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Johnston Sweepers, Ltd. Establishes a Foothold in the USA

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The following is an overview of the worldwide leader in road sweeper manufacturing, Johnston Sweepers, Ltd. In addition to a synopsis of the company spanning its start in 1904 to the present, we offer a 2012 interview with Bill Ackendorf, the acting general manager of the US affiliate, Johnston North America.

JM Johnston The England-based company now known worldwide as Johnston Sweepers, Ltd. was begun in 1904 by three brothers with the last name of Johnston. In the early days there was only one line of business – the importation and sales of Rhenish Basalt stone from Germany.

Street sweepers didn't become part of the company until 1924, when Johnston Brothers took over the assets of 'Road Plant Construction Company Limited.' Britain's road system was fast expanding at that time and the company took advantage of that by manufacturing a variety of engineering equipment from agricultural machinery through to road construction and road sweeping equipment.

1937 Sweeper It wasn't until 1937 that the company produced its first mechanical road surface cleaner, which was called "The Johnston Mobile Sweeper & Collector." Compared with today's machines it was a very basic affair but in the 1930's represented a great advance in sweeper design. However, when World War II broke out two years later the Johnston Companies became fully engaged on producing what was needed to support England's war effort.

Scavenger In the early 1950's the company was involved in the design of a machine to recover surplus chippings following road dressing. This represented a huge technology advance since the chippings could then be 'recycled' and used elsewhere. This development led to the need to produce a sweeper unit which operated on the principle of high velocity air conveyance and suction; i.e., an air-based sweeper.

1958 Sweeper It was at the end of the 1950s that Johnston developed its new air sweeper prototype design. By mounting the complete suction sweeping equipment on the back of a truck (in Europe called a 'lorry') the company created what is considered to be the first truck-mounted sweeper.

This production-based machine, called the Mk1, was launched at the 1960 Public Works Exhibition in London. As the first ever sweeper with suction that was mounted on a standard production truck, the Mk1 created enormous interest and was a major milestone in road sweeper development. In 1961, the first Mk1 was exported to Denmark.

The expanding Johnston Brothers' Company became a public company in 1964, which is when it became known as 'Johnston Group.' Technical development continued at pace and by August 1965 Johnston had delivered its 500th sweeper. At that point, Johnston Group supplied 80% of the sweepers sold in the UK market.

The company's next major development came in 1968 with the introduction of the Johnston 200-Series. Until this time, all Johnston sweepers required the installation of a purpose-designed gearbox, which split the engine power between propelling the chassis and operating the suction fan and sweeper brushes.

The 200 was the first two-engine or 'dual' machine. Although we take this type of design for granted in the 21st century, it was a major innovation when a separate engine was added to drive the fans and brushes. For the first time, the dual engine design allowed for constant suction and brush action. During its 11-year production run a total of 3,956 200-Series machines were built.

Dorking Manufacturing Facility Johnston's next major innovation came in 1978 with its 400-Series sweeper design. Unlike any machines before then, the 400-Series introduced the new concept of 'skid-unit' manufacturing. The skid unit contained all the sweeper components above the vehicle chassis frame.

Mounted on its own sub-frame and with lifting points built-in, the unit could be stored ready for mounting on any chassis without dismantling. Skid units could also be shipped overseas for local assembly.

In 1986 the company entered the field of producing small compact sweepers with the acquisition of Babcock Sweepers, Ltd. The small sweeper line was advanced further in 2000 when the company acquired the Canadian-based MadVac organization.

VT650 Recognizing in 2003 that its core business had become sweeper manufacturing, in that year the company changed its name to Johnston Sweepers, Ltd. This name change produced today's logo, the Johnston 'swirl,' as well as the rest of the vehicle branding that we see today.

In 2005, the firm was sold to the Swiss conglomerate, Bucher Industries. Since that time, the Bucher-operated firm has expanded the Johnston product offerings with the addition of the VT550, truck-mounted sweeper and a new generation of compact sweeper models.

VT800 Until mid-2011, Johnston sweepers were sold in the US via a Canadian-based company called Allianz. In addition to the Johnston-branded road sweepers and MadVac-branded compact sweepers, which Allianz licensed from Johnston, Allianz also offered a broom sweeper line that bore its own name.

Over the last several years, Allianz had increasing difficulty making ends meet. In April of 2011 this resulted in the bankruptcy of Allianz. Out of the ashes of the receivership of Allianz, Global Sweeping Products was formed by former Allianz managers with the goal of continuing the production of the former Allianz company's broom sweeper models.

C201 About that same time, a Canadian-based firm named Exprolink was formed to continue marketing the MadVac compact sweeper line. However, for a few months Johnston air sweeper owners in the U.S. were left wondering if their product would continue to be supported.

North Carolina Facility Then, in early 2011 Johnston Sweepers, Ltd. announced it would locate a manufacturing facility in the US. The subsidiary, called 'Johnston North America,' is located and operational in Mooresville, North Carolina.

Initially named to manage this operation was a man named Bob O'Hara, whose previous involvement with the sweeping industry includes experience with Powerboss and Tennant. However, soon after he took over O'Hara was beset by some serious health concerns. In the interim until O'Hara recovers fully, former Elgin Sweeper Company management executive, William "Bill" Ackendorf is managing the company as Interim General Manager.

Bill Ackendorf In the candid audio interview linked below, Ackendorf offers an inside view of Johnson North America, including its current and future product support roadmap, dealer network plans and more. If you want to learn what those in charge of the largest sweeper company in the world have planned for their US expansion, you won't want to miss it.

Note: To play the interview, click this link or on the small triangle inside the circle you see to the left. If you have any trouble accessing this audio, please let us know.

You may reach Johnston North America by calling 704.658.1333. Bill Ackendorf may be reached via email sent to If you have questions or comments about this story, please let us know.

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