Lake City, Iowa—More than five decades ago, Lowell Bowie’s father founded Bowie International in this small Iowa town. Dr. M. C. Bowie was a veterinarian simply looking for a new way to haul instruments and equipment to large animal field calls. This led him to found a company that is now the world’s leading provider of fiberglass mobile veterinary clinics and vet boxes. Lowell Bowie, a retired businessman who lives in Montgomery, Ohio, recently visited the modern Bowie facility to reminisce about the company’s growth and to check out the most recent advancements.
Mr. Bowie recalled 1960, when veterinarians like Dr. Bowie were often constrained to hauling their equipment in the back of the family car. “On Sundays, we would have to clean out the back seat, and my brother and I would get in where all the tools and biologics had been stored and off to church we went,” said Lowell Bowie. “My mother became a little unhappy about this and told my dad he had to do something.” After Dr. Bowie was unsuccessful at building a wooden veterinary unit and a carbon steel unit, he sought advice from Dr. Fred Bunker, a local dentist and fellow entrepreneur who invented a coin sorting machine. “Bunker asked, ‘Why don’t you make a unit out of fiberglass?'” Bowie said.
Dr. Bowie agreed and paid a visit to a client of his, Mr. Hugh Briggs, an area farmer who was a mold maker for a fiberglass boat builder in the winter. “He encouraged Dad to make more than one unit, since all the money was in the mold,” said Bowie, who noted that the men started their project in a chicken coop and later moved the fledging operation into a machine shed on the farm. “This endeavor evolved from being Dad’s personal need into a business.” Over the years, the product line expanded and incorporated modern technologies into an increasingly streamlined body.
Mr. Bowie is proud that his father’s legacy of innovation and quality products lives on at the current Bowie International, which is now operated by another family-owned company, Scranton Manufacturing. Scranton has used the fiberglass technology obtained during the acquisition to help improve other product lines, including animal care brands Porta-Vet and Custom Fiberglass Coaches, as well as Hurricane Motorsports, a replica car brand that creates 427 Roadsters with fiberglass bodies.
Skilled employees are the key to success in the fiberglass business, Mr. Bowie noted. “What goes out the door has been made by Bowie employees’ hands, not some piece of machinery. A key among these employees is the mold maker, who has to think in reverse about how each piece is going to look and how the pieces will fit together.” This attention to detail sets the company apart, Bowie said. “In Iowa and Lake City, people know how to work with their hands in an imaginative fashion. They typically learn this growing up on a farm, where you weld your own products and build your own stuff, even when you don’t always have the parts. These are the people who were an integral part of building this business and who continue to make it successful.