Craftsmanship 105 Years and Counting

Fred Shearer, far right, and Simon Shearer in the derby hat, in a parade in Iowa 1897

The year was 1912, shortly before World War I, when a new chapter in the Shearer family began. Even though Simon Shearer and his son Fred were plasterers by trade, the family moved from Iowa to Oregon to start a potato farm. They landed in Corbett, Oregon, but as the family story goes, they had a blind mule, and the farm didn’t succeed. So, Simon and Fred would travel into Portland to work as plasterers on many iconic buildings and many early 20th century homes that still stand today. Though the business had a few locations in the Portland metro area, the one they resided in the longest is very familiar to our neighborhood. In 1947 they built what we now know as the home of Ex Novo Brewing on Flint just south of Russell. Fred Shearer & Sons remained in the Flint Avenue location until the late 1990s moving to the Beaverton area so their offices and warehouse could be in the same building. However, the business owners still feel connected to northeast Portland and want us to hear their story.

Tresholm Plaster hired Fred Shearer to help build the original Multnomah Hotel downtown at SW Third and Pine (currently the Embassy Suites). Fred worked his way up to project manager, and when the owner of the company passed away, the widow Tresholm sold the company to Fred. Thus, Fred Shearer & Sons was born and through four generations, 105 years later, and with two new owners, the company is still going strong.

Fred passed the company to his sons, Fred Jr. and Victor. Next came Bill and Dave, who are Fred Jr. and Victor’s sons who then passed the business to the fourth generation, Bill’s son, Jeff Shearer. Jeff owned the company until 2016 (the company’s 100th anniversary) when employees John Park and Ralph Schultz bought out Jeff Shearer, becoming the new owners.

In the last 34 years, John Park has had only one employer, Fred Shearer & Sons. His grandfather and father were both lathers. A little lesson in historical construction, laths are the horizontal wood slats nailed to studs with a bit of space left in between the slats so the plaster will attach or key in when it spreads across the laths.

So, when John needed a job during college, construction seemed like an obvious choice. He started working at Fred Shearer & Sons as an apprentice carpenter and became a superintendent and eventually co-owner.

Ralph Schultz had been working for a competitor to Fred Shearer & Sons. When they opened up a branch in New Mexico, he transferred to that location. However, he and his wife did not really like living in the southwest, so, as he says, “Happy wife, happy life,” they packed up and came back to Portland. Fortunately, a Fred Shearer & Sons vendor who was also a mutual friend of Ralph and Jeff Shearer introduced Ralph and Jeff. They hit it off, and Fred Shearer & Sons hired Ralph. He had experience in the semiconductor segment, so it was a good fit. He is now the co-owner with John.

Chris Haynes had wanted to work for Fred Shearer & Sons for years. He knew he wanted to work with his hands but had not worked with plaster before. So Chris started working as a plasterer in the early 2000s. He tried for ten years to work for Fred Shearer& Sons, and in 2011 his dream came true. Chris has been with the company ever since. Ralph says, “he’s become an artist,” mastering the art of plastering. Chris has also been working on marketing to homeowners in the Portland area to spread the word about the company’s services, especially for the old Portland homes with original plaster needing renovation or restoration. “Plaster walls breathe better than drywall, and air quality in homes with plaster just seem better,” Chris says. Plus, maintaining the old Portland charm and character of the turn of the century homes is a bonus.

John Park (left) and Ralph Schultz (right) owners and employee Chris Hayes (center) of Fred Shearer & Sons in front of photo of original building on NE Flint Avenue(now Ex Novo Brewing). Photo credit Sue Stringer

In addition to sharing about the company’s history, John, Ralph, and Chris want to share a current revival of careers for men and women learning a craft or trade.  The variety of job sites and projects, good pay, meeting many different people, and having a hand in constructing new buildings or restoring historic architecture are perks of the trade. Also, exercising your artistic ability is a great way to spend your working hours. You can check out more history and see some of the company’s projects on their website:

John and Ralph are proud to own a company that has been around for 100 successful years through many trying times, most recently the Great Recession and a global pandemic, and they want to set it up for the next 100. John shared, “We’re stewards of that, and we value what craftsmen can bring.” In addition, John’s daughter is working for the company now as an estimator. So who knows, maybe she’ll carry on the company for the next generation.

Fred Shearer & Sons