Revving Up: Cliff Co’s New Workshop Keeps the Valley’s Biggest Machines Running
By Jeff Kronenfeld
Cliff Wixson is a throwback to America’s burly industrial past, much like the big machines his company keeps alive. When he started the business, it was just Wixson and a service truck. Now Cliff Co Repair boasts 20-plus employees, a fleet of vehicles, and a new 16,000 square-foot machine and repair shop. While standing beneath one of the shop’s multi-ton bridge cranes and the massive metal frame holding them up, it’s hard to imagine that Wixson and another employee built most of the internal apparatus in four months. Of course, for Wixson, who rides rodeo to unwind, doing what others might call crazy is old hat.
Growing up, Wixson’s mother told him stories of hardworking individuals starting business empires with little more than a vehicle and gumption. Before Wixson could emulate them, he had to gain the necessary know-how. To this end, he got an associate’s degree in agricultural science from Central Arizona College and an automotive and diesel technologies degree from the Arizona Automotive Institute. After saving money and selling a motorcycle and other vehicles, Wixson started Cliff Co in 2008. Only 23-years-old at the time, he already had a vision for what his company could become.
Cliff Co Repair's workshop floor.
In the beginning, it was just Wixson driving around repairing diesel engines, but he also built the occasional horse corral, pool fence, or whatever else needed welding. Slowly but surely, he branched out into heavy equipment repair. He established a reputation as a hard worker, not afraid to tackle complicated jobs. This ability to engineer unique solutions on the fly is still at the heart of Cliff Co’s success, although the jobs and problems have gotten a little bigger over the years.
As Wixson hired more employees, he needed to keep them busy when not in the field. This concern led to the company leasing its first workshop, which allowed Cliff Co to take on additional jobs and acquire more tools, trucks, and even a few toys. When a client wanted to sell a huge cable dozer that had been rusting away in a yard for decades, of course, he contacted Wixson.
Wixson was not interested at first. The client eventually said if Wixson could move it, it was his. Of course, the stubborn mechanic brought the old contraption screaming back to life. Despite this, it’s currently serving as a multi-ton lawn ornament at the horse ranch Wixson calls home. Whether it’s reviving an antique earthmover, World War II-era lathe, or any other potentially useful tool, Wixson seems to revel in restoring old machines genuinely.
The ever-increasing volume of repair work led naturally to Cliff Co's business's machining side. Wixson got tired of taking hydraulic rods and other components to outside vendors. All too often, these contracted companies didn't complete jobs on time or failed to communicate openly about delays. These issues made Wixson look bad to his clients, something the straight-talking cowboy couldn’t abide.
Four years into running Cliff Co, Wixson started teaching himself how to make hydraulic rods by watching YouTube videos. The company's machining capabilities grew slowly at first, but things picked up in 2015. That is the year Wixson hired Michael Underwood, who previously worked for the U.S. Air Force Research Lab.
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This article originally appeared in the bimonthly Arizona Contractor & Community magazine, Jan/Feb 2021 issue, Vol. 10, No. 1.