Truck Camper Magazine talks with Mark Hellwig, President of Hellwig Products, about sway bars, helper springs, and the heated story behind the brand.
There’s only so much you can learn about a company by looking at where they are today. As the son of a history teacher, I want to know how the company got there, who the principals are, what makes them tick, and where they’re taking the company. And while I have their attention, I want to know what’s so special about their products.
Who better to ask these questions than a company’s big cheese? A company President lives and breathes the business and can often shed light on things no one else in the building even knows happened. There’s a reason why they’re in the big chair and those stories offer the kind of reading anyone who loves free markets and capitalism can stand up and cheer about. Well, at least you can enjoy them.
For today’s story, we have Mark Hellwig, President of Hellwig Products, in the hot seat. During our Hellwig tour, we saw the 2,200 degree furnaces, the white hot steel, the powder coat oven, and the flame throwing shrink wrap team in shipping. Now we want to know the story behind all this hot stuff. How did things initially heat up for Hellwig? What was the initial spark? And how have they kept things burning for so long?
TCM: Did your family go RVing when you were a kid?
Mark: As a family, we were always outdoors. Dad started RVing with a twenty-one foot Kenskill travel trailer pulled behind a Chrysler station wagon. We went camping in California and into the states to the east. My parents were always traveling.
Dad was progressive. He had an early twenty-five foot Amigo motorhome built in southern California. Dad was also into boats. He hooked up a ski boat onto the Amigo motorhome and took us around state of California. We sometimes went to Lake Powell and Lake Mead.
When I graduated high school in 1972, our family took a five week tour to Alaska. Four of those weeks were actually in Alaska and we gad a great time. After that I went to college so I didn’t do a lot of RVing for awhile.
TCM: Did you ever own a truck camper?
Mark: My grandfather had a Holiday truck camper. It was a very basic eight-foot camper. My grandfather was upgrading his camper lifestyle, so he sold the Holiday to me for $600. It had a basic hand pump sink and a slide-out drawer toilet. At the time I had a heavy duty three-quarter ton pick-up with four wheel drive. My wife and I got back into the RV lifestyle with that camper after we married.
A few years later, our children came on the scene and I needed the room of a pull behind. I bought a twenty-four foot Weekender, or something like that. We towed that trailer all around the state. I was really interested in air shows, so went to shows from San Diego up to Marysville and everything in between.
When the kids got older, we got into motorcycle riding out in the desert. We would put the motorcycles in the back of pick-up truck and I had a racking system for the quads on the back of the trailer. The kids drove the quads and Rosemary and I drove the motorcycles. That was our first toy hauler experience.
We never did have a truck camper after that. We ended up buying a motorhome to share with my brothers. From there we sold the motorhome and I bought a toy hauling trailer. That was in about 2003. We ended up with the toy hauler and towed it for five years until it was totaled in a car accident. The accident only affected the trailer, so nobody was hurt. After that we ended up with the fifth wheel toy hauler we have now.
TCM: Sounds like it’s just about time to get you back into a truck camper. Tell us about the history of Hellwig Products.
Mark: The first decade involved moving from the city of Kansas City, Kansas to Glendale, California. Actually the family was traveling back and forth from Kansas City to the west coast of California.
They were always driving overloaded. The headlights were sticking up in the air. Well, granddad said that he could fix this with a leaf spring helper. He didn’t know where he was going, but knew he could do something.
Back in Kansas, one of granddad’s brothers had a leaf spring shop. There granddad designed helper springs and components to bolt on and adjust. These springs and components would help to carry the load he was fighting on long trips.
When the company began, my granddad and dad would make helper springs at night at the shop of granddad’s brother. They would bring parts home and paint them with army paint. They dipped in the parts and let them dry overnight. Then, Granddad would go out the next day and sell the springs.
After a year or year and a half, my granddad said, “Let’s move to the West where things are expanding rapidly”. This is post World War II. There was a hot bed of activity in the West, so they moved out to Southern California in 1945. In September of 1946, they incorporated Hellwig. We are coming up on sixty-four years of being in business.
TCM: Not many family owned companies make it for sixty-four years. That’s an amazing track record. What happened after the move to California?