When Reg Isley was growing up on a homestead outside Beaverlodge, his father, a trapper in summer and construction worker in winter, was away for weeks on end. Young Reg spent countless hours in his father’s dusty, dirt floor workshop, devouring stacks of old Popular Science and Popular Mechanics magazines, studying the fantastic designs. He learned how to remove the gas engine from a washing machine and attach it to his bicycle. “It was seven miles to school on a dirt road,” he explains.
Isley didn’t want to trap or farm. At 17, he desperately wanted to become an aeronautical engineer, but his family couldn’t afford to send him to university. Instead, alone and scared to be away from home, he found himself on a bus bound for Edmonton, and after a 2 a.m. transfer, onward to Calgary. His destiny was a practical education in welding at SAIT (Southern Alberta Institute of Technology) and later NAIT (Northern Alberta Institute of Technology) one that has served the founder of the Risley Group of manufacturing companies extremely well over the past three decades.
A juxtaposition of brilliant and down-to-earth, with an intense voice and eyes that never rest, Isley returned to the Peace Country after graduation. He got a job in the steel trade in Grande Prairie and later opened a machine shop with a friend. In 1978, Isley started his own small business Fluidic Power Ltd., designing, repairing and servicing hydraulic equipment and systems.
When economic collapse hit the province’s oil sector in the early 1980’s, service industry businesses like Fluidic suffered. Jobs became scarce. But unwilling to submit to the persuasive pessimism of a stagnant marketplace, Isley stepped back and looked at the big picture. With advice from friends in the forestry industry who speculated about future trends, he saw a niche. “If we’re going to do this,” he thought at the time, “we’ll do it differently.”
In 1984, after investing about $750,000, Risley Equipment unveiled the RotoSaw, a mechanical harvesting head that cuts trees faster and with less fibre damage than other logging mechanisms. Isley’s RotoSaw revolutionized the forestry industry with 32 other patented products in its arsenal–such as the Lim-mit de-limber and the Timber King Feller Buncher, eventually sold to Caterpillar – the Risley Group was generating $30 million in annual sales by 1996. “Thanks to the industrial revolution," Isley says, “Everything we have today and everything we dream of having can be built with a good design and some skills in welding and machining.”
The Risley Group remains firmly rooted in Grande Prairie. Its diverse range of products, mostly for niche markets in the forestry industry have been sold throughout Canada and the United States as well as Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Japan. “That was the right vision in the right place at the right time,” states Isley.
Despite all of his accomplishments, however, past dreams have never waned for Isley. In the Risley boardroom hangs a large colour photograph of the Voyager aircraft, the first plane to fly around the world, non-stop without refueling. Isley’s eyes go saucer-round and his voice fills with the marvelous child-like energy. “You see that?’ he asks, “Now that’s amazing.” Even more amazing--the boy who dreamed of flight in his father’s workshop is today building a helicopter in his own garage.
Bryan Loewen, V.P. Risley Steel
Bryan is vice-president and part owner of Risley Steel Services Ltd. Bryan has been with Risley Steel since October 1992 and is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the company and accountable for the results as well as its future growth.
In 1975, Bryan had his start in the welding trade at Dika Industries in Rycroft; from there, he moved to Grande Prairie, where he worked for Rod Parks Steel Industries. After his employment there, Bryan set up his own welding unit, which he ran for three years before selling and going to work for G.P. Steel Fabricators (partly owned by Reg Isley) in 1984.
Bryan has always put the success of the business and the customer as number one, offering the best service and/or product available at a fair price. He also has a team that works with him that believes and takes pride in the services/products that they offer to their customers.