Imagine being able to track back your lineage 150 years to the year 1872, or five generations going on six; a privilege many people do not have the ability to perform. Many people even have difficulty recalling the names of their great grandparents or beyond. Despite the difficulty to keep the family tree updated for so many of us, Exline thrives at keeping a detailed history of their business and their family that has owned and operated the Industrial Repair and Manufacturing Services business for the past century and a half.
Exline Inc. has quite an extensive and interesting history for a business that started out in rural Kansas. Travel with me back to the year 1870 where we see a tall, muscular, 18-year-old R.W. Exline leave his Ohioan home on his covered wagon, with his anvil, and a bountiful sense of adventure. R.W. traveled west until he found his new home, the busy cow town of Abilene, Kansas. It was here that he unloaded his anvil and his forge from his wagon at the base of a tree, not too far south of the Abilene Jail and set up his open-aired shop. Immediately he ran into a demand for his services building and repairing wagons for pioneers like himself heading west. At that time, most every town had their own small powerplant that would provide electricity to the town, and R.W. had found himself servicing those generators as well. Throughout R.W.’s life, he would move the business from Abilene, to just north of Gypsum, and finally to Kipp, Kansas.
Take a step forward in time, the second generation to enter the Exline business was William G. Exline. Will was R.W.’s oldest son who took over the company at the age of 17, and with wit, creativity, and vision, set the company up to be the successful staple of Kansas that it is today. He was known to be a six-foot-two-inch muscular man who was good with his hands and could hold a sledgehammer straight out away from his body without shaking even well into his 60’s. Will harbored the ability to adapt to his surroundings and the market, so well in fact that he repositioned the business from blacksmithing to steam, then to diesel and gasoline engine repair. Although Will had a lot on his plate already, farmers too would pull up needing emergency repairs, which Will was known to work on overnight to get them up and running again with as little downtime during their busy times.
Will’s son Bill is the third generation of Exline to take over the business and while his father serviced engines in oil fields all over Kansas, Bill transitioned the business into it’s major industry focus that it has today, the oil and gas industries. It was during Bill’s leadership that he moved the company to Salina due to a tornado demolishing their business location in Kipp, Kansas. The move would prove to be costly and difficult as resources were short, which was due to the destruction to their business happening during WWII. Although the company had offers from cities around the country enticing them to move because of their renowned work, Bill decided he wanted to stay in Kansas. It was by Bill’s work that Exline was able to go international with him expanding his services to the Caribbean, South America, and the Pacific area. Bill had three sons, Bob, Jerry, and Doug who all would take the business over starting in 1959.
The fourth generation consisted of Bill’s three sons, Bob, Jerry, and Doug all taking over various responsibilities and driving the expansive growth the company saw during their leadership. Bob was the first to join in 1959 after he graduated from K-State University, and spent two years as a battalion clerk for the U.S. Army. The youngest brother, Doug, joined the business in 1961 right after he too graduated from K-State with his degree in engineering. The middle brother, Jerry, came aboard in 1968 with the specific function of expanding the company during the next decade, which, led to the building of the current location on Country Club Road in Salina. From a small machine shop, the three sons helped to grow the business into what it is today. Part of this expansion included a much larger machine shop, a chrome-plating facility, office space, different buildings for spray coating, plastics-making equipment, and more.
In 1991, Rob Exline took over the business completely from his father and uncles, and in that year of difficulty, the company lost $500,000 on sales of $5.3 million. Although off to a rocky start, Rob never gave up his mentality of knowing they were in a viable position, with a reliable market and Rob took every opportunity to prepare for Exline’s future. Rob actually decided to downsize a little, and bring their pricing way down which actually gave them better margins to work with and made them more competitive. Since then, Rob has been growing Exline into what it is today.
The up and coming sixth generation of Exline is Will Exline, who is currently the Vice President of Operations, and is Rob’s son. As Rob begins his transition into the overall operations of the company, he still has his challenges ahead of him and he is already planning on how to make sure the very heavily oil and gas invested company can operate successfully in a green future.
As Exline celebrated its 150th year anniversary with the Chamber of Commerce Business After Hours Event and Ribbon Cutting Ceremony on October 20th, 2022, the family surely is excited to see where the company goes in the future. We would like to thank Exline Inc. for their dedication to Kansas and Salina and wish them many good years to come!
Salina Area Chamber of Commerce