Crane Hill employees move on after fire


Standing outside Crane Hill Machine and Fabrication Inc. on Tuesday morning, Marshall Royalty was greeted by a UPS driver.

As he delivered a package, the man told Royalty he saw on the news where a large building on the campus along U.S. 50 between Seymour and Brownstown caught fire on New Year’s Eve.

Despite the devastating incident, Royalty maintains a positive attitude because he knows the business has to carry on.

“We’re going to be OK,” he told the UPS driver. “We’re going to make it. You’ve got to move on.”

Around a dozen employees have been able to keep working in the machine shop, others are doing welding and other work in a building owned by Ranger Enterprises in the Freeman Field Industrial Park in Seymour and engineers are using a conference room at N-I-Tech in Brownstown.

Royalty also has had some employees building a fence on his farm and putting bookshelves together at the Boys and Girls Club of Seymour.

No matter where they are, the company’s 42 employees are still earning a paycheck, which is important to Royalty and his wife, Erin, who own the business.

“We’re keeping everybody on the payroll,” he said. “Everybody needs a paycheck on Friday. Because this has happened, we didn’t want a hiccup for those guys.”

Royalty said the investigation to determine the cause of the fire ended Monday.

“They know what it was not, and so it’s going to be officially undetermined,” he said. “They looked at the things that would be most likely to cause it, and that’s not what it was. What I’m thankful for is that it could have dragged on forever if they keep looking, but what they said is it’s so bad and they know that it wasn’t a few things.”

No one was working at the manufacturing facility when the fire was reported at 9:02 p.m. Dec. 31. Neighbors reported hearing explosions around 7 p.m., and it’s possible the fire started even earlier than that because it was inside such a large building, said Travis McElfresh, chief of the Brownstown Volunteer Fire Department.

Royalty said employees were ahead on an order for a customer, so he gave them a four-day weekend for the New Year’s holiday.

Since the fire, they have been going through the building to salvage parts and whatever else they can, Royalty said.

“We’re doing a big job in Kentucky right now for the Georgetown Camry plant for Toyota, and we’re about a third of the way into it, and we had a significant amount of material ready and in process,” he said. “Some of that, we can still grab and just keep going.”

Fortunately, company officials were understanding when Royalty told them about the fire.

“They’ve been great about it,” he said. “We had been working like crazy trying to stay on schedule and trying to be a little bit ahead of schedule. Our little bit of breathing room that we had, now we don’t have any breathing room.”

On Monday, he said employees at the Ranger Enterprises building will begin replacing steel for the project that was lost in the fire.

Work also continues in the machine shop since it wasn’t affected by the fire.

“We still have commitments to customers, and we still have commitments to our employees, so we’ve got to go,” Royalty said.

He said he and his wife are grateful for everyone’s support. The night of the fire, Tyler Thias from Ranger Enterprises let them know they had buildings available to rent in Freeman Field. Also, power was changed around so the phone system could be set up, N-I-Tech allowed them to use a conference room, Winsupply brought tables and filing cabinets and a steel supplier sent them a saw.

“These are all people that we work with all of the time, and they were just offering to help,” Royalty said.

The company’s insurance agency, Moore and Shepherd Insurance in Seymour, also has assisted.

“They’ve just been great,” Royalty said. “They met us New Year’s Day at their office. They had refreshments set up, and they said, ‘OK, here’s the deal, this is your policy, this is what you’ve got, this is what your coverages are.’”

Jeff Joray from the Boys and Girls Club reached out after hearing Royalty was looking for something for some of his employees to do.

“If somebody reaches out to us and needs some help and we’ve got some guys available, we’ll send them,” Royalty said.

“I send texts to the guys in the morning of where to go and where to be,” he said. “They want to be doing something. Most importantly, we don’t want them going out and finding jobs. We want them to know that we’re going to be OK and we’re going to rebuild, we’re going to get you back to work.”

Once the time comes to clean up the site of the fire, then the focus will shift to rebuilding.

“We’re going to take a moment and rebuild it correctly, rebuild it the way we really want it,” Royalty said.

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