Friday, October 1, 2010

Quality Refrigeration - 60 Years of Cool

Jack Appelt started in the refrigeration business riding along with his Uncle Dave in his uncle’s Ford Model T service truck. His uncle, Dave Shannon, was a refrigeration technician for Frigidaire in the early part of the 20th century, and those trips with his uncle inspired Appelt to begin a career in refrigeration and air conditioning. In the late 1940s and early 1950s the world was rebuilding from the war, and the Port of Los Angeles was filled with ships calling between the West Coast and Asia. Those ships needed equipment for the preservation of perishables in transit, including galley foodstuffs and cargo, and to air condition the quarters of passengers and crew.

Jack Appelt recognized the need for a specialized marine refrigeration service company in Los Angeles Harbor. In 1950 he used his experience in refrigeration to form Quality Refrigeration to serve the booming cargo ship market as well as the commercial fishing fleet in San Pedro Bay. The company was so successful that in 1958 Jack Appelt brought in a dedicated employee, Richard Webber, as a partner to share the workload. The proximity to the Long Beach Naval Shipyard gave the company the ability to offer services to tankers, cargo ships, troop transports and destroyers deployed to the Korean conflict, as well as the burgeoning fishing fleet that was producing 9.6 million cases of canned tuna a year.

Quality Refrigeration started life in an 800-square-foot shared warehouse in Wilmington, California. As the business grew, so did the facility, which was expanded to 6,000 square feet in mid 1970’s. In 1996 the Long Beach Naval Shipyard was shut down, and the Navy expanded operations in San Diego. Quality Refrigeration responded by adding a facility to serve the new and existing San Diego-based Navy ships. The continued success of the company led to a move from the original Wilmington location to a new, 18,000-square-foot facility, also in Wilmington.

From the first day, Quality Refrigeration Company Inc. specialized in marine, commercial and industrial refrigeration and air conditioning with full 24-hour service and sales. The company offered service and repair to the maritime industry, including commercial shipping companies, the cruise and fishing industries, oil rig platforms, passenger vessels, tugs and shipyards, as well as industrial customers including refineries, industrial bakeries, manufacturing facilities and seafood processing facilities.

“The area used to have a huge fishing community,” says company President Jeff Hawke. “Even in the mid 1980s half the work we did was for fishing vessels.” Jack Appelt pioneered the installation of mechanical refrigeration systems onboard commercial fishing vessels and completed installations worldwide for clients such as Starkist.

“Jack introduced the flooded chiller system to the San Pedro fishing fleet,” says Hawke. “As the fishing fleet became more successful and the boats had to go farther out for fish, mechanical refrigeration became essential.”

When refrigerated containers were introduced in the 1970s, Quality Refrigeration was the frontrunner for the service of these units as well. The company has since expanded out of the “reefer” box business, but still provides warranty service and parts as a Carrier Transicold Dealer. Jack and Richard worked hard to expand the business and eventually passed on the business to their children, Charlotte Hawke Pesusich and Mike Webber. Keeping in the family tradition, the business is now in the hands of a third generation, Jeff Hawke and Jason Webber. Hawke and Webber are President and Vice President, respectively, following in their grandfathers’ footsteps and maintaining the thriving refrigeration and air conditioning business. The company’s success with its two Southern California locations has led Hawke and Webber to explore expansion into the San Francisco/Oakland region.

Jeff Hawke graduated from Cal Maritime Academy 1985 as Marine Engineer, and joined the company in 1987. Jeff began his career with the company designing and engineering systems along with job estimating and sales under the watchful eye of his grandfather. Today Jeff is President and oversees the overall operation of the company. Jeff’s mother, Charlotte Hawke Pesusich has worked for the company for more than 50 years and currently works part-time as controller. Her father Jack passed away in 1997, but he left the company in good hands.

