Building a brand

SMI & Hydraulics Inc. of Porter is dedicated to keeping the business local while increasing its national impact

Photo by Jody Isaackson SMI & Hydraulics Inc. owner Gary Stoks still has the endorsed, engraved souvenir bat that former Houston Astros owner Drayton McLane Jr. gave him when SMI & Hydraulics Inc. delivered the famous over-sized engine and coal car that signals the drawing close of the Astros’ stadium roof.


The Stoks brothers of Porter continue to build a business that has impact nationwide.

Known for building a larger-than-life steam engine and coal car for the Houston Astros 17 years ago, SMI (Stoks Manufacturing Inc.) & Hydraulics Inc. has stayed the course to develop working relationships with other major league teams to enhance their domes as well as build bridges, hoop barns, grain bin lift systems and much more.

“We can build pretty much just about anything from engineers’ designs,” President Gary Stoks said. “Over the years, we’ve worked on retractible roofs for stadiums for both the MLB and NFL leagues.”

The Houston Astros was the most famous because of the train.

“We’re thinking about building a caboose for it, too,” Stoks said.

SMI & Hydraulics Inc. built the carriers for the retractible roof for the Indianapolis Colts and the Arizona Cardinals as well as the Astros.

“Also, we had to build 542 wheel boxes that roll out of the football field outside of the stadium to get water and sunlight (to the real turf),” Stoks said of the Arizona stadium. “The thing is 5 feet deep. We even built the retractible door that lifts up as the platform goes out. That way they can use it for different events, too, like rodeos and big truck rallies.”

Stoks’ nephew, Jeremy, is the main project designer and continues to work on big projects like the latest: a special ride for Disney World’s Animal Kingdom, called Avatar (aka Pandora).

“We made the parts for the ride,” Gary Stoks said. “Later, we saw a video that showed the parts working.

“Jeremy also does all the quotes for prospective projects,” Gary Stoks said. “He’s currently working on quotes for two new stadium projects, the L.A. Raiders in Las Vegas and the Texas Rangers Stadium in Arlington, Texas.”

Another nephew, Adam Stoks, and Gary’s brother Dean also work at SMI & Hydraulics inc.

“Dean runs the hydraulics,” Gary Stoks said.

Other successful projects include hydraulic cylinders, cement silos and wind turbines.

At one point, SMI & Hydraulics had also manufactured a computerized maintenance dock system for airplanes. After 9-11, though, the dock system was put on hold. Stoks said he hopes it comes back off the shelf because it was a successful product.

SMI & Hydraulics Inc. got its start in 1995 when Gary Stoks worked in the Twin Cities.

“We had a repair program there,” he said. “I talked them into letting me bring work back to Porter. We grew up here. We wanted to create jobs here.”

Back then there were four brothers in ownership together, now there is just Gary and Jim.

“We really didn’t have any sales team back then,” Gary Stoks said. “Just word of mouth. We invited people out to tour our shop. That was our biggest thing was bringing them out here. They wondered how we got things done. We showed them it was through cooperation.”

Stoks said they have a great team who wants them to succeed.

“We deliver,” he said. “That sells.”

Stoks just wishes there would be more graduates from welding classes because he could put them to work.

“The schools push four-year degrees now, not trade school,” he said. “There are not enough welders out there. We could use two to six more welders.”

He also said that SMI & Hydraulics is from farming country, “so we’re going to keep servicing farmers, too.”

In what little spare time he has, Stoks likes to coach wrestling at Canby High School. He and his wife, Vickie, have raised six children who have diverse careers.