Vandergriff Inc was founded in the late 1980's by the legendary A.L. Vandergriff. Every cotton processing gin plant in the world today uses equipment of his design, or that has been influenced by his design. During his long career he was Vice-President in charge of research and development at Lummus, President of Continental Gin Company, and a consultant for Consolidated Cotton Gin Company whose main product line is of his design. In the special 1999 winter edition of Cotton Grower magazine entitled, "Cotton Millennium", he was named one of the Titans of the industry and listed just under Eli Whitney due to his numerous contributions to the industry. (view the historic news article)
His career began at Hardwick-Etter Company, but he was quickly hired away by Lummus in the late 1940's. He re-vamped their stagnant product line, and with the arrival of machine picked cotton in the early 1950's, he made seminal changes to their equipment to deal with this new trashy cotton. In 1949, he began developing a new stick machine that used the sling-off principle which he ultimately patented in 1953. This went a long way towards removing sticks brought to the gin by the machines. This was the first commercially successful stick machine using the "sling-off" principle, and the key features of this design are still incorporated into successful stick machines manufactured today.
He made major changes in the design of cylinder cleaners, feeders and the gin stand itself. Under his leadership, cotton ginned on Lummus equipment became the standard that the mills required. His innovative changes to the Lummus product line still permeate their equipment today. It was, in a sense, "a golden age at Lummus" that has not be rivaled since.
He then was lured away by Continental Gin Company where he served as President for several years. He made several improvements to their product line, including supervising the development of the 16" saw gin, but one of the most overlooked was his design of the rotabar roller gin in 1962 which he patented. Nowhere is there more misinformation provided to the public than in this area of ginning. The USDA had made a promising effort to replace the reciprocating knife arrangement used in the McCarthy type Roller Gin. In the late 1950's they made a pilot model of would be known as the "Flight Bar Gin." It had a series of bars mounted on a pair of chains, the bars running parallel to the stationary knife. The bars were spaced apart so that as they moved over the knife, they would push off the seed. The chain continued around a sprocket located so that the bar would pull away from the knife to release the seed at the proper overlap. The cotton was fed to the ginning roller between the bars. This design had a serious mechanical fault that was not evident in the pilot model. After only a short period of operation, the wear on the chain and the sprockets was enough to let the bars rotate and slide over the seed on the knife surface. At this point, it would be necessary to stop the operation of the unit to tighten the chain, and only then could the unit return to optimal ginning conditions. This occurred far too often to make the Flight Bar Arrangement practical under actual field conditions. However, as President of Continental Gin Company Mr. Vandergriff initially felt strongly about the merits of the Flight Bar Model and in 1962 several full-sized units were built and incorporated into two Continental gin plants. Under normal operating conditions, these units did not function efficiently and Continental was faced with substantial loses financially unless modifications could be made. Fortunately, Mr. Vandergriff had a Flight Bar Gin in Continental's experimental plant. He was very aware of the old reciprocating knife roller gins and also aware of the overlap principle.
He also knew that various types of rotating knifes had been tried without much success. However, he decided to explore the development of a rotating member to replace the moving knife that removed the seed at the ginning point. He ultimately came up with an arrangement that used ½ inch blades on a 1 15/16" diameter shaft or a 2 15/16" OD cylinder that would move the seed three quarters of an inch from the ginning edge of the knife leaving it slightly less that one quarter inch away from the surface of the knife. The release point would vary with the taper on the top surface of the knife. He then had a prototype six blade rotary knife made up. The chains and sprockets were removed from the Flight Bar model, and the six blade rotabar was mounted firmly in the ginning position.
Mr. Vandergriff had vivid recollections of this because this new arrangement was installed and tested on Thanksgiving Day, 1962. The ginning roller and stationary knife arrangement were not changed, and remains today about the same as it was in the Flight Bar Gin. Despite the simplicity of the arrangement, no chains, no reciprocating knifes, the results were outstanding.
For Continental Gin Company, converting the two existing plants using the Flight Bar Gin to the Rotabar Gin allowed them to fend off a financial loss and embarrassment. Soon after this, Continental Gin Company was advertising and marketing its new "Golden Comet Rotabar Gin." This of course incorporated Mr. Vandergriff's new rotabar design. This was clearly the first commercially successful application of the rotabar that became widely copied soon after due to patent limitations.
