During the noon lunch break on Monday, May 20, 1974, a fire broke out in an amusement ride manufacturer’s production facility in Wapello, Iowa. This business, Scott & Company, produced two amusement rides: an electric bumper car called a Space Buggy and a bounce house called Space Pillow. Due to the materials inside the production facility, the fire was difficult to put out. The facility was gutted and losses were significant.
The owner of the business, J. Scott Stineman, vowed to rebuild the business. However, it became apparent to restart the business where most of their sales were then being generated: Texas. Stineman also wanted to focus solely on the Space Buggy product.
During the summer, Stineman informed his employees that he would be relocating to Texas and eliminating the Space Pillow from their production. Three employees preferred to stay in Wapello and wanted to continue manufacturing he Space Pillow. These employees were Wayne L. McConahay, Paul H. Stineman, (both foremen) and June M. Hardin (a secretary).
On December 16, 1974, the trio of Scott & Company employees started a new business called Wapello Fabrications Company, Inc., or Wafabco. The business was incorporated with three directors. McConahay was president, Steinman was vice president, and Hardin was secretary.
A few days later, just before Christmas, Wafabco purchased a property from Peoples National which was located at 210 North Second Street, in Wapello. The company began operations the following month, in January 1975.
June Hardin was manager of the Wafabco production facility from its beginning. Their most basic products they manufactured were the Space Pillow, as well as rope ladders, and wedge-shaped pillows that went underneath the rope ladders. Tough economic circumstances forced Wafabco to diversify their product offerings beyond the amusement industry.
Among the other products they offered, which was quite expansive, Wafabco produced linings for air bags for stunt skiers and linings for airbags for pole vaults. Another service Wafabco offered was a repair service for other tarps and vinyl products they didn’t manufacture.
Diversification was an effective measure – it allowed their business to improve and grow while the amusement park industry was struggling to deal with sharply increasing insurance liability costs.
Wafabco was selling products on a national scale by the early 1990s. In 1992, Wafabco was taking orders from companies as large as the National Football League, to have a bounce house during Super Bowl week in Pasadena, California. Despite getting so many orders across the country, they only needed to employ anywhere from 8 to 12 employees.
By 2011, the number of employees they had were 6, a result of the Great Recession that occurred from 2007-2009. They also were contending with competitors who had moved their businesses to China to access less expensive materials and labor. They contended that Wafabco had the best quality products because they were made from materials all made in the United States.
June Hardin was president of Wafabco until she passed away in 2013. Her son Don, who had been serving as vice president, took over as president of the company.
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