By ED RUNYAN
Items ranging from sledgehammers to a 100-ton press for bending steel were on the auction block Tuesday at the machine and fabrication shops at the former RG Steel plant.
The auction, which continues through Friday, will allow the mill’s owners to sell off items they believe are nonessential to steelmaking.
BDM Warren Steel Holdings, which bought the 101-year-old Pine Avenue mill out of bankruptcy in August for $17 million, agreed to keep the steelmaking part of the mill intact until about May 9 and to continue to look for a new operator.
All other equipment is for sale, including some items United Steelworkers Local 1375 President Darryl Parker said he
believes ownership should not be selling.
Among them are five haulers used to transport semi-finished steel coils, five haulers for slab steel, 17 hot-metal cars used to move molten metal from the blast furnace to the basic-oxygen furnace, and spare motors the size of a train engine used throughout the mill.
Parker, whose union represents 1,200 former mill employees, said the sale of these items would put a potential operator “at a disadvantage” if one decides to restart the mill.
“Those are just not readily available,” Parker said of the 17 hot-metal cars. “We used to repair them in-house. It’s creating anxiety among our membership that the plant won’t reopen.”
On Tuesday, Myron Bowling Auctioneers Inc. of Ross, Ohio sold 1,500 lots of items in the adjacent machine and fabricating shops, some containing multiple pieces.
The auction drew hundreds of people from near and far. License plates in the parking lot were from Ohio, Michigan, Florida, Georgia, Virginia, Iowa, New York, Indiana and Pennsylvania.
Boardman machine shop owner Joe Grenga said he thinks most of the equipment in the fabrication shop — a surface grinder and planer, for example — will be scrapped rather than purchased for re-use.
Grenga said it could cost $40,000 to $50,000 to tear some of the equipment down and put it back together in another shop.
“To me this place is scary and depressing,” Grenga said. “This stuff is ancient. It’s a pigpen,” he said of much of the equipment, calling it “neglected.”
When told about the comment, Parker said, “Yea, it’s fell into disrepair out of lack of use.”
The new owners turned off the power to the mill to save money, so that has contributed to the deteriorating, Parker said.
Greg Rodgers of Rodgers Metal Craft Inc. in Columbus, Ga., said he came to the auction Tuesday to buy sheets and plates of steel that can be used as beams and columns in his construction business.
“I tell people we make big erector sets,” Rodgers said of the schools, warehouses and other projects common for his business.
Rodgers said this was his first trip to Ohio, and he found it interesting to see a hulking 100-year-old Northeast Ohio steel mill that employed 1,000 people as recently as last year.
Rodgers said his plant employs only 40 but uses the most-modern equipment available so that he can “save jobs” by keeping his workers employed.
“In this day and age, you’ve got to stay ahead with the new technology,” he said.
Dan O’Shanahan of Waterbury, Conn., came to Warren to buy items he can repurpose in his 30-year-old industrial-antiques business.
O’Shanahan said he will buy old-looking steel carts, lights, furniture and ironwork — items common to the antique and architectural worlds.
“You would be surprised what people do” with items rescued from old industrial properties such as this, O’Shanahan said.
Parker said he researched the possibility that laid-off RG employees would try to acquire the mill in an employee stock-ownership plan, but he has since determined that it won’t be possible.
“I don’t see any way that could happen, not at this point,” he said.
With less than three months left before the new owners’ obligation runs out to continue looking for a new operator, Parker said he remains optimistic.
“I’ve always held out hope,” he said. “I’m not pessimistic, not just for me but for the younger employees to have a way to feed their families as I have been able to feed my family. It would be a sad day if this were to be made a pile of dust.”