Keller Welding & Manufacturing

Keller Welding & Manufacturing | Rothsay, MN | Keller Brothers
The first location of Keller Welding & Manufacturing in Rothsay, MN.

Keller Welding & Manufacturing was founded in 1947 by Louis Keller. Brother, Cyril Keller joined as an equal partner in 1953.
The Keller brothers’ business, Keller Welding & Manufacturing provided general manufacturing and farm equipment repairs.
From 1949 – 1957 they manufactured various size snow-blowers as well as starting what has become the infamous Bobcat® Skid-Steer Loader.

Shortly after Cyril Keller joined the family business, one of Keller Welding & Manufacturing’s frequent customers – Eddie Velo – approached the brothers with a problem in the summer of 1956. Eddie Velo was one of the pioneers in the turkey industry as it was transitioning from small flocks to larger producers utilizing large two-story barns. Eddie was finding it more & more difficult to get the manure cleaned out of his turkey barns. Standard loader tractors couldn’t be used because of their limited maneuverability, plus they were simply too heavy to operate on a second story.

Drive System designed & manufactured by the Keller brothers
The Keller Brother’s innovative Belt-Drive System

The Keller brothers designed an innovative Belt-Drive system that had the possibility of providing the maneuverability required. Eddie agreed to pay a fair manufacturing cost for the loader (if it worked). If it hadn’t worked, the Keller brothers would forfeit their time and Eddie would only pay for the materials (since many of them could be used for other general repair jobs).

On February 4, 1957 the world’s very first Keller® Loader was delivered to Eddie and vigorous testing began.  Eddie provided unlimited access so the Keller brothers could observe the loader while in use – and perform modifications as required.

Keller Brothers improved Clutch Drive design

While the loader surpassed their expectations from the start, the Belt-Drive System they’d designed proved somewhat difficult to operate… and control of the loader was completely lost if the belt slipped off a pulley. This observation led the Keller brothers to re-design / re-invent (and patent) a Clutch-Drive system – eliminating the belts.

This improved Clutch-Drive mechanism was later installed on Eddie’s loader.

After the delivery of Eddie’s loader on February 4, 1957, the Keller brothers’ Keller Welding & Manufacturing began production of more loaders. These loaders essentially had the same design as Eddie’s loader – with only minor modifications to enhance the manufacturing process. The Keller brothers built seven (7) loaders between 1957 & 1958… By the fall of 1958, the last six (6) Keller Loaders were built and sold to various poultry farms. They were (with the exception of the last one) powered by a 6.6 hp Kohler Engine.

Louis Keller & Cyril Keller were actively seeking a way to mass-produce their loader during this time…  The bank in Rothsay was willing to put up part of the $250,000 required for a manufacturing facility, but was unable to finance it all. The bank approached the city for the remainder, but was not able to secure enough interest to raise the remaining money.
The city of Fergus Falls, MN was also approached. They were willing to supply the money, but also wanted controlling interest in the patent – unacceptable to the Keller brothers.

Also during this time the Kellers’ uncle, Anton Christianson, introduced them to Les Melroe, of Melroe Manufacturing Company in Gwinner, ND.  Les Melroe just happened to stop by Keller Welding & Manufacturing while the Keller brothers were replacing the original Belt-Drive system on Eddie Velo’s loader with their more-reliable, patented Clutch-Drive system!

Les Melroe was so impressed that he invited the Keller brothers to bring their loader for demonstration at their Melroe farm equipment exhibit booth at the 1958 Minnesota State Fair. At this point, the Kellers only had that one (1) loader that hadn’t sold yet, so they accepted Melroe’s invitation.

Not much effort went into selling the loader at the fair – their main purpose was simply to determine if there was any interest in the loader… The loader is an instant hit – and the sale of the last Keller Loader was a result of this display. The loader was such a great hit, in fact, that before the fair had ended, Les Melroe said he wished to manufacture their loader. Upon completion of the State Fair, an agreement was reached where Melroe would have exclusive manufacturing rights on a royalty basis.

The Keller brothers would continue to be employed by Melroe Manufacturing Company to further assist & develop the loader, since all of Melroe’s current employees were needed to continue production of their existing product line.

In late fall of 1958 Louis and Cyril Keller rented an apartment in Gwinner, ND so loader development could begin – commuting home to Rothsay, MN on weekends. 

Eddie Schillinger continued to operate Keller Welding & Manufacturing for 18 months until the business was sold at auction.  Schillinger then moved his family to Gwinner, ND and started his career with Melroe Manufacturing Company.

In 1958-59, some 18 M60 Melroe loaders were built.
Another 400 M200 Melroe loaders were built in 1959-60.

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