Gear Origins: Reinventing the Family Business

Janie Curtis with John Curtis in front of the Gleason Phoenix 280C.

Sometimes the old family recipe needs updating…

My husband’s father had a little job shop where employees were either working overtime or they stood around and painted machines due to lack of work. Employees moved on to other jobs. When a new job was contracted, people “off the street” again were hired and trained to operate machine tools.

My late husband, Stuart Curtis, finished his BS and MS degrees in engineering at Kansas State University and went back to the little company. He immediately saw that a standard product line was needed to stabilize the business. Therefore, he sat down with his slide rule and designed our standard gears and our standard gearboxes. It took him one week to design one gear. He started with 1/1 ratio then expanded to other standard ratios. Curtis Machine is still producing these standard gears and gearboxes today. He also programmed the mainframe computer that was purchased. It was only the second mainframe computer in Dodge City, Kansas as the gas company had the first one. Curtis Machine Company, Inc. was one of the first to develop a website ( I functioned as vice president of sales and president for several years. Today, our son, John Curtis, who has both his BS and MS degrees (from MIT) in engineering, is now president of Curtis Machine Company, Inc. I am still involved with my company.

After our sons were in school full time, Stuart invited me to take a leave of absence from graduate school (to be a nurse practitioner specialist) and help him out in the sales department “for just a couple of months.” Those two months with the company have stretched out for 38 years. When my husband passed, I became the owner of the corporation. People ask me how can I sell gears when I’m a nurse by training. Actually, the two professions are quite similar, except one is delivering a service, the other delivering a product; the process is the same. First we meet with the potential customer/patient and determine his/her needs. Next we design a plan on how to meet those needs. We implement the plan and deliver the gearboxes/nursing care to the customer/patient. This is done with communication, communication and more communication —  which nurses are trained to do. Receiving the purchase order is a product of this process. The last step is evaluation, which is very important.

Today Curtis Machine Company has grown and has many fine new machine tools as well as two CMM’s to verify the quality of our work. We are proud to hold ISO9001:2015 and AS9100D quality certificates. These tools are very efficient and have high productivity. Our Phoenix gear generator is a beautiful machine tool. It is fascinating to watch our new robot at work. With these new machines we are able to improve processes and put continuous downward pressure on our costs while expanding into new markets and new products.

We have a very nice family-owned small business that is enjoyable to operate. We invite readers to come and visit us in Dodge City, Kansas.

I never received my master of science degree in nursing administration, but I do have a great gearing business and an amazing team working together.  

 Janie Curtis, C.E.O.

Curtis Machine Company, Inc.

About Charles D. Schultz 661 Articles
Charles D. Schultz is President of Beyta Gear Service and one of Gear Technology's technical editors.

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