Optima Batteries, a short history... - JeepForum.com
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post #1 of 7 Old 04-22-2020, 11:25 AM Thread Starter
Kruzin
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Cool Optima Batteries, a short history...

Some of you have heard my story about Optima dry cell batteries before, but now I have some cool vintage pics to go with the story. My dad was the lead engineer on the machine that rolls the individual cells, dubbed the "beer can paster-winder" because of the size of the cells. Unfortunately, dad passed away a couple weeks ago on April 3rd. In going through the old family photos, I discovered a whole roll of pics of this machine and it's various stations/components. I'll attach just a few at the end of this posting...

So, we all know that Optima batteries are loved by many, but have fallen from favor more and more over the years. Those who were around long ago remember before they were called Optima, they were Gates Energy, a subsidiary of Gates Rubber, the belt/hose company. That's when pops was involved.

When they first started development on the battery, there were issues making the individual cells reliably in large batches. The contacts wouldn't line up and the oxidized paper would walk out of alignment. Cue dad. Charlie Gates personally brought him in to engineer a machine that could make these cells fast and reliably. Thus was born the beer can paster-winder. He spent years designing, building and maintaining these machines.

Initially, production was in the Denver Gates plant (where we live), Missouri and one in London. Dad would travel between the 3 locations for training and maintenance and the product they turned out was truly high quality. This was where these batteries earned their reputation. They were powerful and long lasting. I had one of the first couple hundred made and used it in 3 different cars over 10 years before it gave up.

But then Gates sold the entire energy division to a company who moved production to Mexico and renamed the company Optima. That's when dad took his retirement from Gates and moved on.

The quality of the product has unfortunately fallen more with each passing year and there are more modern, better AGM style batteries these days. But for a few decades at least, the Gates battery was the best in the world and my old man made it that way

Here's the pics...in the first one, dad's second from the left.
I only saw the machine in operation a couple times as a teenager back in the 80s, but it was impressive to watch. The paper would be fed into the rolling section in the middle at incredible speeds from 8 different rolls and pop out a completed cell in just a couple seconds.
There's also a pic of unfilled cell cases, one with a more clear shot of the paster-winder and one of dad showing some co-workers how it operated. for some reason, among 50+ pics, there isn't a single one of a completed cell...

Attached Thumbnails
_20200422_104149.jpg   _20200422_104337.jpg   _20200422_104732.jpg   _20200422_111604.jpg  

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post #2 of 7 Old 04-23-2020, 01:16 PM
Nucking1Futs
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Thank you for sharing about your father and his accomplishment. My condolences to you and your family.

I to share April 3rd with you, as I lost my dad on April 3, 2019.

Best to you as you grieve.

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post #3 of 7 Old 04-26-2020, 11:10 AM
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Very nice post, thanks for sharing. My regards about your dad. Never easy to lose a parent, no matter your age. Take care.

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post #4 of 7 Old 05-20-2020, 02:15 PM
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My condolences and that is an amazing story.



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post #5 of 7 Old 06-01-2020, 07:21 PM
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Very cool. Just bought my first new Optima last month (I’ve had a used one in a truck I bought). I’m excited to see how it does.

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post #6 of 7 Old 07-03-2020, 03:45 PM
AnotherWS6
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Condolences as well. Those batteries were a whole new game back in the day. Cool your pops was a part of it.

I've never had one. Buddy bought one a few years ago for his 69 Camaro. Let it sit for a few months without a trickle charger. I personally selected and purchased one for him to make sure it was compatible. He was worried. Long story short the battery was toast. Brought it back to the store with receipt and had a huge hassle getting it warrantied. I have several classic cars that are not driven for half a year at a time. I'm USUALLY good about getting them on chargers if that's going to be the case. But I've missed my chance at catching them before they are dead more than a few times. I've never had one that couldn't start the car after an overnight trickle. And even if they crap out the next day, at least they take some charge. I buy Walmart batteries BTW. Huuuuge disappointment with that Optima. Hard pass forever on those.

Glad your dad was doing his thing while he and we still could, world of quality in everything seems to have slid off the map since.



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post #7 of 7 Old 07-04-2020, 03:22 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks for all the condolences and kind words. Hard to believe it's already been 3 months since he passed.

I found another work pic of his, from years before he did the batteries.
In the late 60s and early 70s, he was a body engineer for Ford. I remember as a kid how he used point out various car parts he worked on. "See that mirror? That's one of mine" or "I worked on that door handle!". His favorite to point out was the little oval 'opera window' in the sail panel of early 70s LTDs.
Here he is (on the right) at Ford's design and engineering facility in Dearborn, MI. I don't know the exact year, but it looks to be around the time I was a baby in the late 60s.
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