Three Generations Up On a Roof
Many small town youngsters who had never been away from the family farm found themselves flung straight into the middle of World War II after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Those who were fortunate enough to return home intact had learned skills that they could not have imagined when they first reported to their draft boards. By 1946 these young veterans were ready to reap the benefits of their experiences in a peacetime economy. One of them was a young man named Hank Beal. Rather than toil for someone else, he founded his own roofing and construction company. His grandson, John Beal, carries on his legacy in 2011. “I have been around the business my whole life,” says the third-generation roofer. “My grandfather started it in 1947.”
Henry J. Beal was a farm boy and bluegrass musician out of Hannibal, Missouri. “His favorite instrument was the mandolin, but he could play the strings off a guitar or a banjo,” says John Beal. “Music has always been part of our family. My dad plays the guitar, and so do I.”
Hank Beal wasn’t just a parlor plucker. He really knew how to play. As a member of the Salt River Hoosiers, he appeared regularly on radio station WTAO in Hannibal MO. “The Salt River winds around the vicinity of Hannibal,” says John. “My grand- ma’s family, the Daniels, had a farm in nearby New London. If you want to talk about country music, her dad’s name was Charlie Daniels, although naturally he wasn’t the Charlie Daniels. The Daniels family owns the farm to this day. There’s even a Daniels Lake. It’s a man-made body of water that was created by my uncle, Hurley Daniels.
“One day my dad’s brother Frank and a friend went out to the farm to visit Uncle Hurley. As they passed Daniels Lake, they noticed that there were frogs everywhere. They decided to take advantage of this discovery and gigged about 50 frogs, which was just about the lake’s entire population.
“When they got to the farmhouse, Uncle Hurley welcomed them with open arms. ‘You boys wanna go fishin?’ he asked them. ‘Go ahead and catch all the fish you want; bluegills, bass, catfish, whatever. You can throw ‘em out for all I care. Just don’t touch my frogs, ‘cause that’s what I’m tryin’ to raise out there.’” Frank Beal and his buddy just blinked at each other. Finally Frank summoned the courage to admit that they had virtually wiped out his frog farm the night before. “Needless to say, this information made Uncle Hurley pretty upset,” chuckles John Beal.
Henry Beal learned all about construction when he joined the army during World War II. As a member of the Army Corps of Engineers, Beal helped direct the building of portable pontoon bridges as the U. S. Army moved through Europe. The bridges float- ed on water, supported by barge or boat-like pontoons to hold up the bridge deck and its dynamic loads. Pontoon bridges were vital to the U. S. Armed Forces as they marched toward Berlin. Sometimes Beal and his crew had to destroy a bridge after the Allies crossed over to keep the enemy from using it. It the army was on a long march, the bridges were sometimes collapsed and carried along.
Beal’s American Army combat engineers succeeded in circumventing enemy forces who thought that could halt the advance of General George S. Patton’s tanks by blowing up big bridges. Beal and the boys were able to duplicate the carrying capacity of the huskiest span in approximately four hours. This was in spite of the fact that enemy snipers frequently fired shots at the bridge builders. Once Beal’s crew was finished, tanks and other armored vehicles were able to roar over the water. More than once Beal and his men saluted General Patton as his Sherman tank clattered across one of their bridges. They needed to be close at hand since, as the enemy retreated across rivers, they routinely destroyed the only bridge that could carry heavy traffic. When this happened, the wreck span would hardly hit the water before the army engineers rolled out of their camouflaged dispersal positions and started work on the near shore. Beal’s armored engineer battalion once built a 330-foot bridge in 3 hours and 2 minutes. These amazing achievements allowed for speedy crossings for heavy armor and much greater safety. By 1945, longer, sturdier pontoons, improved steel saddles and wider treadways made the bridges even sturdier. The construction crew not only had to be good, they had to be fast. The engineers and their teams were under constant pressure to quickly make bridges and clear the way for the Allied advance against Nazi Germany.
After the war, Hank Beal decided to put his army experience to work. In 1947 he relocated to St. Louis and set up his own construction and roofing business. “He started out with a two-man crew,” says John Beal. “But he felt he had the knowledge and the experience to tackle any job. He could put on a new roof, tuckpoint a wall, or build a house from the ground up”. Compared to building a floating bridge in a matter of hours that could support a 33-ton Sherman tank while bullets were whizzing by his head, such projects were a walk in the park.
During the Cold War, he built quite a few fallout shelters. As people moved to the suburbs he began building swimming pools.
“Grandpa was a perfectionist,” says John. “During the war, people’s lives depended on him getting the job done right. When he went into business for himself everything had to be dead-on accurate. It didn’t matter if the customer was satisfied. The job wasn’t done until he was satisfied."
