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He paved a long road to retirement

June 27, 1998|By MARLO BARNHART

A 35-year stint at one company isn't all that unusual, but few employees put in those years at the end of their careers like Kenneth "Mac" McSwain.

Now 88, McSwain recently retired from Craig Paving Co., a Hagerstown firm he joined when he was 53.

"I was hired as a carpenter but I actually have been making blacktop all these years," McSwain said. "Every day I thank God for the good life I've had."

He came to work for Ollen Craig when the fledgling company was being formed on Hump Road. Indeed he moved his family into a house right across the road from the plant.

"Mac started as a plant operator and that's what he was when he retired," said Robert Craig, grandson of the founder. "He actually makes the blacktop."

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While the plant has grown and modernized over the years, McSwain continued to operate the same small-batch blacktop plant at the site.

"The newer plant has an air-conditioned office operated by men three times younger than Mac. ... Mac stayed at the old plant working outside in the heat," Robert Craig said.

McSwain explained that crushed stone heated to 300 degrees is mixed with 15 gallons of liquid asphalt heated to a comparable temperature and stirred by two huge paddles going in different directions. The result is blacktop.

"I could only make about a ton in each batch at my plant, but it would turn out a batch every minute or so," McSwain said. The trucks would pull up, get their loads and drive away.

"It's hot work," McSwain said. "In the summer, I have an electric fan to keep cool but in the winter, I'm glad for the warmth."

Ollen Craig's son, Roger Craig, recalled his favorite story about Mac and the time he got injured on the job in the mid-1960s.

"Mac got his arm broken one morning and it was a problem because only Mac and my dad, Ollen, knew how to make blacktop then, and Dad was in Michigan," Roger Craig said.

McSwain went home for lunch at noon, came back at 12:30 p.m. and finished his shift, broken arm and all.

"He didn't get the arm set until that evening - on his own time," Roger Craig said.

A native of Missouri, McSwain worked as a carpenter for more than 20 years before coming to Hagerstown.

"My wife, Eeva, and I came here because we wanted our daughters to go to the Truth for Youth School," McSwain said. He said he learned of the school from a brochure that a friend had.

So the McSwains came to Hagerstown and both girls, Jean and Janet, graduated from the school. Jean Madden is now an attorney with her own firm in Arkansas. Janet Brawner works in a law firm in Washington, D.C.

The retirement party for the McSwains on Saturday at Doub's Woods Park attracted nearly 100 co-workers and their families. But even though the party made his retirement official, McSwain said he will still be interested in what goes on across the road from his home.

A few years ago, McSwain put a new roof on the ticket office all by himself. In his spare time, he drywalled and painted it, too.

"I have a garden I enjoy working in but I know I'll be going over to the company from time to time," McSwain said. "I usually go over to check the locks on the doors every night, anyway."

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