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LANDMARK | Tom Pybus forged ahead in steel business

Editor’s note: A version of this story first published in The Confluence, a historical quarterly magazine produced by the Wenatchee Valley Museum & Cultural Center. To learn more, visit wenatcheevalleymuseum.org.

From village blacksmith to wealthy owner of the biggest steel company between Seattle and Spokane, E.T. “Tom” Pybus responded superbly to society’s demands for ever-changing industrial technology. Over his long career he provided North Central Washington with products and services that were unheard of when he first trained as a horseshoer as a youth in northern England.

Elias Thomas Pybus was born in 1873 in Yorkshire. Like his father, he became a blacksmith. He immigrated to the United States in the late 1890s and married Nellie Tucker in 1900 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. They came to Wenatchee in 1911 with their three children; Tom went to work in Bert Richardson’s blacksmith shop on Orondo Avenue. A skilled and dedicated worker, he soon bought the business from his employer.

Blacksmith work in 1911 mostly consisted of shoeing horses, repairing wagons and fixing horse-drawn farm equipment. Tom was commissioned to build 14 wagons for a Wenatchee merchandiser, solidifying his reputation and bank account. With automobiles coming into use, Tom built the first commercial, gasoline-powered stage to operate in Wenatchee (transporting workers to and from wheat fields and orchards in Douglas County). Other automotive projects followed, and the E.T. Pybus Co. thrived.

When his shop burned down in 1918, Tom purchased three adjacent lots and built a larger brick shop. It now offered a wide range of services using power tools: four lathes, planers, milling machines, grinders, power saws, welders, a large hydraulic press, and plate rolls for 3/8-inch steel. The company could now build automobile springs and farm equipment. When construction began in January 1930 on the Rock Island Dam, the E.T. Pybus Co. repaired trucks and fabricated machine parts for the project — and then helped with construction of other Columbia River dams. During World War II, the company contracted with the U.S. Navy to build periscopes, hatchway covers, ladders and cranes.

The business kept expanding, adding a foundry on the east side of the railroad tracks on Orondo Avenue, and then a large warehouse built of recycled corrugated roofing steel. A huge crane ran the length of the building for lifting and stacking steel. By 1954, Pybus was retailing 50 to 60 carloads of steel each year for bridges, dams, buildings, machinery and other uses.

Tom died in 1961; his son Don and son-in-law Clem Jordan took over, selling the business in 1984. The Port of Chelan County purchased the property in 2010 and, with the City of Wenatchee and a federal grant, developed the popular, year-round Pybus Public Market on the site. Blacksmith Tom would have been proud!

Chris Rader edits the Wenatchee Valley Museum & Cultural Center’s quarterly historical magazine, The Confluence.

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