Jack’s original partner, Richard Webber, passed the tradition down to his son, Mike Webber, who worked for the company 36 years before passing the reins to his son Jason. Jason worked his way up the ranks as a young boy sweeping the floor and carrying his dad’s tools. This led to a passion for refrigeration and air conditioning which could only be satisfied by getting his hands dirty on the equipment and fulfilling the unique needs of each customer. After attending technical schools and completing on the job training, Jason worked from the driver position in 1992, up through service technician and journeyman. Today he leads the crew of service technicians, and became Vice President when his father retired in 2007.

Today, Quality Refrigeration operates worldwide, performing installation and service of air conditioning and refrigeration systems on ships in Japan, Korea, Singapore, Guam, South America, Africa and Mexico, as well as throughout Europe and the US. As Jeff Hawke points out, when customers need parts they need them in a hurry. To that end, the company keeps an inventory of more than $500,000 in parts and equipment between the Wilmington and San Diego locations, including an extensive inventory of hard-to-find parts for outdated equipment. Quality Refrigeration also has a team of 15 service technicians available 24-hours a day and ready to go where the client needs them. Six inside customer representatives take care of sales for the company, including parts and equipment, and have clients throughout the maritime industry as well as international export customers.

Quality Refrigeration can service, repair or replace any marine refrigeration or air conditioning system, and has served as a Carrier Transicold Marine Distributor and Service Center for more than 40 of its 60 years. Jason Webber says, “Safety is a priority to our company.” Webber is responsible for insuring that Quality Refrigeration complies and works to the highest safety standards, and the company conducts weekly in-house technical training sessions to ensure that the service technicians have the latest tools and information at their disposal. The training also allows Quality Refrigeration to keep their technicians abreast of environmental issues, new refrigerant regulations and the EPA compliance requirements.

Much of the company’s work is performed under government contract, and some of the company’s most recent projects include Navy vessels. One notable contract is the Navy’s T-AKE Program at General Dynamics/NASSCO Shipyard in San Diego. The T-AKE is a dry cargo/ammunition ship, designed to operate independently for extended periods at sea while providing underway replenishment services. The ships provide logistic lift from sources of supply either in port or at sea and transfer cargo that includes ammunition, food, fuel, repair parts, and expendable supplies and material to station ships and other naval warfare forces at sea. Quality Refrigeration has been providing installation support, start-up and commissioning of the ships stores refrigeration systems.

The Navy’s T-AKE program is expected to total 14 ships, which will keep Quality Refrigeration busy on the program through 2012. Quality Refrigeration has also performed work on the US Navy T-AGOS vessels for Military Sealift Command. The T-AGOS ships are ocean surveillance ships built on a Small Waterplane Twin Hull, or SWATH, design for greater stability at slow speeds. The ships gather underwater acoustical data in support of the anti-submarine warfare mission of the Atlantic and Pacific Fleets. These ships were designed to tow an array of underwater listening devices to collect acoustical data, which also carry electronic equipment to process and transmit that data via satellite to shore stations for evaluation. The sensitive electronic equipment onboard these ships requires extensive cooling, as do the civilian crew operating the vessels. The four ships, USNS Effective, Victorious, Loyal and Able, each received three Carrier Transicold 96-ton chillers for the main air conditioning systems. The work was performed at a shipyard in Singapore, where the company provided installation support, start-up and commissioning. The USNS Effective was commissioned last month, and work on the other ships will be completed in 2011.

Earlier this month Quality Refrigeration embarked on a land-based project for the US Coast Guard. The company will replace all the galley refrigeration equipment at the Coast Guard Facility at San Pedro. Quality Refrigeration prides itself on maintaining the family atmosphere that started with Jack Appelt and Richard Webber. Along with the third generation currently running the company, many of Quality Refrigeration’s employees have been with them for decades. To thank their staff for their hard work and dedication, Hawke and Webber will be observing the company’s 60th anniversary with all of their employees and their families next month with a company-sponsored weekend celebration at a Mission Bay resort in San Diego.