About the Arcman Corporation

How did Arcman Corporation get started? 

If a single word were to summarize the company’s origins, it would be “serendipity”.

Jim Sovaiko, the company’s founder, was a U.S. Marine engineering officer home on leave in 1973 when he happened upon what would lay the foundation for Arcman Corporation as it exists today.

Searching a local scrapyard for steel parts to use in an amateur science project, Jim happened upon a cache of old electric meters that had been languishing there for decades. The yard owner, pressed for space, intended to have them crushed and hauled away in a matter of days.

Sensing a vague, yet somewhat unique business opportunity in the meters, Jim hastily gathered some old school buddies at a local pizza parlor to recount his find. He was due to leave for a year’s tour in the Far East and if immediate action wasn’t taken at the scrapyard, the meters would be forever lost.

Passing around a sample meter with the mozzarella, the group agreed that Jim found a mother lode of very old watthour meters, the type used by electric utilities to bill residential customers for service. Someone mentioned the word “lamp” as a possible adaptation for the meters, and the idea stuck.

Over handshakes, Jim recruited two friends as business partners in the uncertain, embryonic business venture. Jim left for Japan, but not before they chipped in to buy the entire lot of meters for $500. His partners were left with the onerous task of hauling the meters to no-cost temporary safe storage. Half went to one’s basement and half to an abandoned apartment building

At the time, the group envisioned a limited venture whereby restorable meters would be converted to lamps, the lamps sold, the profits divided, and the venture dissolved. As was later learned, however, the idea of a working meter-lamp combination was not that original, so their unique twist would portray the antique, early-technology aspect of these particular meters.

Troubles mounted rapidly, however. Apart from an earlier attempt by the scrapyard owner to cancel the deal in the middle of the move, other hurdles appeared. Restorable meter glasses proved to be at a premium. At the outset, most meters had missing or damaged glass. Additional glass was damaged in transit, and the partners’ gamble that enough hidden meters would be uncovered with good glass wasn’t paying off as well as they had hoped.

Just when the glass problem appeared at its worst, they discovered that many of the intact glasses had deeply-etched discolorations that defied removal by any means. Without enough undamaged crystal-clear glass, there was little point in pursuing the project.

As if matters couldn’t worsen, they did. Operating expenses during this R&D period were much greater than anticipated. The tiny venture had no sales prospects, no experience in what it was trying to do, and no money left in the bank. To top it off, the meter storage property owners wanted their thousands of ne’er-do-well tenants evicted.

After Jim’s discharge from the Marines, his two partners rightfully cut their losses and bailed out, leaving the ill-fated partnership in ruins.

“If there was ever a time to throw in the towel, that was it,” Jim recalls. “My friends made proper decisions under the circumstances, but my gut feelings ran contrary despite everything that had happened.”

Still freshly-steeped in the Corps’ “gung-ho” tradition, the idea of quitting anything grated on him. Using the last of his overseas military pay, he decided to press on with the venture.

“Borrowing additional funds from family, I installed an out-WATS phone line, bought a specialized electric utility directory, hired a canvasser, and after nearly 500 hours of  phone work, sifted through the results of a first-ever, national antique electric meter availability profile. Each and every lead was meticulously tracked down.”

Findings revealed that enough meter glass would probably be available nationwide to resurrect the enterprise. Consultation with a glassworking engineer led to the building of a customized meter glass polishing machine that solved the vexing discoloration problem. Assembled largely from junkyard parts, this machine is used to this day and is worth its weight in platinum!

Practically all of the newfound meters, though, were scheduled for imminent destruction, as the owning utilities weren’t in the nostalgia and preservation business. Thus began a most unusual buying spree, with meters trucked in from across the country to a rented warehouse in Scranton. In many of these instances, the saved meters unfortunately represented the end of an ongoing retirement process, with untold numbers destroyed beforehand.      

Soon after, products were designed and built, and ad circulars printed and mailed. Initial orders proved that there was indeed a very strong market for such one-of-a-kind, original electrical old-tech restorations. The first employee was hired and trained, and several others were subsequently added to staff what is today the world’s only antique electric meter restoration team!

All of the foregoing, of course, tells only a fragmentary tale of  how this business got launched. Tons of credit are due family, friends, longstanding customers, newfound collaborators, and especially the Lord, who can make anything possible.