Weigh-Tronix founder Bradley created, cared
Richard “Dick” Bradley was an ingenious innovator who left a lasting legacy in Fairmont through what is known today as Avery Weigh-Tronix.
But the incredible effect he had locally was only one part of an amazing, creative life that even included a harrowing escape from death. That occurred when he became the first cadet in the history of the Navy to successfully bail out of a disabled Corsair airplane.
Bradley, 91, passed away Monday at his home in Fairmont. He is being remembered here and elsewhere for a rich, creative life that included family, many friendships and a closeness with employees, from whom he never hesitated to gain insight.
A visitation for Bradley has been scheduled from 4-7 p.m. Jan. 17 at Lakeview Funeral Home in Fairmont. A funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. Jan. 18 at United Methodist Church, Fairmont.
Bradley’s son, also named Richard, is a biographer of his father. He hopes to publish what he has gathered in the near future. He has a separate book planned about his father’s life at Weigh-Tronix.
Richard says he came to properly appreciate his father later in life, realizing the sacrifice and hard work his dad put in, sometimes flirting with bankruptcy, trying to earn a living and raise a family.
He later talked to Weigh-Tronix employees who shared that admiration.
“I was kind of blown away by the fact how much these people love my father,” he said. “I was like, ‘Whoa, what’s this all about.’ They started telling me anecdotal stories about things dad would do.”
One involved a worker who was a single mom with two children. After company picnics, Bradley would make sure the woman left with a huge tray of food.
“‘Your father’s president of the company, what would he know about me?'” Richard recalls the woman saying. “‘I’m just a little worker on the line.'”
“The other thing is a lot of them told me, a recurring thing, they said your father respected us,” Richard said. “They said he never blamed us when there were problems on the line or problems with the product. You know, he would invent a project, he’d engineer it, they’d design it, they’d develop prototypes and they’d get into production, and invariably there’s going to be hiccups. But they’d say, your dad never blamed us.”
A native of Teaneck, N.J., Bradley was born on May 24, 1928, the son of Harry W. and Evelyn D. Bradley. He graduated from Tenafly High School in 1946.
He would go on to study aeronautical, electrical and mechanical engineering, and enlisted in the Navy in 1946, having always wanted to be a pilot.
When he was honorably discharged in 1952, he moved with his wife, Mary Elizabeth, and son Jim to New Milford, N.J., where he began working at Republic Airlines. Bradley would subsequently rack up some impressive professional accomplishments. Working, for example, on a wing root for the F-105 Thunderchief, the Air Force’s front-line fighter during the Vietnam War.
Later, while at Pioneer Aviation, he designed the servo system for the automatic pilot in the Boeing 707. The quality of the work led to its use on other commercial and military jets, including the B-52 bomber.
Richard was born to the family in 1952. Sherry Lee in 1956. While the family grew, the inventor took an interest in something called the “strain gauge,” used to conduct stress and strain analysis. In the late 1950s, Bradley started a company, Mechanical Systems, to pursue the technology’s potential.
He would go on to design the antenna for the Polaris naval submarine and an antennae system used at commercial airports throughout the U.S. He later utilized strain gauges for work on the Lincoln Tunnel, underground tunnels for the World Trade Center and for repairs to the George Washington Bridge.
Later still, Bradley did some work on his own time that benefited a friend at a business in Iowa. The firm happened to have the same attorney who served Art’s Way Manufacturing in Armstrong, Iowa. Bradley’s good turn earned him a fishing trip to Canada. During that trip, he was asked to consider developing an onboard weighing system for Art’s Way’s grinder-mixer.
“‘Yes, but what’s a grinder-mixer?’ Bradley asked,” Richard recounted with a laugh.
As it turned out, Bradley would go on to invest three years of his life, on his own time, trying to solve the riddle of an electronic scale for the implement. Finally, he had to toss out all of his work and all of his assumptions. And then he had his “Eureka!” moment. The key was the “Weigh Bar,” a Bradley invention.
The innovation led Art’s Way to set up an electronic scale division headed by Bradley. The offshoot became known as “Weigh-Tronix” and soon expanded beyond agriculture into industrial applications. Its success led Bradley to open an 80,000-square foot building in Fairmont. Additions have tripled plant size.
In 1990, Bradley left the firm, which still employs hundreds in Fairmont. But he stayed in town, which always meant a lot to him. His wife Libby passed away in 1997. A year later, he married Shirley March, who passed away in 2015.
“When they moved out here, they fell in love with Fairmont,” Richard said. “The town, the people in this town are so open. They got involved in Interlaken [golf club] right off the bat. … They made a lot of friends. They just loved the town. He told me, ‘The greatest resource this town has is the work ethic of its people.'”