Bouncing back: Crane Hill continues production, plans rebuild


The doors remain open at Crane Hill Machine and Fabrication Inc., and projects are still moving out the door for delivery despite a devastating New Year’s Eve fire.

Less than a month after that fire destroyed two buildings and caused an estimated $2.6 million in damage, the owners of the rural Seymour company have been able to keep all 42 employees on the payroll and have become creative in continuing to fill orders.

One way Marshall and Erin Royalty have been able to do that is by renting space in the Freeman Field Industrial Park for its fabrication work.

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The company’s machine shop also was not affected by the fire, allowing work to continue there.

But that’s a temporary solution, and a permanent one looms, as the Royaltys already have begun planning to build a 36,000-square-foot fabrication shop on the site at 2476 E. U.S. 50.

During a recent county council meeting, the business sought and received a 10-year tax abatement request totaling $4.1 million for the new building and the machinery to fill it. The construction project is expected to begin sometime in early spring, and Marshall hopes it will be completed by the end of the year.

It could have been easy for the Royaltys to hang it up and move in a different direction after the fire dealt them a major blow, but they responded by opting to forge ahead with an eye on future growth.

“We’re not producing what we were, but I’d say in about a month, we will get back to where we were,” Marshall said.

The Royaltys remain committed to their customers, community and employees.

“We have people that need work, and we also have commitments to our customers,” Marshall said as equipment hummed behind him in the company’s machine shop just yards away from where the fabrication shop once stood. “These doors aren’t shut. We feel like people have been afraid to ask us for projects, but we can do them and need them now more than ever.”

Anyone who needs proof can look at one of the latest projects the company completed and delivered.

In a remarkable feat, the company delivered a large project to Toyota Motor Corp.’s Camry plant in Georgetown, Kentucky, just weeks after the fire at Crane Hill.

Toyota is expanding the plant at Georgetown, which is already the company’s largest in the world, by adding a second floor, Marshall said. Crane Hill has completed flooring plate, rails, handrails and stairs for the project.

“It was a big job and a lot of work,” he said.

But the feeling of delivering it a little more than a week ago gave him a sense of pride.

“I’m proud of it and really just proud of our team,” he said.

That team does not just include employees at the business, but people in the community who have pitched in and helped out.

Marshall said his steel supplier provided a saw; Excel Manufacturing in Seymour gave them a pail of coolant so they could get started right away; Winsupply, also in Seymour, provided office furniture quickly; and their insurance agents, Matt Wieneke and Laverne Carr, have provided support.

Duke Energy also rewired the transformer quickly, and N-I-Tech in Brownstown has provided a conference room.

“We really want to thank the community for their support,” said Marshall’s son, Drew, who works in the machine shop. “People have been awesome.”

The Royaltys bought the company in 2004. Marshall worked for Jay C Food Stores and would ask Crane Hill Machinery to produce items for him to help build new stores.

“I started out as a customer,” he said.

But he was looking for a change, and former owner Ron Darlage was looking to retire. Marshall said he also was drawn to the business because he liked production.

“I like making stuff, and I like building buildings,” he said. “These guys don’t build buildings, but we help people who do and have our role.”

Marshall said his business also helps a company that designs a machine to make whiskey barrels. Crane Hill does a lot of the steel fabrication.

“It’s basically for an assembly line for whiskey barrels,” he said of the machine. “We’ve made four or five systems.”

They also have built a piece of equipment with a track system that moves horizontally throughout a plant to help produce foam for aircraft giant Boeing.

“It was really cool,” he said. “We like making things that people can use.”

But the desire to work on interesting and important jobs like that was threatened when Marshall received a call on New Year’s Eve from Drew, who was at a wedding in Bloomington.

Drew called to tell him an employee had contacted him to tell him the business was on fire.

Marshall rushed to the business, which is not far from their home. By the time he got there, the fabrication shop was completely engulfed in flames.

The fire did so much damage, and what started remains undetermined even after the investigation concluded Jan. 7.

Employees missed about a day of work, and Marshall and the team formed a plan to move forward.

Some days were spent helping the community and even helping build a fence at the Royalty home.

“They’re actually pretty good fence builders here,” Marshall said jokingly.

Now, the business plan officially includes coming back stronger than ever.

“I can’t wait for that building to get back here,” he said before returning to work.

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