Skyway’s influence and contribution to BMX cycling is memorialized in the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C.
There the TUFF Wheel sits on display. TUFF was the first plastic bicycle wheel made and was created by Skyway, which started production in Redding in 1977.
Skyway is one of the oldest manufacturers in the North State, established in Van Nuys in 1963 before moving to Redding.
So the closure of its plant on Caterpillar Road after the sale of the company to a former customer and vendor in Indiana truly marks the end of an era.
“There’s a little bit of sadness because this was our whole life here,” said co-owner Parrey Cremeans, who started working at Skyway in 1979 as a mold operator after graduating from Enterprise High School. “But it means an opportunity to carry on more than it would have carried on in Redding.”
Skyway employees have spent the past several weeks clearing out the Caterpillar Road plant and hope to have the job done by Wednesday.
Custom Engineered Wheels of Warsaw, Indiana, purchased Skyway in late March after first approaching the company in April 2016. The Indiana manufacturer also has plants in Mississippi and Mexico.
Under the terms of the deal, Custom Engineered Wheels will continue making Skyway-branded products like TUFF Wheels in the United States, said Ken Coster, Skyway’s former president who came to Redding in 1977 to work for the company.
“TUFF Wheels were always made in Redding and shipped all over the world,” Coster said, adding that many thought Skyway only housed its corporate offices in the North State.
The company employed multi-ton injection molding presses to make the wheels. The machines were recently auctioned off, including to a company in Vietnam.
Skyway had 14 employees but depending on demand for product, the operation in Redding employed as many as 80, Coster said.
TUFF Wheels hang from the rafters inside Skyway's facility in Redding. The TUFF Wheel was the first plastic bike wheel and is on display in the Smithsonian Museum. (Photo: David Benda)
“We’re not going to last forever, the owners,” the 61-year-old Coster said. “And the three of us, we wanted to make sure the Skyway name will be around for a long time.”
Custom Engineered Wheels’ offer to buy came “out of the blue” and after several visits with the company. Coster said the deal was too good to pass on.
The Indiana company makes solid urethane tires for the lawn and garden market and was looking at ways to enter the bike market.
Rein Stolz, 62, started working at Skyway 37 years ago and owned the company with Coster and Cremeans before they sold. Stolz said he’s happy the Skyway name will carry on.
“It’s very important because when you spend much of your life developing a product line or brand, you don’t want it to go to China or down the tubes,” Stolz said.
The owners held out hope that the new owners would keep a presence in Redding.
“Their board of directors didn’t want to be in California with the bad environment it has for manufacturing,” Coster said. “It’s sad, very sad.”
Boxes and a ladder sit where multi-ton injection molding presses used to be inside Skyway's manufacturing plant in Redding. (Photo: David Benda)
Skyway Recreation Products was established by Chuck Raudman, who retired from the company in 1995. Raudman developed the TUFF Wheel, a molded nylon bike wheel, while living in Southern California in 1974. He moved Skyway to Redding in 1976 and started production in 1977.
“That’s our claim to fame,” said Coster, who still runs into people who talk about riding BMX bikes with TUFF Wheels. “In 1983, ’84, when freestyle (riding) took off, we literally couldn’t produce enough wheels in Redding.”
Skyway will be featured in an upcoming book, “Wall to Wall: The Birth of the Freestyle Movement,” that features other pioneering companies Oakley, Vans, Haro Bikes, Bob Haro Design, GT and SE Bikes.