Dave Barnes' heart was heavy as he watched the auctioneer sell a 3,000-ton Milacron press, one of the machines Barnes used to oversee at the Rubbermaid Home Products plant in Wooster.
Hundreds of people came to the cavernous plant June 16 for an auction that amounted to an all-day funeral service for one of the largest plastics factories in the United States.
``Depression. Disgust. It's unnecessary,'' said Barnes, a former molding technician. The event brought 500-plus bidders and a handful of Rubbermaid workers together for a mega used-machinery event to sell everything - from 30 injection presses that had been running at the Rubbermaid plant and 29 late-model Van Dorns brought in for the auction, down to hopper loaders and conveyors.
Exhilaration was on display as well, as some large, late-model presses fetched hundreds of thousands of dollars after spirited bidding. Machines from the 1990s and newer went for fairly high prices, reflecting the strengthening economy, said machinery experts at the auction. Some older machines from the 1970s and 1980s went for a few thousand dollars.
``The molding machine pricing so far has been pretty strong,'' said Jim Buhl, vice president of Plastics Machinery Technology Inc., a used dealer in Richmond, Ind.
Auctions in recent years have drawn sparse crowds. Buhl said the response at Rubbermaid is ``a positive indicator for us that things are starting to pick up and starting to go.''
Stopol Inc. of Solon, Ohio, conducted the auction. Neil Kruschke Jr., chief executive officer, said an earlier Stopol auction, June 8 at a Rubbermaid plant in Cleburne, Texas, brought 25 percent more than Rubbermaid had expected. A third Rubbermaid auction is set for June 23 in Greenville, N.C.
In Wooster, 1,300 items were sold as auctioneer Scott Mihalic rode atop a platform wheeled through the muggy plant.
Pete Huggins, president of Iten Industries of Ashtabula, Ohio, grabbed a 1,000-ton Van Dorn built in 1986 for $28,000. Was it a good deal? ``We hope we're making the right choice,'' he said, crossing his fingers.
The hottest seller? That big 2001 Milacron that Dave Barnes said once turned out Rubbermaid garbage cans. Kirby Kim, vice president of San Diego-based SSD Plastics Inc., bought the 3,000-ton press for $800,000. Kim said SSD will use the machine to mold cabinets for large-screen televisions at its plant in Tijuana, Mexico.
Kim said after SSD pays for rigging, dismantling the press and other work, the total cost will be about $1 million. He estimated a new 3,000-ton press at $1.4 million.
In the early afternoon, AcroTech Southwest Inc. in Kerrville, Texas, paid $250,000 each for three 1,150-ton Milacron presses, two built in 1998 and one from 1997. Each press has two injection units and a tandem platen, for multishot molding.
``We have a 1,000-ton machine now, and we just need more capacity,'' said Thomas Houdeshell, AcroTech's vice president and general manager.
The next press, a 1992 Husky with 2,650 tons of clamping force, went to Jawed Ghias, president and general manager of Dynamic Plastics, a division of Xpectra Corp. Xpectra, which makes television, computer and phone housings, will send the press to Tijuana.
Ghias paid $425,000, about $25,000 more than he wanted to spend. People spending money at the auction shows the economy is picking up, he said.
But business isn't picking up in Wooster. Barnes, 55, wants to start a small business. He made $20 an hour as a skilled technician. ``I had a good job, but my chances of getting that at another place are slim to none,'' he said.
Barnes was looking to buy some office items at the auction. He also came to reminisce. It marked the first time Barnes had set foot in the plant since he took early retirement in March.
Some memories are painful. Barnes was thinking about his friend Charles Shaffer, former president of United Steelworkers of America Local 302. Shaffer died from complications from an existing, cardiac-related illness, on Dec. 27, just a few weeks after the plant closing was announced.
``Chuck Shaffer was my best friend. That was one of the reasons I left the company. I just physically could not come in here anymore,'' Barnes said.
Other small groups of Rubbermaid workers stood and watched the auction. Some of them were paid through the week to help with the auction, then would be laid off.
Several managers with parent company Newell-Rubbermaid Inc. who attended the auction declined to comment.
Newell-Rubbermaid will keep a warehouse in the Wooster building and retain about 125 workers. That means continued employment for 56-year-old Jerry Heilman. Part of his new job is working on forklifts.
Heilman has worked at the plant for nearly half his life. ``I'm a highly trained hydraulic technician for injection molding. Now, I'm a nuts-and-bolts mechanic. I'm not very happy with it, but it's a job,'' he said.
The auction crowd moved past. Heilman glanced at the silent machines. ``I really loved this plant and I loved my job,'' he said. ``I liked the hands-on work and trying to figure out what's wrong.''