Droste reaches the checkered flag

Clearline sales manager to retire after 30 years

Steve Droste of Waterloo has been a member of the team at Clearline Industries in Traer for three decades. He recently announced his retirement and will work his last day as the Ranger Blades sales manager on April 1. -- Photo provided

For the past 30 years Steve Droste has been part of the nucleus within one of Traer’s vanguard family-owned businesses.

In 1990, after 12 years of manufacturing cutlery with Clearline Industries, owners Lou Rausch and Rex Betts hired Droste to help spearhead a new division of their company that would focus on the manufacturing of industrial blades.

On April 1 Droste will retire from Clearline, leaving an indelible mark upon the now stable and profitable Ranger Blade division.

“Steve has been the brains and the guts behind the continuation of Ranger Blades for the last 30 years,” Rausch said. “We’ve just been blessed to have him. He’s been a exemplary employee. He’s never late, never sick, never got excuses. He doesn’t pass the buck or blame somebody else for things. What more could you want?”

Droste and Rausch go back as far as one could image. The two grew up in the same trailer court in Waterloo where Rausch remembers babysitting for Droste when he was preschool age.

Steve Droste driving his number 92 modified race car. Racing has been a family business for the Drostes with Steve, his father, the late Red Droste, and son Tyler Droste all competing on dirt tracks in eastern Iowa over the past half century. -- Photo provided

Growing up, Droste was always mechanically inclined. His father, the late Red Droste, was a renowned stock car driver and mechanic in the Cedar Valley area, and Droste himself would go on to a decorated racing career with motorcycles and modified cars.

As Rausch and Droste got older the two struck up a friendship. Years later when Rausch was on the hunt for a sales manager to lead Clearline’s foray into industrial blades, he knew Droste was someone he could trust with the knowledge and problem-solving skills to move the company forward.

Not long after Droste came aboard in 1990, the company relocated to their current facility along the southern border of Traer.

Rausch recalls Droste being there with the team to help pour concrete, run wiring and pull tin onto the roof as the Clearline manufacturing facility was being built.

As the sales manager for the Ranger Blade division, Droste has been more manager than salesman.

Steve Droste (right) sits with Lou and Cheryl Rausch at the Clearline office in March of 1999. -- Photo provided

Through the 90s, Ranger Blade Company established a niche supplying industrial blades to food processing companies that aid in the manufacturing of everything from ketchup to peanut butter, pudding and ice cream.

Droste’s work in that industry has often required creating solutions to put just the right material with the right specifications into the processing chain so that customer’s products can be efficiently manufactured with minimal residual maintenance issues.

“People want you to make a blade out of something that’ll last forever,” Rausch said. “But when you’re talking about food, there’s a lot of things to consider. The blades have to be a certain smoothness with a certain corrosion resistance and they have to hold up without wearing everything else out. Steve’s strong suit is knowing everything we’ve tried and run into over the last 30 years. Unfortunately, that’s not something you can easily train into a replacement.”

Rausch said he’ll find Droste pitching in with nearly every step of the Ranger Blade process including supply procurement, customer service, sales, coordination with the tool shop and packaging and distribution.

One of the characteristics Rausch has most appreciated about Droste is the humanity that he brings to his work.

“Our customers feel comfortable working with Steve,” Rausch said. “He’s a straight-shooter. He knows how to listen to customers needs to put them together with the best solution so they can leave knowing they got a square deal.”

Clearline plans to retain Droste as a consultant in the event product questions or situations arise that his expertise could best assist with.

Droste lives in Waterloo with his wife of 30 years, Roxanne. The two have one son, Tyler, who is grown and has followed in the Droste legacy; racing the family number 92 in modified car racing circuits over the past 10 years.

In retirement Droste plans to travel, ride motorcycles, fish, work on cars and spend time at the family cabin in Wisconsin.

Rausch said the team at Clearline plan to send Droste off with a shrimp cookout celebration in the near future.

Over the past few years the company has taken efforts to cross-train the other eight staff members that work in the Ranger Blade division to collectively pick up where Droste leaves off at the end of this month.

“We’ve got some young people that are really taking an interest here,” Rausch said. “There are three or four people that we really lean on hard. We’ve got great talent and I think each of our departments will rise to the challenge of filling in and moving things forward in the coming years.”

Rausch said he invisions Clearline continuing to pursue a larger volume of projects rather than a smaller number of high dollar prospects. The hope being that diversifying and spreading their work out will keep them flexible and resilient as a small manufacturer in years to come.