October 2007- From Faulkner's pen to the bellowing voice of a Baptist preacher, the art of storytelling has been deeply entrenched in Southern tradition. The Southern penchant for narrative is alive and well whether one is strolling along the bayou or touring a service center. And the employees at Sol's Pipe and Steel Inc., Monroe, La., aren't just hard at work making massive-diameter pipe, they're contributing to that oral tradition.
Some stories remain as simple verbal exchanges between two people. The story of Sol's Pipe and Steel, however, has been well documented. Sol Rosenberg, founder and president of Sol's Pipe and Steel, landed on U.S. soil in 1949 as a Holocaust survivor, and Richard Chardkoff, a professor of history at the University of Louisiana at Monroe, put his life story on paper. Titled Sol's Story: A Triumph of the Human Spirit,it was published in 2002.
Local newspapers have also given Sol's Pipe and Steel press, and rightfully so. The Southern, family-owned, full-line service center supplied material when our nation needed it most. Because of the multitude of pipe products that Sol's Pipe and Steel keeps on stock, the company was an obvious go-to source after 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina.
From old to new
"In New York, right after 9/11, they were trying to reduce the amount of debris at Ground Zero and do it in a way where they didn't have to put all of it in dump trucks that were hauling it to New Jersey and congesting traffic," explains Sol's son, Jackie
Rosenberg, the company's sales manager. "So they decided to build a barge terminal right there in the East River, as close as they could to where the World Trade Center had been."
Sol's Pipe and Steel specializes in exactly what was needed: massive pipe. Typically this type of product is used for offshore platforms, bridge pilings, caissons, monopiles and for boring applications. In the case of the East River barge terminal, it was pilings that were sought after. The company's 32-acre site houses multiple warehouses to hold its extensive selection of ferrous and nonferrous material, including a complete line of carbon, stainless, aluminum and alloy products. And despite those hundreds of thousands of warehouse square feet, it wasn't hard to locate the order.
"They needed four 80-foot sections of 48-inch-diameter tube with 11/4-inch walls," Rosenberg says. "The contractors put their feelers out and found out that we had that pipe. We didn't have the capability to make that type of pipe, but we just happened to have it at the time."
In addition to producing new large-scale pipe, Sol's Pipe and Steel has a large collection of refurbished pipe. In fact, that side of the business was what got the company started.
"My dad got his start in scrap and oil patch," says Rosenberg. "He'd bring used material back here and recondition it and sell it to the farmers and ranchers in the area. As time went on, we became more and more sophisticated with what we were able to do with the pipe. We can take pipe with tar coating and torch-cut ends and clean it and bevel it and make it almost new."
Considering that the Monroe, La., area used to be the natural gas capital of the world, before the Spindletop discovery in Texas in the 1920s, there's a lot of used pipe to be had. And other than the availability, Rosenberg says that it just makes sense to keep up that division of the service center.
"Often, the smaller diameters, such as 24-inch or 30-inch, are available in used pipe that we can buy, refurbish and sell for a more economical price," he says. "It's an advantage for our customers. Since we have the equipment and the knowledge and our people have been doing it for so many years, it just makes sense."
From plate to pipe
In the mid-1990s, the story line at Sol's Pipe and Steel changed. The company ordered a 10-foot rolling machine, which at first just served as a supplement to the used pipe business. But as two more 20-foot machines were added, producing pipe from plate became the hot topic of conversation. "As the years progressed, our business diversified around new steel and new pipe," Rosenberg says. "We saw less and less large O.D. pipe being offered in the marketplace, and we were happy to fill the void."
On Aug. 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit and New Orleans was suddenly underwater. The Army Corps of Engineers, which Sol's Pipe and Steel already had an established rapport with, was put to the task of trying to drain the city of the excessive flooding.
"As soon as it happened, contractors were called in to assist the Corps to remove the water, and the contractors were screaming for pipe," Rosenberg recalls. "The Corps knew that we were a good source for 42-inch pipe, so they called us. They needed four 50-foot sections of it to pump out all that water, and they needed it right away. It was natural for us to take care of that, being a Louisiana-based company in the large pipe business."
The company worked through the weekend, rolling and welding the steel to meet the Corps' needs. Sol's Pipe and Steel uses three overhead cranes, a plasma and oxy-fuel burning machine that cuts and bevels plate prior to being rolled, and four automatic submerged arc-welding machines that weld the pipe after it's rolled to create sections as large as 20 feet long with up to 2-inch-thick walls and 15-foot diameters. For orders, such as the Corps' 50-foot-long requirements, pipes are welded together in any length that's needed. Custom orders are nothing out of the ordinary at Sol's Pipe and Steel.
"We kept having customers ask for 42-inch, 48-inch or 54-inch products," Rosenberg says. "Sometimes customers have unusual requests, like 73-inch diameter, which has to be custom-made. You can buy those others off the rack, so to speak, but to buy some of the custom-made sizes, such as 72-inch or 80-inch diameter, they're not available. Filling custom orders is a big part of our business."
From the ground up
Rosenberg feels that being a family-owned company helped immensely in supplying the pipe to New York and New Orleans. He says that if Sol's Pipe and Steel had been a larger company with an absentee ownership, it might have been difficult to get overtime approved for the quick turnaround that was required for the two projects.
"We wouldn't have been able to come through with the order if our owner hadn't been available or able to make a decision fast enough," he says. "Back in the old days when we first started out, we thought of ourselves as a PT boat compared to some of the big battleships that were around. Now we're a bit larger, but we're still able to turn that boat around quickly. We're able to maneuver faster than the bigger guys. Sure, they might have a lot of guns and can carry a lot of equipment, but it takes longer for them to react."
As an immigrant, Sol was constantly faced with decisions. When the Rosenberg family first found themselves in New Orleans, Sol felt that there was too much hustle and bustle in the big city, so they made their way north. The decision has been a good one. Monroe proved to be a quiet place to raise a family and a well-situated locale to start a business.
"We're strategically located," Rosenberg explains. "We're close to quite a few mills, and more and more are locating to the Sunbelt area. Not only do we have access to Interstate 20, which runs right through Monroe, but we also have access to rail and water. We're 350 miles from the port of Houston and about 250 miles from the port of New Orleans."
The company's reach is wide: The fleet of 14 trucks at Sol?s Pipe and Steel will deliver as far as 300 miles away. Much further than that and they wouldn't be able to return to Monroe in the same day. One hundred employees keep the trucks going and the machines running.
"We're nothing without our customers, and at the same time, we're nothing without our employees," Rosenberg says. "When my men see plate, it's just a flat piece of pipe to them."
When Sol's Pipe and Steel first opened its doors, it was much different than it is today. It was a small and simple operation--just one man with one goal: to make a comfortable life for his budding family. Sol didn't speak English when he first came to the states and he didn't know a lot about the steel industry, either. But he was determined. Proof of his ambition is easily measured in how the company grew and evolved over the years and how it is still growing and evolving. The story at Sol's Pipe and Steel is far from over.
"As far as our future is concerned, I don't own a crystal ball," Rosenberg says. "At Sol's we have adapted to an ever-changing clientele. In our early years we served mainly a rural agricultural customer base. That segment of our business is only a small percentage today. The key today in our fast-moving economy is adaptability. That is the ability to react to market conditions not only in our local and regional economy but in our national and international ones, as well." MM
By Abbe Miller, from the October 2007 issue of Modern Metals.