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Graves of veterans from 16 Western states will be graced with markers made by an Orem company beginning Oct. 1.

Eagle Foundry of Utah Inc. landed a three-year contract with the Department of Veterans Affairs to supply bronze markers for veterans. Eagle is the first Western foundry to receive a Veterans Affairs contract.The contract is worth $4 million to $7 million and marks a turning point for the small foundry.

Charles Shepherd, president of Eagle Foundry, started the company in 1985 in a tiny metal building on Orem's west side. Shepherd worked for 27 years for other foundries before venturing out on his own.

Eagle makes memorial markers, plaques for businesses, monuments, restorations and industrial castings. He planned to concentrate on memorials and plaques, which few Utah foundries offered.

But, "You have to do a lot of other things to keep going," Shepherd said.

Among the foundry's most prominent works: plaques for This is the Place Monument in Emigration Canyon, the Peace Officers Memorial in the Rotunda at the state Capitol and the bronze "welcome" sign used by Spanish Fork City.

Eagle Foundry also made chair legs for the park benches on Ellis Island, the letters on the front of Saks Fifth Avenue in New York City and the restored bronze front of the Coca-Cola Building, also in New York.

"We have a wide field that we cover," Shepherd said. "Just about anything that can be cast we do. We're trying to make it one of the biggest (foundries) in the country."

Eagle Foundry uses a green sand process (chemical-free sand), a technique that has largely died out, to ensure the high quality needed for industrial and restoration work. Most foundries now use chemically treated sand, Shepherd said.

Memorial markers were an important but small part of business until now. Eagle Foundry is building a 7,000-square-foot addition to handle increased production. It also plans to invest $90,000 in new equipment.

Eagle Foundry now employs six people. Shepherd will hire nine additional employees over the next few months to work on the veterans' markers.

The Veterans Department provides bronze memorial markers, which outlast stone and are easier to maintain, to veterans without charge. In 1991, the department ordered 179,000 bronze markers for veterans nationwide.

Shepherd estimates Eagle Foundry will make 108 markers a day or 2,259 per month during the first year, following a standard pattern used by the veterans department.

Production will increase over the remaining two years of the contract. The company will follow a standard pattern used for veterans, Shepherd said.

"Plaques and memorial markers are what we started the business for," Shepherd said. "It's what we're going to keep pushing."