By Carol Ann Gregg/ Staff Writer
Story was published March 13, 2010.
Within five days of a devastating fire that destroyed the Wendell August Forge plant and showroom in Grove City, the company opened a new chapter in its history.
Employees, their families and friends had pulled together to salvage everything they could and moved it to temporary quarters in the former Cooper-Bessemer building on Lincoln Avenue, Grove City, with plans to reopen.
“Last Saturday we closed the book on a chapter in our history and today we are on page one of a new chapter,” said Will Knecht, owner and president of Wendell August Forge, at a press conference on Thursday.
“We were a team – now we are family.”
The company has 55 employees at the Grove City location, all of whom have been working this week. Instead of their regular duties, the employees have been recovering what they could from the site of the fire.
Knecht said that the company has heard from people in western Pennsylvania – from Erie to Pittsburgh, in eastern Ohio, across the country and around the world. They have called, sent e-mails and posted messages on Wendell August’s Facebook page.
In a short ceremony that Knecht started with prayer, the first of a 20,000-piece order was hammered by Jeff Brown, director of operations. The design is a replica of the ticket for the Pittsburgh Penquins’ final regular season game to take place in the Mellon Arena.
Master engraver, Dave Bruck, worked around the clock in his friend’s basement finishing the die of the ticket so that production could begin. The rectangular aluminum piece has the Penquins logo and the image of Mellon Arena.
Knecht said that the craftsmen have been divided into two teams. One team is beginning production of the Penguins order, which is to be completed by April 6. The other team is focused on restoring the 2,800 dies recovered from their former building.
“The insurance people say that after a week, the dies will begin to get pitted and oxidate,” Knecht said. “Our goal is to have all of the dies restored by the end of the week. I am so glad that my father had the foresight to have the dies stored in a fire proof area.”
The restoration is a three-step process. First the surface craftman sands the die with a very fine sandpaper. Then, the surface of the die is rubbed with an oil-water mixture. Finally, the surface of the die is rubbed with a very fine stone.
“It takes about 15 minutes to restore each die,” said Joseph Campbell, who was rubbing the surface of a die with the oil solution. The restored dies were lined up on metal shelves and it was estimated that about 500 were completed. Some were damaged more than others. Campbell said that those that were not too badly impacted by the fire only took about 5 minutes to restore.
“We only lost one die,” Knecht said. “It was split in half.”
The temporary quarters for the production line is located in an area that the company had vacated in April 2009. The owner of the property had not been able to find another tenant, so the space was still laid out and wired the same as when Wendell August had left it.
The executive offices will be located in space on the second level. People were in the process of painting the offices in bright colors. Office furniture will be delivered the first of the week.
Besides the press, several business leaders from the community attended the ceremonial restart of production for the company.
“We are looking for retail space in the Grove City area,” Knecht said. “We hope to have something open by April 1.”
It is hoped that phone service will be restored by Monday: 724-458-8360 and fax 724-458-0906. Patrons may also visit their Web site at www.wendellaugust.com.