Founded in 1946, the company produces high-quality specialty leather for saddles and tack equipment, luggage and handbags, motorcycle gear and sporting goods. For more than 50 years the tannery has been the exclusive producer of the leather covers on baseballs used by the Major League. It is one of only about 100 tanneries in the United States.
The Major League has strict standards for its baseball leather: it must be bright and white, essentially free of blemishes and of a uniform thickness of .014 inches. To achieve such exacting standards, the company uses hide from dairy cows—Holsteins—whose skin is thinner than that of beef cattle. The tannery rolls, softens, bleaches and cuts the hides into near-final form—ready for final punching, wrapping and stitching offsite—in a water- and chemical-intensive process.
Whether producing baseball leather or other products, the tannery begins the process by burning off any hair remaining on the hide and pickling the leather. The leather is fed into huge rolling drums, where it is treated with conditioners, lubricants and other chemicals. It is then thinned to the desired thickness and cut, bleached and dyed to achieve desired color, texture, look and feel. The liquid used in these processes runs off the machines and into a concrete sump in a basement below the manufacturing line. The sump holds a murky, chocolate-brown soup of water, animal fat, chemicals, leather strips and other solids. This soup must be pumped to a company treatment facility before the cleaned liquid is discharged into city sewers.
For years the tannery used self-priming trash pumps to move the untreated liquid to its treatment plant. However, the highly alkaline or highly acidic chemicals in the liquid attacked the pumps’ metal; solids clogged the pumps, and air repeatedly entered intake pipes, killing the self-priming action and shutting the pumps down at least several times a day. Operating for too long with this maintenance headache, the tannery replaced its self-priming pumps with SKX37s from BJM Pumps. The SKX37 is a 5-horsepower, submersible shredder pump whose key components—impeller, wear plate, oil housing, pump housing and inner pump top—are made of heavy-duty stainless steel to resist corrosion. A cutting impeller with a tungsten carbide tip shreds solids into a size suitable for passing through the pump; this was especially effective against the heavy, wet and rubbery strips of leather that collected in the tannery’s sumps. The SKX37s have been running reliably at the tannery for more than five years.