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The latest on the Crane saga…..
July 12, 2009
Empire Falls
Crane Cams' demise leaves questions unanswered
Senior Business Writer
DAYTONA BEACH -- Nearly five months after managers closed the doors at Crane Cams, leaving more than 200 workers jobless, the company's future hangs in limbo.
And the reasons for Crane's fall from the pinnacle of high-performance manufacturing remain shrouded by the lack of response from corporate executives.
But there is speculation.
Harvey J. Crane Jr., who says he was fired in 1989 from the company he founded in his father's Hallandale machine shop, blames Eugene E. Ezzell, who took the reins when Crane left.
Ezzell says he is not to blame and has opinions about the company's demise, but prefers to keep them to himself.
Several former employees blame Ezzell and R. Lance Harris, the CEO Mikronite Technologies Inc. brought in after buying Crane in 2006.
Harris did not return calls seeking comment. Neither did Mikronite CEO Jeffrey Coats.
No matter where the blame lies, today the Crane Cams facility on Fentress Boulevard sits vacant. Some former employees are working for other local companies. Others are putting their homes on the market and finding new ways to trim bills as the weeks of unemployment accumulate.
A few say they filed complaints with the Employee Benefits Security Administration, an office of the U.S. Department of Labor. They say Crane continued to withhold health insurance premiums from their paychecks even after the insurance plan was terminated. No one from that office returned calls seeking comment.
All the former employees are awaiting the payments they are due from the Employee Stock Ownership Trust, established during the Harvey Crane days and administered by Ezzell and former Crane executives Dennis P. Burgess and Scott McGuire under the company name CTG Innovation Inc.
Ezzell said he is waiting for an IRS ruling before he can disburse the funds.
"It takes a long time for the IRS to make a decision," he said.
Through it all, the Crane's brand is alive, though ailing. And a company in the tiny town of Viola, Wis., holds the key to Crane's future.
S&S Cycle, well known in the world of high-performance motorcycles, bought the 56-year-old Crane brand, its patents and other intellectual property and its inventory during an April auction at the plant.
Bruce Tessmer, S&S marketing and materials manager, said the deal was supposed to work like this: S&S would buy the entire lot, then Harris would buy the automotive line from S&S and spin off his own company. S&S would manufacture and sell Crane valve train components for motorcycles and electronics for motorcycles and cars.
Harris formed a company shortly before Crane shut down in February. Many employees hoped his Triton Performance Valvetrain LLC would save the day, bring back the workers and reestablish Crane's superiority in the field of high-performance parts.
But after S&S put up the money, Harris failed to pay his share, Tessmer said. And now S&S holds rights to an automotive line it never wanted.
"We've rented a temporary facility (in the Daytona Beach area) for some sales and technical workers," Tessmer said. "We have shipped the inventory to Viola. But we are not sure what we will do about manufacturing."
The manufacturing was what Harvey J. Crane Jr. was all about, though.
Through his 36 years with the company, he said, he sought to perfect cam lobe and shaft design and tighten machining tolerances to a hundred-millionth of an inch -- eight decimal places -- when the industry was content with a ten-thousandth of an inch, or four decimal places.
Crane said that soon after he left in 1989, the company began loosening those tolerances, instead of tightening them, leading to a less consistent product.
He said the company lost money in just one year under his leadership. And the years under Grayson W. Maule were financially successful. He said Ezzell jettisoned Maule, then led the company into costly forays into other markets and acquisitions.
But Ezzell said that under his leadership Crane Cams grew to a $70-million-a-year company that employed more than 300 workers.
"We were Tier One, supplying the auto factories direct," Ezzell said. "To maintain that, we needed to become a $2 (billion) to $3 billion company."
Instead, the company "retrenched into the performance business," Ezzell said. And now, with the major U.S. auto makers in turmoil, Ezzell said that decision proved wise.
Still, former employee Bruce Keane said money was tight from 2000 on. Workers took a 7 percent pay cut, then a 10 percent cut.
Crane Cams still needed an infusion of cash, Ezzell said. So, he began negotiations with Mikronite Technologies Inc. Initially, the discussions centered on a merger with Mikronite. But, in the end, Mikronite bought Crane Cams and brought in new leadership, with R. Lance Harris as CEO.
With Harris and Coats remaining mum on subsequent events, the full story of Crane's regression remains untold.
But for former employees like Bruce Keane, the bitterness caused by the abrupt plant closing, the broken management promises and the delay in distributing the ESOT money won't soon fade.
Keane and his wife, Nancy, have put their Port Orange home on the market.
"I don't now what else to do," Keane said. "I can't find any work here."
Crane Cams History
JAN. 1, 1953: Crane Engineering Co. is founded by Harvey J. Crane Jr. in Hallandale.
1963: The company is incorporated as Crane Engineering Inc. The name was changed in 1970 to Crane Cams Inc. in anticipation of a public stock offering.
MARCH 4, 1977: Crane steps down as company president and CEO to devote full time to camshaft analysis and design. He owned more than 70 percent of company stock at the time. Grayson W. Maule takes over
1979: Crane forms Employee Stock Ownership Trust to ensure company continues after his involvement. Crane begins selling his shares to the trust to be distributed to workers as bonuses.
1986: Harvey J. Crane Jr. moves the company and 55 of his 120 employees to Daytona Beach.
JAN. 24, 1989: Crane Cams' executive group votes to fire Harvey J. Crane Jr., who then owned just 17 percent of the company.
1990: Harvey J. Crane Jr. starts new company, Harvey Crane, which offers cam analysis and cam design services. He launches a Web site:
1991: Grayson W. Maule leaves company. Eugene E. Ezzell becomes chairman, president and general manager.
2006: The Employee Stock Ownership Trust, at the urging of Ezzell, sells Crane Cams to Mikronite Technologies Inc., a New Jersey company. Mikronite immediately sells the Crane facility and land to a subsidiary of Stag Capital Partners for $6.6 million, then leases the facility from Stag.
FEBRUARY: Crane Cams sends workers home to await a call back to work. The plant never reopens.
APRIL: All Crane Cams assets are sold at auction. S&S Cycle of Viola, Wis., buys all the patents, trademarks and inventory.
SOURCE: News-Journal research

10,839 Posts
Damn that really SUCKS!I remember when the shop was in Hallandale (in the 80's) was cool to go by & hang out @ the shop!Totally blows for the former employees.

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72,015 Posts
Sad and depressing at the same time.

Can only hope S&S does something good with the automotive side.
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