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Duluth company called upon to produce memorial plaques

When the decision was made to make new bronze plaques for the Gary-New Duluth Veterans Memorial, it was only natural to turn to Duluth Brass to do the work.

Duluth Brass co-owner
Duluth Brass co-owner Tom Holtstands with the magnesium template used to create the cast the final plaque for the new monument at the Gary New Duluth Veterans Memorial. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

When the decision was made to make new bronze plaques for the Gary-New Duluth Veterans Memorial, it was only natural to turn to Duluth Brass to do the work.

After all, casting glowing, molten bronze into plaques 30 inches wide by 42 inches tall is a task beyond the capability of most plaque-makers.

"They are not our competitors because we're not really in the plaque business, but they aren't set up to do big things like this," Duluth Brass co-owner Tom Holt said. "We get involved when the plaques are oversized because we can do big stuff."

Holt isn't exaggerating. The family-owned firm exists to make custom bronze bearings for large equipment -- particularly cranes -- that end up being used around the world. The firm manufactures sleeve bearings up to 55 inches in diameter.

"That's what we like to do," Holt said. "That's why we're here. We are good at it."

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The company has been in Duluth since 1895, and at its current location along Commonwealth Avenue near Morgan Park since 1999. Its facility includes finishing machines -- including a metal lathe that can turn objects up to 55 inches in diameter -- and a foundry where workers can melt and cast up to 900 pounds of bronze at time.

The plaques of the veterans memorial each required about 100 pounds of bronze. To make each plaque, workers created a pattern through a photo engraving process. The pattern was used to create a mold of each plaque in sand. When all was ready, the workers melted bronze in two crucibles and carefully poured the glowing liquid metal into the mold.

The workers were all business during the pour of the 2,200-degree-hot metal. The firm's 17 employees work together as a team, Holt said.

"They're good guys," he said. "One has been here for more than 30 years."

Brothers Tom and John Holt took over Duluth Brass from their father, Albert, in 1981.

"It goes back into hazy history, but I think he was hired as a laborer here in about 1930," Tom Holt said of his father.

Albert Holt was working as plant superintendent in the 1960s when a death in the extended family that owned the firm created an opportunity for him to buy the business.

"He was the only person that knew how to run it, so he bought it," Tom Holt said. "Then he ran it until we took over; then he was kind of emeritus after that. He hung around for a few more years until he died."

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Pouring the plaque
Duluth Brass employees pour the final plaque for the new monument at the Gary New Duluth Veterans Memorial at the facility in Gary New Duluth. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

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