The year was 1966.
It was when Doug Lapins — a native of Chicago who ended up in Fresno at age 11 in 1949 when his father took a job as a design engineer with the Massey Harris farm equipment company — first arrived in Manteca.
The University of Arizona graduate with a degree in mechanical engineering landed his first job with Spreckels Sugar in 1961 at the plant located five miles west of Salinas in the namesake village of Spreckels.
He worked there for five years when he was interviewed by Al Boyden, the manager of the Manteca plant. The Manteca plant was being expanded and there was a need for an assistant manager. Lapins got the job.
Lapins’ career and thoughts on the beet sugar industry is all detailed in a book he has written dubbed: “Sweet Success: A Journey of Change and Challenge.” It was published by Foursome Press and lists for $14.95.
Lapins rose to executive vice president at Spreckels before moving to Western Sugar where he rose to president and chief executive officer of the Denver-based company valued at a billion dollars before eventually retiring.
His 304-page book includes a 12-page chapter on his experience in Manteca where he indicated he learned most of the craft needed to extract sugar from sugar beets.
The expansion was part of Spreckels plan to capitalize on the Cuban sugar embargo. The company had been debating whether to close the plant and build elsewhere or modernize it. Ultimately thanks to the large amount of sugar beet growers in the Manteca area, they opted to stay put.
When he arrived in spring of 1966 Manteca had 10,000 residents and the sugar plant was still on the edge of town. He notes how Spreckels Sugar along with an adjoining Moffat Feedlot became the city’s signature for travelers on Highway 99 who could see the 15-story silos and the gigantic neon Spreckels Sugar sign atop the plant as well as smell the feed lot as they drove by.
He lived with his family first in the Spreckels Sugar village that was eventually replaced by an almond orchard and then by the 166-home Curran Grove neighborhood after the plant was shuttered in 1996. They used the money they saved living there to ultimately buy a 1,200-square-foot home on a nearby cul-de-sac.
He tells of his first time riding a “man lift” to the top of the 150-foot sugar silos for an inspection trip. Since there were no elevators to get to the top it was the only way to do so. He indicated you stood next to a moving belt going up a narrow shaft. As a hand-hold on the belt came by, you would reach out and grab it, stepping in to the foothold as it approached. While it was “perfectly safe” and had an emergency shutoff in case someone froze or panicked, it still was a scary ride especially the first time out.
He said Boyden has advised him not to look up or down. After completing their inspection, the moving belt was the only way down unless he wanted to opt for a safety harness while descending a 150-foot ladder.
Lapins speaks glowingly of Boyden as a plant manager and as a person.
He adds tidbits such as the fact he was a member of the Manteca Kiwanis while working here. He noted that his wife ultimately started teaching kindergarten as they soon discovered that despite his childhood in Fresno having a home without air conditioning in Manteca wasn’t much fun. His wife Ginny decided to go to work initially for the sole propose of buying air conditioning.
He has a website at www.DougLapins.com. If you’d like to get in contact with him his email is doug@DougLapins.com.
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