on Monday, October 9, 2023
Getting their hands dirty is what the Punke men do best. As the three members of Martin Equipment’s Goodfield, Illinois welding and fabrication shop, Ben Punke and his sons Blaize and Jace spend each day taking on new challenges through design, ingenuity, and craftsmanship. While the trio didn’t originally plan to work together, they can’t imagine it any other way.
“It’s pretty fun,” Ben said. “From time to time it can get a little hairy, having your boys working with you, but it's great having them around.”
Founded in 1926, Martin Equipment also has deep family roots. Now in its fourth generation of family operation, the company is led by DeLene Martin Bane and has expanded into nine locations in Iowa, Illinois and Missouri. Family values don’t just apply to the Martins, however. They carry over to every one of their employees as well.
Following in his dad’s footsteps, Blaize joined the Martin Equipment family about three years ago. “Towards the end of high school, I knew I wanted to weld, and I really wanted to work with my dad,” Blaize recalled. “And the rest of the people that work at Martin Equipment are absolutely great, which made it an easy decision.”
Jace, who is one year younger than Blaize, has been working in the shop for about a year, joining the team after seeing his brother’s success at Martin.
“Blaize loves everyone here, and everyone treats him well,” Jace said. “Why wouldn’t I want to come work for Martin Equipment? It’s a family-run business, and everyone here treats you like family. It’s great.”
While Jace is still somewhat new to the Martin Equipment team, the relationship between the Martin family and the Punke family is anything but. Well before Jace, Blaize and their two older brothers Dack and Ryder were born, Ben found himself working with his parents, Harold and Oleda, in their family weld shop. When Bob Martin Sr. – Martin Equipment’s second-generation owner – had customers in need of parts that they couldn’t obtain, he turned to the Punkes to find the solution.
This quick-thinking and trusted relationship between the two families has since grown into the partnership that is seen today, now in its third generation.
“Seeing our dad come back home dirty every day always seemed fun to me,” Jace said. “I liked the idea of doing something simple and working with my hands to make a living.”
Strong work ethic, straight off the mat
Before the Punkes were known at Martin Equipment for welding and fabrication, they made their name across the state of Illinois for wrestling. The Punke family made history in 2016, as all four brothers from Washington Community High School qualified for the IHSA Wrestling State Finals – a first in Illinois state history.
At the time, Jace was a freshman and Blaize was a sophomore. As a junior, Dack won the state championship that year. Ryder, a senior, took second in his weight class. After two years in college, Jace ended his wrestling career as a two-time Fargo National Champion.
Despite no longer wrestling, both Jace and Blaize agree the sport helped prepare them for life after school, along with teaching them what it means to have a strong work ethic.
“There are a lot of things in life that are going to be tough,” Jace said. “Wrestling taught us that. No one is going to help you in that sport. You have to work hard.”
As Jace continues learning the ropes of the shop, he knows he has two great role models in his brother and father.
“It's a blessing having my dad and brother around,” Jace said. “I don't know what I would do if I didn't have those guys out here. I learn best when I watch them do something, and that’s how they teach me. As my family, they know how to connect to me, and that helps me learn pretty quickly.”
Custom jobs and creativity
Out in Martin Equipment’s fabrication shop, the Punke crew has plenty to keep them busy. In addition to tackling all of Martin’s metal fabrication needs, the team also assists with customer and sales support for the dealership and external support for the welding needs of major OEM’s from Iowa to Alabama. While Ben is working on welding, Blaize can cut sheet metal on the shop’s computer aided high-definition plasma table, and Jace bends the material on a hydraulic press brake. With one of the largest plasma tables in a 100-mile radius, the guys can precisely – and quickly – cut a variety of shapes with the click of a few buttons.
In recent years, the Punkes added another line to their resumes – creating custom firepits for both Martin Equipment customers and charity auctions. Made from solid sheet metal, the Punkes’ firepits are designed and manufactured in-house and can be customized to include customer logos, names and more.
“Blaize does a pretty good job at drawing them and cutting them out on the plasma table. That’s something I am still learning,” Jace explained. “But our customers love them because they last. You can go buy a fire pit at a big box store, but I bet you it will rust out in a few years. Ours won’t.”
Every day, every project brings a new challenge for the Punkes. Even after spending 40 hours – and sometimes more – together at work during the week, they’re likely to be together on the weekends too, fishing or just spending time outside.
For Ben, working with his sons is just an added bonus to his role at Martin Equipment. Building his family – alongside the Martin Equipment family – brings him a great sense of pride.
“It's easy to put my boots on in the morning and come in when I’m working with them,” Ben said. “Plus, I’m doing all the stuff I love to do.”