From its used-car garage roots in 1939 to its 1980s restoration of the U. S. Capitol Building, 1990s protection of Los Angeles’ spectacular Getty Center, and 2002 repair of terrorist damage at the Pentagon, the story of Kansas-based Process Solvent Company – PROSOCO – is written in high-tech chemistry and the willingness to tackle the impossible.
Three generations of Boyer-family ownership have made “laboratory tested, field proven” PROSOCO products a dominant construction-industry force in cleaning new buildings and restoring the historic.
The list of PROSOCO projects from then to now is a who’s who of famous buildings. The list ranges from the the Douglas County Courthouse in PROSOCO’s hometown of Lawrence, Kan., to the Empire State Building in New York. The landmarks number in the thousands.
It started with cars.
An award-winning salesman for Union Chevrolet, company founder Al Boyer, age 21, went into the car business – when most were going out of business. It was 1929.
The Depression had America by the throat.
Al wasn’t worried.
“He just thought he could sell cars better than the dealers he worked for,” recalls son Jerry, now semi-retired after two decades as PROSOCO’s president and CEO. “Even in the middle of the Depression, he made a good living for us.”
Al went partners and sold used cars. The idea was novel in the fledgling auto industry.
“People let their old cars rust behind the barn, in those days,” Jerry said. “But Dad could sell anything. He was a true used-car salesman – jovial, aggressive, shrewd. Just like used-car salesmen today. He always had a joke or story, and he knew how to turn on the charm.”
Short, and broad-shouldered, Al was also a skilled mechanic. In 1933, the mechanic spotted the solution to a long-standing problem with car radiators. He grabbed it.
The problem? Mineral deposit build-up in the radiator. Unless a mechanic chipped it out (called “descaling”) every few years, the cooling system would break, the engine would overheat, the car would die.
Solution: Al bought a “patented” de-scaling formula from a chemical engineer.
“It cost a few hundred dollars,” Jerry said. He chuckled. “Then the patent turned out to be a phony.”
It didn’t matter. Sure Clean No.1 Cooling System Cleaner was a Midwest hit. While the applause and cash registers were still ringing, No. 3 Water Pump Lubricant and No. 7 Radiator Flush joined No. 1 as top sellers. Solvent Process Company – later to become PROSOCO – was born on the lot of Al Boyer’s Used Cars at 7th and Kansas Avenue in Kansas City – where First State Bank stands today.
Al traded his shares of the car business for his partner’s Solvent Process Company shares in 1939. He made a small switch in the company name — Solvent Process Company became Process Solvent Company.
Al knew there was more money in chemicals than cars, Jerry explained. When World War II hit, new car production stopped. Existing cars needed more service. They needed more Sure Klean products (now spelled with a “K” for marketing).
The Depression didn’t stop Al and neither did the war – not even when the Army arrived.
“Dad had about a thousand cases of auto chemicals in the warehouse,” Jerry recalled. “One day the Army brass showed up and put a big red ribbon around the place. They hauled off the whole inventory. I’ll never forget it.
“It was a big sale, but Dad was frustrated,” he added. “The Army took a year to pay him! Of course, it was celebration-day when the check finally came.”
The war effort also drafted the nation’s glass supply.
The problem? Glass once used to make bottles for Sure Klean products was now G.I. glass.
Solution: Not to be stopped, Al turned to quart vinegar jars.
Al hit the road during the war and after. He loaded his car with his company’s products. State-to-state and town-to-town, Al supplied garages throughout Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri and Iowa. Jerry, 16, drove for his father starting in 1950. He joined his father and older brother Ken in the business in 1954.
“Even at 16 I could see the auto business was not the place to be,” Jerry said. “Big companies like Firestone and Dupont were introducing their own de-scalers and lubricants. They were selling on consignment and we couldn’t match them. It was frustrating and very scary.”
Meanwhile, a ready-mix concrete company had discovered their own use for Sure Klean #1. It was perfect for washing hardened cement dust off the side-mounted radiators on their trucks. Jerry saw opportunity. He pounced.
He renamed the cleaner Sure Klean #1 Lime Solvent. He marketed it as a truck-washing compound.
Business took off. Orders poured in from the concrete industry. Unfortunately, drums for the cleaner weren’t to be found.
“Our first drums were wooden whiskey barrels lined with pitch,” Jerry recalled. “ They held about 49 gallons. It only took a few breaking up in transportation to convince Yellow Freight they didn’t want to ship them. We tried all kinds of containers before we got one that worked.”
Meanwhile, opportunity was knocking in Texas. Ready-mix operators there were selling the lime solvent as a brick-cleaner. Jerry, who studied chemistry in high school and college, reworked the lime solvent formula for bricks. Sure Klean® 600 Detergent was born for brick-work in 1956.
The Process Solvent Company’s dealer and distributor network grew. The company’s reputation for effective construction cleaners also grew. That’s why the Denver Terra Cotta Company brought its problem to Jerry in 1959. Their problem was unsolvable by the methods of the day.
Denver’s highest structure, the 14-story Mountain States Telephone Building needed cleaning as part of a renovation project.
The problem? The building was black with filth and carbon. Unfortunately, current cleaning methods – sand-blasting or washing with muriatic acid – were far too destructive for the delicate terra cotta surface.
Jerry mixed mechanics’ hand-soap with pumice. He tried different mixture levels on actual masonry samples from the building. The soap softened the dirt. The pumice in the soap scraped the dirt away when washed off with water.
“It took two summers to clean the building,” Jerry recalled. “We applied the soap with concrete-finishing trowels wrapped in fabric. We washed it off with garden hoses.”
