Valley entrepreneur drives change at former Waterman foundry

Calvin Cox’s commercial semi truck painting business breathes new life into the 100 year old Waterman Foundry Building

EXETER – After a little over 20 years, the iconic Waterman building in Exeter will be put on the map once again as a new business opens its doors to customers.

At the end of April, Calvin Cox will finally be able to open the doors of his commercial semi truck painting business, Starcraft. Three and a half years ago, Cox took on the task of renovating the old Waterman foundry on 515 South G Street in Exeter. Though he is starting small, he has plans to build his business to fill the space provided by the building. Throughout renovations, he said he has done his best to preserve the history of the building.

“We’re all excited. There’s a lot to do, but I have to start somewhere,” Cox said. “So we’re at the bottom of this foundation, and now we need to start growing on it. I need office staff more than anything right now.”

Cox is the sole proprietor of Starcraft and has done most of the work on his own. He has a handful of employees helping him now, but is searching for more. He is waiting for final approval from the city planner to open his doors, which he hopes will be after he visits on Tuesday April 25. If not next week, then the following week Cox will welcome customers.

He has been in the body repair and paint business for 35 years, 30 of which he has been self employed. He has run several different businesses throughout the years, but this endeavor is different. Cox considers himself to be a broad minded person with many goals he hopes to reach. The Waterman building was the perfect location for him to create his own brand and expand in the Valley. Because of the size of the building, he decided to focus on the market of heavy equipment, semi trucks and trailers.

With renovations of the building, Cox has installed one large truck paint booth that is up and operating. In his transition to strictly semi-trucks and heavy equipment, Cox said he is now certified through PPG, the brand of paint. He currently has two mixing banks for paint, so he said Stafcraft will be operating PPG on large equipment.

The property has three buildings. His goal is to make use of all the space and ultimately install four more paint booths in the near future. He said his goal is to hire 50-100 employees and have the ability to operate on a variety of equipment each month.

With his goal in mind as he prepares to open his doors, Cox said he is looking for employees. In addition to creative technicians, he is in need of creative office staff who can help him market to larger industries. As he has been in the process of putting all the pieces together, this is one area he severely needs help. He said if anyone is interested in a job, they can email [email protected].

“I am looking for office help [who] is not somebody that just answers a phone, somebody creative that can bring her ideas as well, even out in the shop area,” Cox said. “I am looking for creativity.”

He has owned several businesses throughout the Valley, including Porterville until 2005 and most recently he closed his business in Corcoran in 2014. Cox said he has done work for Corcoran Prisons, Corcoran Police Department, Tulare Police Department and some other larger companies. Since then he has been operating in different shops preparing for this endeavor.

Like many others, Cox’s plan was prolonged due to the pandemic, but he is grateful to be where he is now. He is excited to offer industries an alternative to having their work done in a more timely manner. Currently he said EM Tharp is one of the only large equipment repair shops in the area, but they have a calendar that could set individuals back for a significant amount of time. So he hopes to be able to help those who need work done in a timely manner.

The history

The Waterman building was built in 1912, so Cox has had his hands full when it came to renovations. However, he said as far as the main portion of the building, he has done his best to keep the nostalgic look. Cox said even though he is not from Exeter he does not want to change anything either.

“I want to keep the old look,” Cox said. “The place was built in 1912, [so I’m] trying to keep that nostalgic look without changing much.”

Cox said he enjoys hearing stories from locals who have stories about the old foundry. He said they are an inspiration and he hopes to decorate the building with old photos and history from when the building was the Waterman Foundry.

The Waterman Foundry building has deep roots in Exeter. The company was founded in Exeter in 1912 by W.A. Waterman. They initially manufactured agricultural irrigation equipment for Central Valley farms out of a small brick building near city hall before moving to its foundry at F and Maple streets. In 1953, the company expanded into water control infrastructure products including large and complex cast iron sluice gates, fabricated slide gates and radial gates. Waterman also has operations in Lubbock, Texas and Nampa, Idaho.

In 1969, then CEO Don Appling built the company’s headquarters on Spruce Avenue that transformed Waterman from a small domestic business into a global enterprise. The new facility allowed the company to make larger gates from 60 square inches wide up to 144 square inches wide.

By 1990, Waterman was Tulare County’s largest private employer with 470 employees. The company was such a large part of Exeter’s history that Exeter, A Festival of Arts commissioned a mural in its honor. The mural, titled “From Foundry to Field,” was painted by artist Ken Cardoza on the north wall of what is now Osborn Mortgage in 1998.

By 2001, the company owned manufacturing plants in five states across the US and one in Cairo, Egypt. Waterman remains one of the most recognized names in water control manufacturing in the world.

The plant was shut down in 2002 as Waterman was trying to cut costs to maintain his status as the worldwide leader in irrigation equipment manufacturing. More than 50 employees were laid off and the work was transferred to the company’s plants in other, less environmentally restrictive and expensive states.

The property was purchased by Bill Sario, CEO of Exeter-based Rising Sun Construction Company, in 2006. Cox has now purchased the property from Sario.

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