NWFA Throwback: Century-Old Sanding Machine

Photos courtesy of NWFA

Longwell Floor and Sanding Company out of Omaha, Nebraska, recently donated a wood flooring industry antique to the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA). The company was started in 1922 by brothers Henry and Floyd Longwell, and the American Universal floor sander dates back to that era, possibly even from the 1910s when Henry was on his own working on wood floors.

Jim Longwell bought the family business from his grandfather, Floyd, in 1972 and kept it going until his retirement in 2022. His cousin, Bernie Andrews, and uncle, Pat Andrews, also were part of Longwell Floor and Sanding.

“When I first bought the company, there were only about five of us in town in the flooring business. Now, I can’t even count how many floor companies there are,” says Longwell. “My grandfather was glad to see me take over because he wanted to keep the family name on the business. A lot of people suffered during the Depression, and he was able to keep going because he had a government contract in the 1930s.”

Throughout an entire century, the business only paused once. Jim Longwell and his Longwell Floor and Sanding team members, Chuck Ebell and Dennis Baxter, all served in an Army transportation unit in Iraq during the war for part of 2004 and 2005. Longwell says with all three of them deployed, the company had to close during that time. Upon his return to Omaha, a local news story ran about him and suddenly business was booming again.

Pictured are Jim Longwell, left, Denny Baxter, center, and Chuck Ebel with the Longwell Floor and Sanding company in the summer of 2004 in Iraq as army truck drivers in the 172nd Transportation company out of Omaha, Nebraska. | Photo courtesy of LONGWELL FLOOR AND SANDING COMPANY

Longwell estimates that the 100-year-old sanding machine was in use until the 1950s, then it was stored in his grandfather’s garage.

When he took over the company, the sander was moved into his own garage. From then on, they always used Clarke 504 drum sanders.

“At the time I thought, ‘Why did I let him bring this thing over here?’ 50 years later, I am saying this thing is an antique, I have to do something with it,” says Longwell. “I could have cleaned it up a little bit, but it’s kind of rustic that way. What’s really funny is how unsafe it looks to work with.”

Thanks to Longwell, the big machine has a new home at the NWFA’s headquarters in St. Louis, Missouri, where wood flooring professionals will be able to see the relic for themselves.

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