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Sen. Grassley visits Marshalltown Co.

T-R PHOTO BY MIKE DONAHEY U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley answers a question from a Marshalltown Co. employee during a factory tour and question and answer session Monday. Pictured are just a few of the approximately 30 staff present.

A local company founded in 1890 with a storied history and an eye to the future hosted Republican U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley Monday for a facility tour.

Marshalltown entertained Iowa’s senior senator for his first visit to the company in approximately 29 years.

In turn, Grassley took numerous questions at a town-hall-style meeting from several of the approximately 30 employees present. Questions ranged from the conflict with Iran to tariffs to the high cost of prescriptions.

Much has changed at the privately-owned company still owned by the Williams family who live in various parts of the United States, Director of Iowa Operations and Engineering John Christen said. Jesse and E. Lester Williams founded the company and their trowels soon became the tool of a choice for many bricklayers. Consequently, the company was known as Marshalltown Trowel for many years before changing to Marshalltown in 2003.

Christen showed Grassley and staff older sections of the factory estimated to have been constructed in 1916, displayed several varieties of its namesake trowels and identified a recently completed major expansion. When that expansion is finished, it will allow the company to manufacture more products it needs versus purchasing them from others.

Grassley told the audience any question put to him would be appropriate. He also said he likes to visit factories because all employees cannot attend the regularly scheduled town hall meetings.

“I do this (meeting) in the spirit of representative government,” he said. “This is not the only way to communicate … you can email me when you can.”

Employee Dan Kester asked Grassley about tariffs.

“Thank God, we got rid of the tariffs on steel and aluminum,” Grassley said. “That took about three or four months to get the president talked out of that. And with China, I don’t know exactly … At one point we were making a lot of progress … we were on the 10-yard line, but things changed and we were pushed back to the 30-yard line.”

Grassley said negotiations with the Chinese government can be sensitive and difficult. At times they want American companies’ intellectual property and also want to manipulate currency.

“The Chinese government needs to abide by the World Trade Organization agreement, which they entered into in 1999. I voted to allow them to join. They have to abide by that agreement, but they don’t in many instances. So that is the best answer I can give you.”

Grassley gave President Donald Trump a lot of credit for bringing certainty to the economy.

In response to one question, Grassley said there is much more bipartisan work on legislation than is reported.

“There is controversy in the Senate and Congress on certain issues and that is news,” he said. “But there is a lot of bipartisan work on a number of bills, especially the one we recently passed on criminal justice reform. It was the first time in many years that issue of criminal justice was addressed.”

Before the town-hall began, Christen presented Iowa’s senior senator with a Marshalltown “hamburger” trowel used by the late Wendy’s founder Dave Thomas, a company history book

and a book authored by company President Joe Carter and illustrated by daughter Hanna Carter.

“If you read the history book, you will find out Thomas used the trowel grilling hamburgers,” Christen said. “Those [hamburger trowels) are not for sale … they are special-made.”

With the visit to Marshalltown, Grassley has now visited 67 of Iowa’s 99 counties since Jan. 1. Grassley has fulfilled a campaign promise to visit all of Iowa’s 99 counties at least once a year since he was elected to the Senate November 1980 and was sworn in January of 1981.

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Contact Mike Donahey at

641-753-6611 or

mdonahey@timesrepublican.com