Throughout the years, Markey Machinery Company’s dedication to quality has made it one of the top deck machinery companies in the country, with loyal customers returning year after year for the service and superior workmanship they have come to expect from the Seattle-based company.
The tradition began in 1907, when a young Charles Markey, fresh from a two-year trading expedition on the Alaska and Siberian coast, started up the C.H. Markey Machinery Company, a general contracting company serving both the marine and logging industries. Little did Markey know that it would set the stage for three generations and 100+ years of hard work and success that continue today with Markey Machinery Company Inc.
After three years servicing the marine and logging industry, Charles joined up with John Wilson and the two moved the company to Smith’s Cove, changing the name to “Markey & Wilson.” The two men cut their ties with the logging industry and began focusing solely on the maritime industry, building cannery vessels and fishing craft while simultaneously incorporating a large volume of ship repair business and general machine work.
The company grew quickly, and soon the Smith’s Cover site was traded for a larger one located on Hanford Street, enabling the two men to increase the size of the shop facilities. The company remained on Hanford Street until 1917.
In 1915, five years after setting up shop with Jim Wilson, Charles dissolved the Markey & Wilson partnership. Markey felt that his company should focus on the manufacture of deck equipment and maritime auxiliary machinery as well as the repair end of the industry.
A few years later, Markey picked up a new partner, James Campbell, the owner of Campbell Machine Works, located on property adjacent to the Markey’s site, and Markey & Wilson became Markey-Campbell Machinery Co.
Less than two years later the company principals changed again. On December 29, 1916, R.R. Fox purchased Campbell’s interest in the company and the company name was changed to Markey Machinery Company. With the beginning of World War I the need for machinery skyrocketed, and Fox and Markey began searching for a different location.
In the spring of 1917, they purchased a site on Horton Street. They built a new factory and office building and installed additional machinery to handle the wartime demand for steam cargo winches, anchor windlasses, power steering engines and other types of deck machinery. Demand was so great that the factory ran at full capacity around the clock for two years.
Shortly after World War I, Charles Markey bought out R.R. Fox and added Inc. to the end of the company name. During this time, Markey introduced his son Bill into the business. Bill had spent some time at the University of Washington’s School of Engineering, and began his long career at Markey, working as a trucker, a draftsman and a designing engineer.
As a whole, the period from 1918 to 1929 was one of growth for Markey. The company worked hard to diversify and expand its business, building and working on projects like special lead working machinery, portable air compressors and pipe boilers for heating systems. Markey also began developing the Viking stationary and maritime diesel engines, which ranged between one and four cylinders and 12 to 48 horsepower.
These engines could be found on yachts, harbor and log patrol boats, fish carriers, cape trollers and numerous land applications, and although Markey stopped building the engines in the following years, the company still manufactured parts and provided service for them for years afterward.
In fact, Markey takes the service and repair side of its company very seriously, servicing its equipment and machinery for as long as it lasts. Today, vessels like the stern-wheeler tug Portland is a living example of the high quality and longevity that Markey is respected for. In 1947, Markey engineers built a steam steering system for the sternwheeler tug Portland. The tug worked on the Columbia River for years and is now a riverside museum. Markey’s steam steering system still works and Markey continues to service it on a regular basis, even making parts when necessary.
The Depression brought some hard times, but the company managed to hang on. In fact, Markey managed to keep almost all of its employees on the payroll. Operating the company on the motto “run scared,” Charles Markey believed in always looking ahead to the next low spot. As a result, Markey took home only a modest paycheck each week, even as the company grew, preferring to invest earnings and profit back into the company to buy needed tools and equipment. Today, Mike Markey believes that his grandfather had the right idea, saying, “Over the years, we have believed that success means survival, not M.B.A. style growth.”
During World War II, Markey expanded once again, building new steel fabricating and machine shops in two new plants on Eighth Avenue South in order to handle the massive government contracts awarded to the company. Markey regularly built capstans and windlasses for small Jeep carriers as well as for Liberty ships. Demand was so great that at this time Markey had 400 employees on the payroll. Bill Markey even flew to Washington D.C. when necessary to beg for steel needed to complete the jobs, which included special machine work like rudder stocks, propeller shafts and precision machinery. The company performed so well that February 12, 1943 was named “Markey Day” in Seattle.
In 1948, Charles Markey died and Bill took over as president, introducing sayings like “build what you know you can build right,” and “don’t pay interest on other peoples’ money.”
With Bill came another addition to the company, Fred LeCoque. LeCoque worked with Bill for many years, introducing his son Robert E. LeCoque into the business. Robert ran the machine shop, and eventually his two sons, Robert A. and Tom, were welcomed into the Markey family as well. Today Robert A. is the manufacturing manager and Tom, according to Mike Markey, is one of the best lathemen that Markey has.
“The LeCoque family has been integral to Markey’s success,” Mike Markey said. “We have a very loyal work force,” said Mike, “some employees have been around for 47, maybe even 48 years.”
In 1957, following family tradition, Donn Markey, Bill’s son, left the lumber hauling business to join his father, working in the fabrication department. Bill’s other son, Michael, followed in 1958 after working for General Electric as an engineer for four years.
Bill remained president of the company for 40 years, retiring in 1988 due to health reasons. As his son Michael chuckled, “people retire here when their heads hit the desk.” And true to Mike’s words, Bill remained an active figure on the waterfront until his death in 1996.
Following tradition, Mike Markey, then the chief engineer, took over for his father. He introduced a modernization program that affected almost every part of the business. Mike also began to slowly make a change from singular rule to team management.
In 1996, Markey passed the presidency over to Blaine W. Dempke, a draftsman and an engineer with 18 years of experience behind him. The fourth president and the first not to be a Markey, Dempke, along with several others, took key positions within the company. He and Robert A. LeCoque then acquired the business from the Markey family in 2001.
In mid-2008 Dempke and LeCqoue made the decision to invest $4m into a complete factory renovation, including a new 10,000 sf assembly building, a new 7,000 sf office building, and refurbishment of its existing machine shop and fabrication buildings, with the investment focus then moving to expanding and updating its machine-tool capabilities. In Dempke’s words this investment “was long overdue”.
Today, over 100 years after Charles Markey first began his three-man shipbuilding company on the shores of Puget Sound, the entire Markey Machinery Co. family is looking ahead to another 100 years and a future steeped in tradition and values driven by pride in workmanship and the desire to produce the highest quality product with the very best possible service.
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