Hometown Icons: Trane Co.
Tribune file photo

“You can’t stop a Trane,” or so the slogan goes.

The ubiquitous home air conditioners are actually made in Tyler, Texas. The La Crosse plant specializes in HVAC equipment for large commercial buildings.

But people still ask for Trane out of brand loyalty and hometown pride, said Dean Hammes, whose Ron Hammes Refrigeration business sells and services Trane units.

After all, the company has long been the engine powering La Crosse’s economy.

Trane’s roots in La Crosse go back to 1885, when a Norwegian immigrant named James Trane opened a plumbing business. Trane later invented a low-pressure heating system and partnered with his son, Reuben, who had recently earned a college degree in mechanical engineering, to begin making them. Trane Co. incorporated in 1913, and later began making indoor air conditioners, a novel concept in 1931.

The company didn’t become a leader in the residential air conditioning until 1982, when it purchased General Electric’s AC division, which included the Tyler plant.

While those units weren’t made in La Crosse, a company spokeswoman said the aggressive move into the residential market “substantially increased” the size of the company. 

In the early 1980s, Trane employed some 4,800 workers in La Crosse, making it the area’s largest employer.

Acquired by American Standard Co. in 1984, the company headquarters moved away, but the plant remained. American Standard eventually took on the Trane name, a nod to the brand recognition.

In 2008, Trane was acquired by refrigeration giant Ingersoll-Rand for $10.1 billion.

Over the past 30 years, Trane’s local workforce has shrunk by nearly 60 percent as manufacturing jobs have been lost to offshoring, automation and economic factors. Even so, as of the last count in 2013, Trane remained the county’s third largest employer — and the only manufacturer in the top five.

The company, now headquartered in Ireland, has some 29,000 employees at 29 plants around the world and boasts that a Trane unit is installed, on average, every minute of every day.

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