25, up to 30 and 40 years. The metal building business is just unbelievable, you’ve got so many beautiful fronts. Steel buildings and everything else about them are here to stay forever, the quality has improved so much in the last 30 years.

RB: What changes have you seen in the industry over the years?
BT: When you look in the magazines you see these beautiful buildings, high-rise condos, big commercial properties, hangars, churches. It’s amazing what has been done from the original pole building. There’s no question it’s here to stay.

RB: You went to most of the Rural Builder shows?
BT: I never missed one until maybe four or five years ago. I really enjoyed the camaraderie with the builders.

RB: What does the future of rural building look like?
BT: It looks very bright. All the buildings that you see, not just the rural-type buildings, but even residential, car dealers, churches, are putting on steel roofs. I can’t see an end to it — why would steel buildings not continue to grow and grow?

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