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Berg Bros. Mfg. Co.
Berg Bros. Mfg. Co., 1910-1931; DeBourgh Mfg. Co., 1931-1964; Minneapolis, Minnesota; 1964-1990, Bloomington, Minnesota; 1990-present; LaJunta, Colorado
Associated Firms
Owens Motor Sales Co. 1915-1954, St. Paul, Minnesota

St. Paul, Minnesota’s Ford Motor Co. distributors, the Owens Motor Sales Co., operated a unique locomotive-themed advertising vehicle in the early 1920s that was christened the ‘Ford Special’. Constructed along the same lines as Harry O. McGee’s trackless trains the one-off road locomotive was built upon a circa 1921 Ford Model TT chassis that was sheathed with locomotive coachwork supplied by the Berg Bros. Mfg. Co., a well-known Minneapolis-based manufacturer of automotive sheet-metal specialties.

A period article states the vehicle was a ‘steamer’ however upon close examination of the surviving photos, none of the necessary fittings, lines, tanks, etc. needed for a steam-powered vehicle are evident. Furthermore, the business-end of the vehicle, eg. the boiler, smoke stack, etc., appears to be constructed of light-gauge sheet steel, a specialty of Berg Bros. who at that time had no experience with boilers or steam engines of any kind.

According to Kimes and Clark:

“1922 Owens Motor Sales locomotive car used in road service work ‘The engineer’s cab carries five passengers, so the unfortunate motorists that have to be picked up will travel in comfort out of the dust’ reported Motor Age in 1922. The vehicle was built on a one ton ford truck chassis and was a steamer, its boiler built by Berg Bros. Mfg. Co. of Minneapolis. To heighten the resemblance to a locomotive, the Owens exhaust exited through the exhaust stack.”

The Owens Motor Company was a reorganization of Owen’s Garage , which had been founded by Thomas Owens in 1915. The business was originally founded in 1909-1910 as Gardner’s Automobile Garage, which by 1911 had been renamed Bellinger’s Automobile Garage, the immediate antecedent to Owen.

Owen became St. Paul’s Ford distributor and his business took off. A new one-story structure was erected at 713-719 University Ave. in 1917, which was subsequently enlarged in 1921 and 1923 (now 709-719 University) becoming a magnificent 2-story showpiece in the heart of what would become St. Paul’s automobile row.

The June 9, 1921 issue of Engineering News Record included a mention of Owen’s pending remodeling:

“Minn. – St. Paul - Owens Motor Sales Co. 713-719 University Ave., receiving bids constructing 1-story addition to present garage, also 2 story 50 ft. brick and concrete addition to same. About $80,000. Toltz King & Day, 1410 Pioneer Bldg., archts.”

Polk’s 1910 St. Paul directory listed only 4 auto-related businesses on University Avenue. By 1920 that number had increased to 36 and by the time the 1930 directory was published, approximately 80 businesses called University Ave their home.

University Ave. was located within the citiy’s historic ‘Midway District’, the home of a number of early automobile heavyweights such as the Duesenberg Motor Co., Overland (later Willys-Overland), International Harvester and the Ford Motor Co. who all operated either manufacturing or assembly plants in St. Paul.

A 1924 advertisement lists Owen Motor Sales as Ford and Lincoln dealers, with a separate building for Lincoln, which was located at 32 West 4th Street. St Paul. Owens Motor Co. sold Ford and Lincoln automobiles and Fordson tractors. Owens took on a Hudson distributorship sometime later and closed for business in the mid-1950s, the building becoming the headquarters for the Advance-Tower Laundry in 1956. The building survives and in 1991 became the home of Lifetrack Resources a vocational training and employment service for St Paul’s disabled and disadvantaged citizens.

A known friend of the Duesenberg’s, Owens was a well-known ‘character’ who was known to tool around the quiet streets of St. Paul’s Highland Park in a Duesenberg equipped with an exhaust cut-out, much to the dismay of the local police.

The Berg Brother’s story is an interesting one, and although their auto-related career was short-lived they remain in business today producing athletic storage lockers.

