Old Mill’s Heart Beats Faintly at Casey Equipment

CAMPBELL, Ohio — Lawrence Swantek, a machinist with decades of experience in the trade, rethreads a component on a 20-inch LeBlond lathe inside Casey Equipment Corp.’s sprawling shop in Campbell. The component is an armature, an essential part for a crane motor that will soon be put to use in a steel mill.

The faint heartbeat of Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co.’s Campbell Works can still be detected in this building. Nearly all of the equipment used at Casey today is former Sheet & Tube machinery – working as if it were another routine day in another era.

“There’s not a single CNC machine or lathe in the operation,” says Paul Ulam, general manager of Casey Equipment’s Campbell operations. “All of this is done by the eye and experience here.”

The owner of Pittsburgh-based Casey Equipment, Donald Casey, bought a collection of buildings vacated by Sheet & Tube in the aftermath of “Black Monday,” Sept. 19, 1977, when Sheet & Tube announced it would close its Campbell Works. Within a week, more than 5,000 workers had lost their jobs. In its heyday, the stretch of Sheet & Tube between the Center Street Bridge in Youngstown and Bridge Street in Struthers contained more than 100 buildings.

Today, 11 of those buildings still stand and are put to use by Casey and other companies now doing business out of the former Sheet & Tube complex.

Casey Equipment specializes in buying used or surplus motorized mill equipment, refurbishing that machinery, and reselling it to customers – mostly steel mills all over the world. “Steel mills will buy this equipment,” Ulam says. “It saves them money and we make money.”

Critical to Casey’s Campbell operations is its ability to recondition and refurbish these components, the general manager says. In many cases, when the part or component doesn’t require rehabilitation, the piece is sold in “as is” condition.

“I love working with the old stuff,” says Swantek, who has been at Casey 13 years and is busy reconditioning the armature. “I’ve been a machinist for 40 years.”

Ulam says Casey’s business is buying and reselling DC-powered crane motors and power centers mostly for the steel industry. “There’s a niche market for the DC stuff,” he says. “A lot of cranes in the steel mills won’t run on AC because it gets too hot. The DC cranes are used for hot environments.”

Motors make up about 70% of the company’s business here, Ulam says. Overhead cranes in the steel industry use at least three motors – a hoist motor, a trolley motor and a bridge motor. Casey purchases these surplus motors mostly through online auctions, tears them apart if necessary, before reconditioning them for continued use. Often, crews are sent on location to remove the parts.

Casey Equipment was able to retrieve components from RG Steel Warren, formerly WCI Steel, which closed after the company filed bankruptcy in 2012. The assets of RG Steel have since been sold at auction and the buildings are under demolition. Another crew is securing parts from the former RG Steel Sparrows Point Works near Baltimore. That site also shut down after the bankruptcy.

Meanwhile, George Huncik, a shop supervisor at Casey, is working on a magnetic field frame for a crane motor. “Something was out of tolerance, so we’ll bring it back to where it’s supposed to be,” he says. The piece is being disassembled, inspected, refurbished and then tested.

“George found an arc in this particular one and there were some issues with it,” Ulam relates. “We’ll put in about 100 hours to fix this machine. It’s detailed. You have to get everything right.”

Ulam agrees that finding machinists and tradesmen who possess this level of experience and expertise is becoming harder every day. “The average age of our employees is about 50,” he says. Sixteen are employed at the Casey operation in Campbell.

Most trade schools and machinist programs have trained students on CNC machines, a far cry from those Casey uses in its shop. “They have to calculate the cuts, calculate how much stock to put on. They have to figure out how much to weld them,” Ulam says. “You have to visualize what you want to end up with. You know this from doing it.”

That’s why machinists such as Swantek have agreed to work several days a week after they retire, They’ll train the next generation of workers on this vintage equipment. “He can train them on stuff they’ve never seen before,” Ulam says.

Casey stores more than 10,000 motors of various sizes at its Campbell site, the general manager notes. Besides crane motors and brake equipment, the company reconditions control panels and control cabinets used in the steel industry.

“We do buy some stuff from overseas,” Ulam says, and Casey Equipment has carved out a market in South America of selling machinery to steel companies there.

The business is cyclical, Ulam says, and Casey Equipment is “in buying mode right now.” Among the company’s largest customers are ArcelorMittal, U.S. Steel Corp. and Nucor Steel Corp. “There are also a bunch of smaller companies that use our stuff,” he says.

The collection of former Sheet & Tube buildings – since renamed Casey Industrial Park – house two other tenants at the site. CMC Impact Metals heat-treats various metals while Quality Bar Inc. – a Casey-owned company – performs value-added operations such as turning, grinding and polishing to steel bar.

“The market is up and down,” reports Jason Catania, sales manager at Quality Bar. “Like us, most of the industry saw the year start off slow, but we’re seeing more activity in the last couple of months.”

Quality Bar’s product usually ends up as fasteners or round steel shafts used for a range of applications, Catania says. “Most of our customers are metal service centers,” he says. “They deal with automotive, truck trailer assemblies, oil and gas. It’s a pretty diverse group.”

Quality Bar started 18 years ago with a single production line that has grown to two, Catania says. The company employs between six and 10 people. “We started with a line that processed 3-inch diameter bar and under,” he relates. “We’ve since expanded that to 8-inch with the larger line.”

Ulam says that once Donald Casey purchased the buildings and contents of the former Sheet & Tube works, he realized they were far more valuable intact and in use than being sold for scrap.

The result is a clean, landscaped area along the Mahoning River that eventually enticed Casey to move its large motor rebuilding shop from Dorseyville, Pa., near Pittsburgh, to the site. “Sheet & Tube already had a motor rebuilding shop here, and it just fit,” Ulam says.

The buildings were painted, revamped with large overhead cranes, and have become a functioning economic component of the Mahoning River corridor. The large motor business became obsolete, but the motorized crane segment continues to provide a solid source of business, Ulam says.

Today, recreational sportsmen fish off the banks of the Mahoning nearby, something unthinkable 35 years ago.

“It was like a small city in here,” Ulam says as he walks among the large, sprawling buildings on the grounds that once employed 5,000 people. “It was just huge.”

Pictured: Casey Equipment specializes in buying used or surplus motorized mill equipment, refurbishing that machinery and reselling it to customers – mostly steel mills all over the world.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.