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If you happen to read or hear in the news, any time in the near future, that a Pennsylvania man has been arrested for a terrorist attack
on a government building, remember this note. You heard it here first.
And, at least in a general sort of way, the story is ON topic for this group.
Some of this I knew about, in bits and pieces, long before those bits and pieces fell together in my brain just a few minutes ago. In fact, some of the most basic bits of the story I knew 50 years ago. Funny how things work.
Here's some basic info from the website of the company at the center of the story:
"In 1869, a man named L. Lewis Sagendorph fulfilled his ambition to begin his own company that would produce the finest metal products in America. He called his fledgling business the Penn Metal Corporation of Pennsylvania, and began by making steel culvert pipe on Oregon Avenue in South Philadelphia.
"Over the years, Penn Metal's product lines broadened to include lockers, shelving and even aircraft landing mats. A reputation for quality fabrication spread, and the company's influence became nationwide. In the 1950's, the name was shortened to Penco Products and the plant and offices were expanded to a modern facility in Oaks, Pennsylvania, near Valley Forge, PA.
"In 1994 the company added a manufacturing plant in Salt Lake City, Utah. In 2001, the East coast manufacturing facilities were moved from Oaks to a 400,000 square foot manufacturing facility in Hamilton, North Carolina, allowing significant room for expansion. The corporate headquarters remains in Pennsylvania."
If you've even used a locker of any kind - in a school, at a country club or tennis club or swimming pool or airport - then the odds are very, VERY good that the locker was made by Penco Products. This is one of those almost perfect stories of American industry at it's best. World class products, over a century of providing jobs, paying taxes, and supplying customers, all from the same basic place, even if there was a move (50 years ago, after nearly 90 years at the same address!) from a congested city to bigger digs in the suburbs.
The reason I knew about Penco 50 years ago is that I remember their name on the school lockers that were everywhere in the Detroit public school system, and every other school I can ever remember attending. The company's name - short, simple, and phonetically obvious - was probably one of the first words I ever learned to read on my own. And, as someone who's always been interested in all things industrial, I've noticed the name again and again, for countless little reasons, throughout my entire life.
About a year ago, a handle broke on one of the lockers in the men's room at work. Since the building maintenance guy works for me, the need for a new handle crossed my path. So I took a look at the locker myself. "Penco", I thought. "I know that name. I wonder if they're still around, or if there's any chance I can actually find a handle for a locker that's probably decades old?"
So I looked on the web, and found the company's address and phone in Oaks, PA. That's about 15 miles from where I work, and only three miles from where I live, though I don't ever recall seeing the place, or knowing exactly where it was. I called the phone number and told the woman who answered that I was looking for a handle for an old locker; but I didn't have a model or part number. Without tranfering me, or putting me on hold, or making me wait while she looked in her computer or asked someone else, she simply asked if I could describe the basic type of locker. It's tall, about 12" wide, and stands on legs. "Ok," said the woman (the same woman who answered the phone!), "Give me your name and address and we'll send you a handle."
So I did. And she did. Just like that! No charge, no paperwork, no bullshit. Two days later, TWO handles showed up with UPS. They were the right ones, and they fit and worked perfectly. So the locker's fixed, and I have a spare handle for the future!
"Now THAT", I thought, "is the way to run a company!"
Tonight, though, I'm not nearly so happy.
My wife went shopping this afternoon. Route 422, which runs East and West between King of Prussia, PA (Western suburbs of Philadelphia), and Reading, PA, is a busy road during every morning rush, and every evening rush, and whenever there's something special going on at the (HUGE!) King of Prussia shopping mall. But on an ordinary Saturday afternoon, it's never a problem.
Until today.
Today, my wife spent an hour stuck in traffic on 422, for no reason she could imagine. No accidents. No fires. No giant police chase. No nothing. Just traffic that stopped still for an hour.
The radio said that it was an hour delay in BOTH directions, with the heart of the trouble focused on the exits at Oaks. Oaks? OAKS?? It's a tiny place. Barely a village, really. The only thing there besides a post office, a diner, and a few dozen old homes, is the 422 Commerce Park, which includes a movie multiplex, Target and Lowes stores, a gym, two chain restaurants, and a small "recreation center" with go-karts and water slides and such. There are also a few modest office buildings, and a small Hampton Inn; though I never knew who the Hampton was supposed to serve. But none of that amounts to much traffic, even at the worst times.
Until today.
Today was the first public event at the all new Greater Philadelphia Expo Center At Oaks!
Now, I knew that there was such a thing as a Greater Philadelphia Expo Center At Oaks. Or at least I knew there were plans for it. But, since it's in the next township over from where I live, I never got any official info about it, and never paid too much attention.
Until today.
Today, the traffic was fucked up for an hour in both directions. So when my wife finished telling me about it, I wanted to know more. Searching the web for community information in the township where Oaks is located, I found out all about the expo center, the endless series of events that a scheduled there, and more.
I also found out, I'm sorry to say, that the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center At Oaks is what used to be the one and only location for an old, respected, American manufacturing company called Penco Products.
That's right. As a part of the ongoing effort to revitalize aging urban areas, to stimulate our economy, and to reestablish America's leadership in the global manufacturing marketplace, the members of our local labor pool, along with union leaders, our local, state, and federal tax collectors, and elected officials at all levels, have taken a manufacturing facility that was owned and operated for half a century by a truly world class company - that once provided long-term, steady jobs to countless people, and that probably paid a billion dollars in taxes over the course of 140 years - and they've turned it into a service-sector dog and pony show that fucks up traffic, probably employs less than 25 full time people, and sucks money OUT of the local tax base instead of putting money into it.
And here's the worst part. It's not like Penco went out of business. They didn't get outgunned in a price war with subsidized Chinese competitors. They didn't just get old and obsolete like a slide-rule maker or buggy-ship company. They're still alive, strong and healthy as ever! They just moved out of the state. After living and working here for 140 years, they found greener grass in Utah and North Carolina, because, apparently, nobody here in PA was smart enough just to water the local grass even once in a while.
Honest to god, I want to cry. And then I want to blow up the building, and the fucking hot-dog vendor who works there, and who thinks he's an actual fucking business. And then I want to grab Barack Obabma by the ears, and a dozen or so senators and congresscreatures by their balls, and drag them to Oaks and make them LOOK at what's happened there.
And then I want to cry some more, which gets my keyboard all wet and makes it hard to keep typing. So I'll quit now.
Happy new year, from (almost) Oaks, Pennsylvania.
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Kirk, I've been to Pennsylvania in the winter, and I think I'd rather be in North Carolina. Fred
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