The company got its start nearly a century ago when four brothers opened a sheet metal shop in Minneapolis. The family’s patriarch, Erick DeBourgh was a trained millwright born in Norway in 1836 (1838?), who emigrated to the United States in 1869 at which time his surname was changed to Berg. Once in Minneapolis he married Olie Anderson, another Norwegian immigrant born in 1850, the union being blessed with the birth of 7 children: Alfred D. (b. 1874), William O. (b. 1875), Selma A. (b. 1877), Emma O. (b. 1879), Herman F. (b. 1880), Inga (b. 1885), and Henry (b.1887) Berg.

The 1895 Minnesota State census no longer lists Olie, and it’s assumed she had passed away sometime after the birth of Henry A. Berg in 1887.

Our subject, Herman Francis (aka Frank) Herman Francis Berg (b. 1880-d.1955) was born in Minneapolis, Hennepin County, Minnesota on October 12, 1880, to Erick D. and Olie (Anderson) Berg.  He attended the Seward School after which he served as a sheet-metal apprentice at the Day Company, a well-known Minneapolis manufacturer of flour mill and grain elevator dust collection systems.

Herman established his own sheet-metal works in 1909 at 2705 E. Lake St. in the basement of the Selby-Lake Hardware Co., (named after the Selby Ave. - Lake St. streetcar line that connected the Twin Cities). He was subsequently joined by three of his brothers (Henry A., William O. -aka Oscar- and Alfred F. Berg), the firm being reorganized in September 1911 as Berg Bros. Co. Subsequent locations included a small building at 3010 Snelling Ave. (1911-1913) just off E. Lake St., and a brick building located at 2924 27th Ave. S. (1913-1930).

During the firm's early days it’s main products were poultry supplies and sheet metal gutters and downspouts, however automobile and tractor sheet metal was soon added to the mix. The following entry in the official program of the Minneapolis Golden Jublilee: 1867-1917,  reveals that by that time Berg Bros. was supplying regional firms - likely Minneapolis Moline and the Ford Motor Co. (who had a Minneapolis assembly plant) with fenders, hoods and gas tanks:

“Berg Brothers Manufacturing Co. Manufacturers of Gas Tractor Fenders, Gas Tanks, Hoods, Gear Housings

“‘BUY it in Minneapolis’ has been written into the mercantile scripture of dealers throughout the Northwest. Recognition of Minneapolis industries from a national standpoint has brought greater prestige for the city and its trade territory. One of the institutions supplying the growing demand is the BERG BROTHERS MANUFACTURING COMPANY. It has demonstrated to builders and users of sheet metal products that it has a prior claim on their patronage and esteem.

“During the last year Minneapolis industries produced fabricated metal products valued at $12,017,000. The total value of her manufactured products during the year was $187,854,000. This remarkable industrial state of affairs has been achieved in half a century. It indicates what may be achieved by concerted effort.

“Just step into the commodious Berg Bros. sheet metal plant at 2924 Twenty-seventh Avenue South. While motoring to the historic Minnehaha Falls or Longfellow Gardens stop a moment to become conversant with this growing institution. Minneapolis residents little realize that Berg Brothers are receiving demands for their sheet metal product from all parts of the United States.

“Berg Brothers commenced business in a small basement of a hardware store in September, 1910, doing roofing and jobbing work. In six months they outgrew this place and built a frame building at 3010 Snelling Avenue in the spring of 1911 which they occupied until December, 1913, when they purchased their present location and built a brick factory 36x80 feet with full basement. In July, 1916, a brick addition, 48x72 feet, was built.

“Whether it be flour mill bins and spouting, shaving and dust collecting systems, auto radiators, gear housing, sheet metal parts for tractors, tanks for all purposes, gutters, roofing, etc., they are qualified to satisfy. Trained engineers are at the service of every patron. They willingly furnish estimates and their advice is sought by well-informed men.”

In 1930 the Berg Bros. plant was acquired by Carl Gunnar Strandlund (1899-1974), Minneapolis Moline Power Implement Co.’s brilliant engineer, who used it for a currently undiscovered project. Although he’s mainly known today as the manufacturer of the Lustron sheet-metal house, Strandlund was earlier responsible for over 150 tractor-related patents ranging from improving tractor seats to the replacement of steel tractor wheels with rubber tires.

