Building an Industry Seam by Seam

Margaret Rice, Aero Industries’ first employee

Margaret Rice, Aero’s first employee, joined Aero Canvas Products in 1945, when the company was still Paul Tuerk’s moonlighting gig. Tuerk and Rice did all the work in the evenings after Tuerk finished at his day job at Hoosier Tarpaulin. Rice sewed flat tarps made from wax-coated canvas that would be used for construction companies and lumber yards. Tuerk took care of sales and business aspects. By the time Rice retired, Aero would be renowned throughout the transportation world for its innovations. This working mother witnessed Aero’s growth, which she and the hardworking team in Aero’s Specialty Sewing Department helped make possible.

Grommets and growing pains

Aero’s first location was a 30-by-33-foot space roughly the size of a modest three-car garage today. Quality cotton canvas in the size necessary to cover a truck meant each tarp often weighed between 30 to 60 pounds. It was unwieldy and heavy work, especially in the tight confines of a space where an unfurled tarp could cover half of the floor.

In 1948, 22-year-old Paul Richard Tuerk joined his father and Rice. While Rice continued to do the sewing, Paul Frederick and Paul Richard Tuerk used a heavy-duty machine to cut the canvas. The two men also put in grommets, a task that took 45 minutes per tarp. Each hole had to be punched by hammer, pounding through the waxed canvas and inserting and bending the grommet. Today, that same operation takes two minutes.

Mother with a mission

When she started working with Aero’s founder, Rice was a 31-year-old wife and the mother of a young child. As World War II came to a close, her life as a working mother continued. Even after the military men returned and many women left the workforce, Rice remained in her position at Aero.

Rice headed up the Specialty Sewing Department, which was born, when, as tarps grew larger and heavier, the workers who had sewed the tarps could no longer handle them. In the Specialty Sewing Department, Minnie Hooker and Irene Blankenship worked with Rice to create and repair a variety of relatively lightweight canvas products, including boat covers, vehicle registration pouches and air ducts for Aero’s refrigeration product line.

Greasing the deal

A woman with strict standards and an uncompromising work ethic, Rice sometimes drew the attention of workplace jokesters. In one memorable event, a coworker slathered Rice’s phone headset with axle grease. When the prankster called her, Rice’s hand was coated with the thick lubricant. Soon, four women showed up in Robert Tuerk’s office to let him know how they felt about the joke. No more grease-related pranks for Margaret after that!

By the time she retired in 1983, Rice had spent 38 years with Aero, reaching the position of floor supervisor. As a testament of Aero’s impact on Rice’s life and her dedication to her workplace, her husband, William, who’d worked in both the highway and railroad industries, joined her as an Aero employee.

Rice’s skills and dedication to Aero’s mission of innovation helped build the company into a force within the transportation industry. Aero’s reputation for both quality products and a quality workforce continues today.

In 1945, Margaret Rice got her start at Aero sewing flat waxed canvas tarps for construction companies and lumber yards. She may have used this sewing machine.

Tarps were often used to cover trucks to protect the load during shipment and keep the contents dry. Heavy-duty canvas in such a large size could weigh up to 60 pounds.

Hard work and camaraderie have always been part of Aero culture. Here’s Margaret Rice (right) with co-workers Francis Meadows, Fuzz Helton and Corinne Jones.

By the time she retired in 1983, Margaret Rice (right) reached a position as floor supervisor. Here she is pictured with Peggy Marion, who worked in the tarp cutting department.


Related Stories
Learn more about the hard working men and women like Margaret Rice who continue to drive Aero’s momentum.

Want to find out more about the great people behind our legacy of innovation and industry leadership?

Learn More

    required fields