Trial and Success
Many variations had been previously attempted, and none were successful largely because no one fully understood the overlap principle and its critical relation to the rotabar’s design and speed. The information regarding the history of the modern roller gin made available to the public completely ignores Mr. Vandergriff’s involvement in this seminal development which was common knowledge at the time. For example, M.N. Gillum stated: “The Rotary Knife Roller Gin evolved between 1955 and 1963 through the efforts of the Southwestern Cotton Ginning Research Laboratory, the gin equipment manufacturers, and private ginneries.” (“High speed roller ginning” Transactions of the ASAE, Volume 28 (3) pp. 959-68, 1985). Current UDSA literature makes the same claims. If the personnel of the Southwest Ginning Laboratory had developed a successful rotating knife to replace the reciprocating knife of a roller gin during the period between 1955 and 1963, the public would surely have known about it. This lab had no knowledge or input in the design of Mr. Vandergriff’s rotating knife he made in November of 1962. The reference to gin equipment manufacturers and private ginneries is vague and totally ignores the critical involvement of one of the most prominent cotton gin engineers of the time. Mr. Vandergriff continued to contribute to research and development in the area of Roller Ginning developing the spiral rotabar in 1977. He developed the Consolidated Roller Ginning Unit in the early 1990’s incorporating his vast knowledge of key Roller Ginning principles. For more information on this subject and certainly for heavy documentation of all statements, please refer to: “Ginning Cotton, An Entrepreneur’s Story.” A.L. Vandergriff. Texas Tech University Press, 1997
During his time as President of Continental, a prominent customer by the name of James G. Boswell talked him in to moving to California in 1964 to take over their ginning and processing operations. He became Vice-President of Boswell in 1964 and totally revamped their ginning operations located in the central valley of California. Under his tenure their, the worlds first 40 bale per hour gin plant was built. This plant was the first to use 10 foot cleaning equipment, a module automatic feeding system, and automatic strapping at the press. From the press, the bale was transported to a chute that applied a plastic type covering. The year? 1968. To allow for the automatic strapping, he led the fight to eliminate the heavy and cumbersome application of jute bagging at the press, and ultimately allow the introduction of net weight trading. All of this is standard in the industry today. Also at Boswell, he converted the Continental 119 saw gin stands to 141 saws. The merits of this narrower saw spacing quickly caught on, and Continental was soon advertising and promoting their new 141 saw gin stand. Mr. Vandergriff made many other improvements to other facets of ginning equipment at Boswell that were soon snapped up and incorporated into some of the major manufacturers’ product lines.
After retiring from Boswell in 1974, he began a long career of consulting and independent product development. He designed the Even Heat Dryer which ultimately became the Hot Shelf Tower Dryer. He continued his work on battery condensers. He patented the first successful system of adding moisture to the lint in the condenser to reduce the size of the batt, a real bottleneck to increased capacities. This also added weight to the bale, a real advantage to the farmer. Properly installed, the Vandergriff Moisture System at the condenser is still the superior way to add moisture to the lint.
Working with several gins through-out the country in the mid-1970’s, he developed the first commercially successful seed tube. At Elbow Gin in Visalia, California he continued to work on gin stand improvement. There, he continued to narrow saw spacings, and this experimentation along with a short lived dialog with Continental led to the development of their Continental 161 gin stand. In the early 1980’s, he converted Elbow Gin’s Continental 120 saw gins to 164 saws.
He designed new gin ribs with wearplates that ultimately became the Vandergriff Gin Rib. In 1986, he was hired by Consolidated Cotton Gin Company to develop a new gin stand for their fledgling company. This would be the first complete new gin stand built since Continental Gin Company introduced the 16” saw gin in 1961, a project Mr. Vandergriff supervised. The “Elbow” Gin stand was the template for the new Consolidated 164 gin stand. After this, he was hired by Consolidated to be a consultant. During this time, the worlds first 20 bale per hour gin stand was designed, the Consolidated 198 saw gin. He developed their new roller gin incorporating much of his experience over the years in this area. While consulting for Consolidated, he still contributed ideas to Vandergriff Inc. In 1994 he designed the Vandergriff Gin Rib for Lummus and Continental Gin Stands. This rib made from 1018 steel, was the world’s first precision gin rib machined on CNC equipment. He also incorporated the wearplate design he used at Elbow Gin in Visalia, California and with Consolidated. This product has become the world’s top selling high performance gin rib.
After leaving Consolidated, Mr. Vandergriff continued to do research in many facets of ginning. He developed the Jet Dryer, an idea he had on his drawing board for years. This dryer is now being installed in many gin plants though-out the cotton belt. He converted a gin stand at Elbow Gin to 182 saws, the narrowest spacing in the industry. He developed and patented a multi-slot super jet which takes the concept of the super jet much further than the existing arrangement. He developed and patented a Tube Density Separator to remove trash from cotton without exposing the fiber to harsh saw conditions. Some of this research was and is so cutting edge that it has been ignored by the major manufacturers even though these arrangements preserve fiber integrity by limiting its exposure to saws. His mind never stopped working, never stopped ginning. He died in May of 2005 at the age of 93. His son Loyd Vandergriff took over the operations of Vandergriff Inc. but Mr. Vandergriff’s spirit is always present in the day to day operations of the company.
For detailed information on Mr. Vandergriff, and his contributions to the ginning industry you are encouraged to read his book, “Ginning Cotton, An Entrepreneur’s Story. Texas Tech University Press, 1997.