“My dad told me that once Grandpa was pouring a swimming pool for a guy, and it was going to be a really large one. It had rained for several days and wouldn’t quit raining. The pool had shifted and wasn’t level. It was off by just a little bit. So he started jacking up the pool to make it right. When it was just a half inch from being level, the customer said, ‘That’s good enough. Don’t risk cracking the pool. I’m perfectly fine with it.’ Grandpa replied that he wanted it absolutely perfect. ‘No, no. I’m happy with it. You can stop right now.’ said the man. But Grandpa wouldn’t hear of it. He jacked it up that last half inch and, sure enough, the whole pool cracked right in half. It cost him thousands of dollars to break out the pool and re-pour it. But that’s just the way he was.”
Hank Beal also held the patent on “PermaStone,” a process that created a concrete veneer for buildings that that made them appear to be built of stone. “I remember playing with the molds when I was a little kid,” says John. “A number of buildings, such as the Domino’s Pizza at Gravois and Weber in Affton, still have his PermaStone exteriors.”
Hank Beal’s business and residence were at 5024 Kerth Road in South St. Louis County. It included his office, warehouse, the PermaStone factory and a concrete dump. His land extended from Kerth Road almost to Highway 55. The Schnucks Supermarket at Butler Hill Road now sits on part of the property.
“I was around the business from the time I was old enough to walk,” says John. “I did small jobs with Grandpa and he took me everywhere with him, whether he was bidding a job or doing work. I was part of all of it.”
Hank Beal retired in 1973 after suffering a stroke. “Not only did he have to stop working, he could no longer play music and that bothered him a lot because he loved music,” said John.
Jerry and his brother Frank took over the business when Hank retired. “At this point, Dad and Uncle Frank began to concentrate on roofing, although they continued to do all kinds of construction work,” says John. “By then our reputation for quality work was well known in the industry, and we did a lot of jobs for large chain stores like Sears, Hill-Behan, Central Hardware and Builder’s Square.
“Dad worked me harder than any other employee,” says John. “I guess he didn’t want it to look like he was showing favoritism. But it was like a form of reverse discrimination.”
By 1974 Jerry Beal had a staff of 8 people, in addition to his wife. Frank Beal served in the military in Vietnam, and had to step back from the business after returning stateside because his health was damaged by the effects of the toxic jungle defoliant Agent Orange.
Tired of the pressure of being the boss’ son, John Beal decided to try a different direction and attended nursing school But it wasn’t long before he was back with his dad. “I thought, ‘This is silly. Roofing and construction are what I know best. He’s my dad. We can work this out.
“In 1998 Dad retired and I took over the business. One of the first things I did was put the company name all over everything. It’s not enough to just be the best. You have to keep reminding everybody that you’re the best. That’s why advertising and marketing are so important. I believe that if you’re going to do something, you should go all the way. I put the company logo on all of our trucks. If John Beal roofing does a great job on your house, I want everybody to know it was John Beal who did it. And I want everybody to know they can get the same great job on brickwork, siding, windows and gutters.”
Hank and Jerry Beal didn’t just pass along the family business. John is a third-generation guitarist with his Jack Cash Band. “We can play pretty well, but of course, we’re no Salt River Hoosiers,” he snickers.
The John Beal Company has been able to buck a national trend by growing while other roofers are seeing a decrease in business. Beal attributes this to savvy marketing and a commitment to meeting customer needs with quality products and service. “A satisfied customer is always your best ambassador,” says Beal. “On the other hand, one dissatisfied customer can undo thousands of dollars worth of advertising. It just doesn’t pay to make somebody unhappy. And we’ll tackle any job,” says Beal. “We’ll even put a roof on your cave! he adds with a chuckle. Actually, we’ve never put a roof on a cave, but we did do the roofing for Meramec Caverns’ hotel in Stanton, Missouri. ‘Cave Man Dave’ from Meramec Caverns even did a testimonial for our website, dressed in a bearskin and swinging a club.”
John Beal has offices in Kansas City, Wichita, Kansas, and Carbondale, Illinois. “But we work the entire states of Missouri and Illinois,” says Beal. “If you need a roof in Hannibal or Ste. Genevieve, Metropolis or Chicago, I can do it.
"If you call John Beal, we will arrive when promised."
“There are several things that I absolutely insist on, and like my Grandpa, I’m really stubborn about them. We show up on time. If you call John Beal, we will arrive when promised. Our crew stays on your job until it is completed. We do not pull crews to work on multiple projects. Your job gets our undivided attention until its done. And a real person always answers the phone. John Beal Roofing is a service-oriented company, and you can’t get service from a recording.”
Beal’s approach toward running his company has brought him national recognition. John Beal Inc. has been named one of the top 100 roofing contractors in the United States by National Roofing Contractor’s Magazine.
Beal continues to expand while other roofing companies are closing or laying off workers. “I think people believe that we are totally sincere about making them happy, and they see us do things to back that up,” he states. “We have a mission statement which says ‘We will take advantage of no one and will allow no one to take advantage of us.’ I consider it a mark of professionalism and I believe people respect that.”
Source: John Beal’s Family Has Spent Three Generations Up On the Roof By Steve DeBellis
The St. Louis Globe-Democrat