Arlen “Benny” Cenac Jr. has great respect for local history. It is important that the history and future vision intersect to continue the original foundation. The history of Main Iron Works is a great example of why.
Main Iron Works was founded in 1948 by Horace “Jack” Guidry. Originally, the enterprise started by converting conventional, wooden oyster luggers to be utilized as supply vessels for oil exploration inland and offshore in the Terrebonne Parish area.
Jack Guidry was a welder by trade who worked in local shipyards and played an integral role in the initial natural gas pipeline distribution system construction and deployment. He used his skills and expertise in welding and boat construction to form the foundation of what has become the modern Main Iron Works boat and barge building business.
These humble origins began at a location in downtown Houma along the banks of the bayou, where the company was using an old technology of drydocking by employing “ways,” a kind of ramp that was used to winch vessels and barges out of the water. It was at this location where an early drydock, a precursor of today’s drydock technology, was introduced to the operation. It was later moved to the banks of Bayou Terrebonne, across from Terrebonne General Hospital.
In this location, there was a major innovation in design when the hull evolved from wooden to steel. This is where the Main Iron steel hull design, which is still the industry standard in many boats, was born. The original steel boats were works of art, designed by hand by etching the steel with dimensions in chalk, basically designing the boat by hand before the introduction of naval architecture and engineering. The craftsman at Main Iron Works were known for their ability to create these incredible pieces of steel by hand.
The business grew and expanded once it was moved to its present location at Mile 50 on the Gulf Intracoastal Canal Waterway. It has always been a local business, serving the community and employing the community.
The company was acquired by an LLC owned by Benny Cenac in July 2015. After the acquisition, Main Iron Works continued growing its construction of world-class, innovative push boats. The acquisition enabled the shipbuilding leader to expand services to include a full service machine shop. The present location has now been elevated into a state-of-the-art facility with an investment by Arlen Benny Cenac Jr. of around $75 million. From the original “ways” winch systems to five new drydocks, with the largest boasting a 4,500-ton capacity, facilities and operations have since been modernized in order to improve upon the foundation of quality set so many years ago. While under Benny Cenac’s leadership, Main Iron Works has remained a leader in tug construction while also becoming a perfect complement to Cenac Marine Services’ core mission. The two companies combined make for a dynamic duo.
The capability and efficiency at Main Iron Works has increased with the energy and vision of Benny Cenac. While the facility is best known for its push boat expertise, Main Iron Works has built and can build a wide variety of vessels and barges. Inland and offshore tugs built at Main are deployed and are working the waterways of the entire intracoastal waterway system and the Gulf South. In addition, ship-assist tugs, scallop-fishing boats, articulated barge units, and model bow tugs have all been constructed on this yard.
The yard now boasts a barge transfer system that can transport barges off the drydock into covered facilities, allowing the drydocks to be efficiently used for simultaneous projects. These 300-foot covered spaces allow work to continue in any weather conditions and foster maximum productivity for all resources.
The company continues to innovate and grow its capabilities. Main Iron Works is currently building new facilities for its blasting and painting operations. Twin 300- by 100-foot buildings will house the blasting and painting resource, raising the environmental, safety and efficiency capabilities to the highest level in the region. The completion of this facility will allow Main Iron Works to seamlessly drydock, transport the barge into the repair facility, then to the indoor blasting and painting with virtually no lost time waiting for available space. The indoor and covered facility provides the highest level of protection for the workers and the environment. This type of design also insures the quality and installation of all layers of coatings for any barge that would be repaired or constructed at the facility. It is a clear example of the vision Benny Cenac Jr. has been able to execute in his track record of success at Cenac Marine Services and Main Iron Works.
Cenac Marine Services has always been committed to the safety and health of its entire team. Since the early 2000s, the company has received the “Top 70” safety award from the Louisiana Workers’ Compensation Corporation. The award acknowledges those business among the top 70 safest operating companies in Louisiana.
Main Iron Works, just like all of Benny Cenac’s companies and ventures, is a family-focused company. Every employee is treated like a member of the family, whatever position they have in the company. The investment in Main Iron Works and the drive for excellence is another manifestation of the passion and vision that Benny Cenac has successfully employed to his long track record at Cenac Towing, Cenac Marine Services and now Main Iron Works. He never stops trying to improve the facilities and never stops trying to create the best experience possible for his employees.
Slideshow: Main Iron Works: