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February 16, 2013

DAY: Have we the right answer?

— It would seem my memories of my time at Continental Steel would be of no use to others, since it has been 27 years since its passing.

Yes, I said “passing,” because that is what happened. The body that was one of the best steel mills in the good old USA was milked dry of the blood that ran it.

It wasn’t a sudden happening, but one that made it grow weaker each day. And, slowly but surely, a company that made the best roofing, sheet metal stock, billets, chain link fence, wire, rods, nails and welded fabric, and had good workers who did their best to keep it afloat and good supervisors down in the main plant, died.

But when you have people who don’t care, doing all the underhanded things that were done by those who did the milking, you had to know that one day the message would be heard loud and clear: The closing was near and nothing or no one could stop that from happening.

Why did a company that had such a good reputation for making some of the best products really close?

Down in the plant, there were hard-working employees who wanted to make as much money as possible so that their families would be warm and fed. Up in the main office, there were good employees who did their work each day because they too had families who looked to them to be fed and kept warm. In other words, the old Continental Steel was a factory that not only make great products but also had the people on the jobs who wanted and needed to keep it going.

So who gets the blame? Let me tell you what I think, and you can take it to the bank or you can throw it away.

When stock was being bought by a secret source, we should have known that something was wrong. When the head of that outfit came to look over the business he bought, we should have known something did not look good. When he showed up with frills on his shirt collar and sleeves, we should have known we were in for a time of worrying about our jobs and the families we wanted to feed and keep warm.

People who were supervisors and had good records of putting out a great product were called to the front and told to hit the gate and don’t look back. Concessions were given by the employees to help keep our company going at a time when there wasn’t any reason to do so. The people gave and the ones at the top took it.

I was in supervision and, by knowing who was assigned to my department each day and checking that with the computer sheets sent down by the main office, I could see that something did not add up. How can an employee spend eight hours in two different departments, on the same turn, on the same day? Many did not understand how to read those computer sheets, and so they put them away or threw them out to the trash.

Continental Steel, later known as Penn Dixie Steel, was slowly sinking away, and nothing could be or even would be done to change that.

Today, there is a big empty field out there on West Markland Avenue; and until the EPA decides it can’t make any more money off it, it will stay that way. That land could be a spot to bring Kokomo back to prominence, if someone had the guts to chase away the ones who used it as a place to milk.

Why do I care? Sometimes I wonder about that. I guess that I just wanted to set things straight for all those people who have families left here in Kokomo and wonder why they lost their jobs.

This could be my last time to relive the memories of a great company that got caught in the dealings of those who just did not care. For those who are still here, continue to ask why, until answers arrive.

Ray “Uncle Ray” Day is a weekly contributor to the Kokomo Tribune. Contact him at uncleray@earthlink.net.

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