Herman F. and Henry A. Berg resumed business a short time later without their older brothers, establishing a new sheet-metal firm, the DeBourgh Manufacturing Company, which was named in honor of their father.

Among the firm’s numerous products were sheet-metal partitions and athletic lockers, and in 1931 the University of Minnesota commissioned the firm to produce a new design incorporating easy maintenance, ventilation, and security. The company also produced kitchen cabinets, radiator enclosures and slot machine cabinets, building the first gasoline tank that allowed aerobatic airplanes to fly upside-down.

Herman F. Berg, the firm’s president, was married March 3, 1923 to Carrie V. Nordstrom and to the blessed union was born three children: Corrine F. (Mrs. AP Christensen – b. Jan. 12, 1925), Robert D.W. (b. Sep. 10, 1927) and Marilyn J. (Mrs. Leo Williams – b. Mar. 20, 1929) Berg.

During World War II DeBourgh manufactured subassemblies for B-24 bombers, struts for Waco gliders and rocking rollers for Baily bridges (portable prefabricated truss bridges named after their British designer, Donald Bailey).

Post-War activities included the manufacture of the ‘All American Locker’ which by that time had gained nationwide popularity. Other business involved the fabrication of heavy steel subassemblies for the region’s numerous farm implement and industrial equipment manufacturers.

In 1948 the firm’s future president began his career at the firm. Born in Minneapolis on September 10, 1927, Robert Daniel William Berg was the son of Herman Francis and Carrie Volberg (Nordstrom) Berg. After a public education at Minnehaha grade school, Nokomis Junior High and Roosevelt High School, he graduated in 1946, continuing his secondary education at the University of Minnesota.

At that time DeBourgh Mfg. Co. was located at 2924 27th Ave., South, and Robert's first duties involved the stacking of steel. He later learned the intricacies of sheet metal fabrication and learned how to operate a heavy crane. He then ascended to the firm’s shipping department and in 1954 became the firm’s project estimator.

Robert D.W. (Bob) Berg became president of DeBourgh Mfg. Co. upon the death of his father, Herman Francis Berg, in 1955. He married Virginia Ruther Anderson on September 23, 1949, and to the blessed union were born four children: Steven Carey (b. Jun. 24, 1950), Janet Lee (b. Sep. 7, 1951), Darilyn Leslie, (b. Mar. 22, 1953) and Robert David (b. Apr. 25,1957) Berg.

During the 50’s and 60's DeBourgh's expertise was in heavy steel fabrication and the firm was one of a handful that could cut through 20" thick steel plate. DeBourgh held a number of contracts for earth moving equipment such as road graders, soil compactors, dredging machines, and various cranes and other such material handling equipment.

In 1964 the firm moved to new quarters located just outside of Bloomington, Minnesota. In addition to DeBourgh’s poplar line of lockers they developed a line of prefabricated pedestrian bridges, that were marketed under the trade name Town & Country to municipalities, parks, golf courses and other recreational areas.

The nation’s steel industry was decimated in the early 1980s and DeBourgh was forced to liquidate its heavy steel fabrication division in 1989, and its Town and Country Bridge division in 1990.

In an interview with Anthony A. Mestas published in the November 1, 2009 Pueblo (Colorado) Chieftan, Robert David Berg, Debourgh Mfg. Co.’s President and CEO relates:

“We had to drop everything but the lockers in order for us to survive.”

At that time (1990) Steven C. Berg, his older brother and the firm’s president, relocated the remaining locker division to a smaller plant in La Junta, Colorado where it remains in business today.

Berg continues:

“I think it would be hard to find a school that doesn't have DeBourgh lockers somewhere in it… There isn't an athlete who has not used one of our lockers at one point or another because if they don't have them in their schools then one of their opponents has them.”

© 2012 Mark Theobald -






Beverly Rae Kimes & Henry Austin Clark - Standard Catalog of American Cars: 1805-1942

Minneapolis Golden Jubilee 1867-1917, pub. 1917

Val Björnson - The history of Minnesota, Volume 4, pub. 1969

Douglas Knerr - Suburban Steel: The Magnificent Failure of the Lustron Corporation, 1945-1951, pub. 2004

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