By Dan Sanchez | Jun 16, 2019
Racing engines and vegetable cutters
Industry: Industrial & Equipment
In the 1930s, George Shaver Sr. worked for IBM as head of sales but was also a machinist at heart. One day, his wife wished there was a better way to cut potatoes, which led Shaver to create the Keen Kutter, a slicing device that uses a long handle for leverage to force vegetables through a slicing head made from specialty cutting wire.
Shaver Sr. began producing this potato and vegetable cutter in 1938 while working as a full-time salesperson. It was during this time that he met and became friends with another salesperson, Ray Kroc, who would later become a fast-food tycoon with McDonald's.
"My grandfather and dad, George Shaver Jr., were friends with Kroc, who later wanted to purchase the Shaver Keen Kutter for McDonald's but didn't have the money," says Ron Shaver, the third-generation owner of Shaver Specialty. "When my dad, George Shaver Jr., eventually came to own the company from my grandfather, he loaned Kroc $25,000 to purchase the Shaver Keen Kutter with the promise that he would pay it back and that the tool would be used in all of the McDonald's franchises."
That led to decades of orders from McDonald's. "Over the years, we've sold them to restaurant supply companies, including In-N-Out and most recently Wingstop. We still continue to sell and promote the Shaver Keen Kutter to consumers and restaurants."
Outside of the kitchen, the Shavers have been involved with motorsports since the 1930s. Ron began working in the family machine shop in the 1960s and helped build a thriving business, Shaver Racing Engines, manufacturing for the automotive aftermarket and racing and consulting for General Motors' engine-building programs.
When Ron took over the shop, it was building engines primarily for sprint cars. "We specialized in these types of racing engines and made our name in the sprint car industry," he says. "So much so that aftermarket manufacturers like Competition Cams and OEs like General Motors would, and continue to, come to us to test products and work with them on the development of new ones."
According to Ron, the racing engine side of the company helped GM develop the V6 engine and aluminum-block V8 and small-block cylinder heads. "Many of these products were used by racers across all motorsports, including NASCAR, SCORE off-road racing, including Trans-Am and GTP race cars," he says "Our longevity as a company is what helped the business become successful."
Shaver Racing Engines remains as a premier engine-building shop with CNC machines for porting cylinder heads and a large dynamometer facility for racers and engineers to come in and test engines and engine components. "The racing industry and Shaver Racing Engines have grown together," says Ron. "The bottom line is that you need old pros to do the design and airflow work. The experience is what really matters."
To that end, many of the company's employees have been on their jobs for 20-plus years. "We're also upgrading our equipment to keep up with the technology," says Shaver. "GM and other OEs have 3D printers to make things like cylinder head ports that we test. That type of technology helps us get better and faster at what we do."
Challenges: "One of the biggest is how I'm going to hold up," says Shaver. "We recently have been working on upgrading our inventory and billing. It's a challenge to learn and get the information ready to launch it. Computers in the engine room share information to the front office and will allow us to communicate back and forth on a network. We're looking forward to that."
Opportunities: "While the racing and development side is always there, we're looking at vintage racing as a growing part of the business," says Shaver. "Vintage racers spend a lot of money on building an old race car and a powerful engine. Compared to sprint car racing, everything is price-driven so our best margins are with the vintage racers."
Needs: "We need to modernize the machine shop and get more CNC tools," says Shaver. "On the engine building side, we've kept up with modern technology including electronic fuel injection and more modern dynamometers. There are some new automated machines we could use for machining engine blocks and cylinder heads faster, but they cost $150,000. But we keep our stuff a long time and maintain them very well."