With some backing from local and state partners, Curley’s Machine Works, Inc., was able to transform from a repair business to a key manufacturer of switch rods. Located in Kimball (pop. 2,464), Curley’s has been family-owned and operated for nearly 50 years. The shop has produced vertical and horizontal switch rods for Union Pacific Railroad, and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad for more than four years. The rods are incorporated into tracks’ switching mechanisms used to transfer trains to and from different sets of tracks.
Making the transition from repairing oilfield equipment to manufacturing switch rods took a concerted effort from a number of partners. In order to manufacture the rods, the company would need to purchase new machinery and casting patterns, and modify its electrical capacity to accommodate the new machinery. Funding came from a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) administered by the Nebraska Department of Economic Development, Kimball’s LB840 fund (tax dollars used for economic development), and Forward Kimball Industries.
“ These funds were loaned at a low interest rate, which really helped to make the project feasible,” said owner Shortie Kiefer.
George ‘Curley’ Hensley, Shortie’s father, started Curley’s Machine Works, Inc., as an oilfield machine shop. However, the company often had to roll with the punches as business was directly tied to the significant fluctuations that impacted the oil industry.
Eventually, Shortie was introduced to a Cheyenne, Wyo. Company in need of manufactured switch rods. The Wyoming company was impressed with Curley’s Machine Works, Inc.’s reputation for dependability and quality, plus the two companies were separated by a mere 60 miles. The proposed relationship between the two companies eventually came to pass, proving extremely beneficial. The company’s railroad clientele have proven far steadier and more reliable than the up and down oil industry.
Kiefer’s decision to change her company’s direction from repairs to manufacturing also stemmed from the need to survive and to retain her stellar workforce of 21-23 employees.
“ I have a great group of people working from me. And the sun is shining on my company,” Kiefer said. Curley’s is a “Woman-Owned and Operated Business.” Certified by The Women’s Business Development Center & The Women’s Business Enterprise National Council as a WBE “Women’s Business Enterprise.”
Kiefer’s manufacturing operation continues to grow. With that growth, the City of Kimball’s citizens benefit from added employment; contributions to the city’s tax base, and increased spending throughout the area. The CDBG funding has especially provided a vital boost to the community, allowing Curley’s to expand and provide new jobs.
The forward thinking of Curley’s Machine Works, Inc., to diversify its facility and readapting its operations to accommodate a new product serves the company and city of Kimball equally well as they move into the future.