The beige terra cotta building gleamed when the project was done. The Process Solvent Company reputation for tackling unheard-of situations was just beginning.
Jerry teamed with Kansas City-based Midwest Research Institute in the 1960s to pioneer some of the best hard-surface cleaners of the time. Evolving into Sure Klean® Restoration Cleaner and Sure Klean® Heavy Duty Restoration Cleaner, the formulas are in use today.
The company cracked the weatherproofing market with protective treatments for brick, stone and concrete in 1964. Jerry took over as company president in 1970. Al assumed duties as chairman of the board. Jerry shortened the company name in 1974. Process Solvent Company became “ProSoCo Inc.”
Meanwhile architects and contractors continued bringing “impossible” projects to ProSoCo. The company’s custom and manufactured solutions erased wine-stains from concrete in California wineries, and rust-stains from marble in New York.
King Kong’s blood was the strangest case the company ever tackled, Jerry said.
Paramount Pictures shot the end of the 1976 remake of “King Kong” at the World Trade Center. In the end, Kong topples off the WTC hitting the terraces between the two towers.
The problem? The contractor can’t get King Kong’s bloodstains off the terra cotta.
Solution: Call ProSoCo!
Jerry discovered the “blood” was a simple mixture of sticky Karo syrup and red food coloring. His custom solution – which he kept secret – was equally simple.
“I used a specialized mixture of detergent and bleach,” he said. “It took eight cases.”
Meanwhile, countless contractors across the country used ProSoCo’s more standard products on new construction and renovation. To meet demand, Jerry opened plants in New Jersey (1973) and Georgia (1978).
As the 80s dawned, cleaning old and historic buildings wasn’t enough. Architects needed products that stopped old buildings from crumbling under the impact of urban pollution and acid rain. There were no such products in the United States.
Europe – rich in buildings that have survived centuries – has dealt with preservation issues since the 1960s. Jerry contacted the experts. From Germany he brought high-tech chemistry to repair and strengthen stone itself. The Conservare® line of stone strengtheners and water repellents was ProSoCo’s answer to the weathering-away of American landmarks.
In the 1990s, colored architectural concrete block showed up on more and more buildings. The products that so successfully cleaned acid-resistant clay masonry were often too aggressive for these acid-soluble concrete products.
Solution: the Sure Klean® line of Custom Masonry cleaners and protective treatments. Custom Masonry Cleaner and Burnished Custom Masonry Cleaner didn’t just dissolve excess mortar and clarify mortar joints. They created color uniformity across entire installations.
Custom Masonry Sealer, using new RTV (Room Temperature Vulcanized) silicon, made highly porous concrete-block both water- and graffiti-repellent.
In the first years of the 21st Century, PROSOCO took on the thorny problem of energy waste in buildings. Air, leaking in and out through tiny seams and pinholes in structural walls carries valuable heating and cooling dollars with it. Those dollars, multiplied across the country, amount to untold millions in needless energy waste.
Where the leaking air meets cool temperatures in the walls, the vapor it carries condenses, creating conditions for mold – and litigation.
Solution: PROSOCO R-GUARD™. The fluid-applied air and water-resistive barrier, applied to structural walls stops costly air movement in and out — stopping the problems air leakage creates. PROSOCO R-GUARD™ is vapor-permeable, so if the walls do get wet inside, they can dry – bad news for mold.
Then, following two years of testing and research, PROSOCO boldly entered the crowded and confusing finished concrete flooring market. Advanced lithium-silicate technology, and lab-tested, field-proven procedures for using it were the cornerstones of PROSOCO’s market initiative.
In a series of three-day seminars and one-day road-shows for concrete flooring professionals nationwide, PROSOCO shot down many myths and misconceptions plaguing the industry. PROSOCO helped clear the way for environmentally sustainable concrete floors – industrial to decorative – to come into their own.
Since then, PROSOCO has continued to develop specific and innovative solutions for the problems besetting American architecture.
“Jerry really deserves the credit for our broad palette,” said David Boyer, PROSOCO president since 1992. “He always understood the subtle differences in the various surfaces we’ve treated. It’s allowed us to develop many truly refined products for real-world conditions.”
David, Jerry’s second son, joined the company in 1980. He’d just earned a bachelor’s in architecture and urban design from the University of Kansas. His graduate education began with a five-year stint in the company’s sales force.
“It was the toughest job I ever had in the company,” David said.
He managed a district, then a regional sales area.
“You learn the customer’s business as well as your own,” he said. “And you learn how to marry the two.”
David went into the lab with solid experience in sales and customer service. He served as director of technical services for six years, pushing the limits of chemistry against age-old and brand-new enemies of masonry and stone.
The push is still on.
New product lines are giving construction professionals weapons against problems ranging from oil and algae stains to graffiti attacks, acid rain and severe weather, up to and including Category 5 hurricanes.
“We’ve got concrete flooring and air barrier technology now that we only dreamed about 15 years ago,” David pointed out. “Twenty years from now we’ll be seeing entirely new ways to clean and protect masonry, and create sustainable, environmentally responsible buildings.
“We’ll see more sophisticated delivery systems – gels and foams instead of washes, for instance. Active ingredient concentrations will be lower, yet more effective. We’ll far exceed today’s standards for user and environmental safety.
“The world increasingly demands energy-efficient and environmentally responsible buildings,” he said. “PROSOCO continues to work on getting construction professionals the tools to help build, restore and maintain them.
“We make stuff to clean and protect concrete, masonry and stone,” he said. “There will always be a variety of problems to solve in the process.
We’re going to keep solving them.”