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At 70, hale and Hardy

October 14, 2002|by ANDREA ROWLAND

andrear@herald-mail.com

Wesley Gene Hardy has witnessed major changes in safety, technology and environmental responsibility since he began working in the cement production industry 50 years ago, he said.

Hardy on Sept. 8 celebrated his 50th anniversary at the Hagerstown cement plant now owned by Canada-based St. Lawrence Cement. He said he never expected to remain at the plant for half-century when in 1952 he took a $1.65-per-hour job operating a stone crusher at the plant's limestone quarry because the job meant a 75-cent raise.

"It was dirty, dirty, dirty and noisy," said Hardy, 70, of Hagerstown. "But the money was good and I liked the people. I guess there's no use to change jobs when you like it."

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He has no plans to retire.

Hardy has served in a variety of capacities at the plant and has missed only four days of work due to illness in the last 50 years, he said.

He spent three years dumping stone onto a stockpile at the quarry, a year cleaning the railroad cars into which stone was loaded, a year greasing the kiln at the old plant, eight years handling equipment parts in the plant's storeroom, and 12 years throwing 70- and 94-pound bags of cement from conveyer belts to trucks.

He enjoyed that job because it kept him in good shape, but he requested a transfer back to the storeroom in the late 1970s when the plant began producing colored cement that was difficult to remove from skin and clothing, Hardy said.

"Carbon black cement. It got on you and you couldn't get it off," he said. "That was a dirty job."

Hardy has enjoyed his much cleaner work as a storeroom handler - "receiving parts, giving out parts, and hunting all over the plant for parts" - since 1977, he said.

The hard hats, respirators, steel-toed boots and safety goggles that plant workers are required to wear were optional during Hardy's early years at the plant, he said.

"We took chances," Hardy said.

Hardy said he saw co-workers hurt when steel shavings flew into their eyes, but he was never injured on the job. He did have a few close calls.

Hardy jumped out of a dumb truck he was backing up to a rock stockpile hole just before the truck plunged into the hole in the days before bumpers marked the edge of the stone storage area, he said.

The potash discharged from the plant's smokestack used to create dust so thick it had to be shoveled from the roofs of plant buildings, Hardy said. Unlike today, there were few machines to collect dust and no water trucks to wet the roads in order to help control dust

The plant's modern dust collection system includes a $4.3 million storage silo that helps control dust and catch basins that prevent rain water from washing ground dust into the nearby Antietam Creek, according to information from St. Lawrence Cement.

The company also installed a $6 million stacker/reclaimer and blending system that reduces the production of kiln dust, increases stone storage, improves blending capabilities, reduces fugitive emissions and lowers maintenance costs.

Hardy has seen the plant change ownership four times and change names five times.

He started working for North American Cement, which was sold to Marquette Cement, then to Gulf & Western, then to Lone Star Industries and finally to Independent Cement Corp., a subsidiary of St. Lawrence Cement.

Workplace morale plummeted when Independent - which in 1998 was re-named St. Lawrence Cement - dropped the workers' labor union, Hardy said. Morale rebounded when union contracts were re-negotiated after more than two years, he said.

With corporate headquarters in Montreal, St. Lawrence Cement operates cement plants and distribution terminals, mineral components plants and ready-mix concrete plants and aggregates quarries, according to the company's Web site.

The Hagerstown plant at 1260 Security Road produces about 550,000 tons of cement each year, Human Resources Manager Bob Klinger said.

St. Lawrence Cement serves about 15,000 customers in the construction industry in Canada and on the eastern seaboard of the U.S., and boasts nearly 2,500 employees in Canada and about 350 workers in the U.S., according to the Web site.

The Hagerstown plant alone once employed about 300 workers, Hardy said. It took 48 men to run each eight-hour shift at the old plant, he said.

Such technological advances as a state-of-the-art computer that optimizes the new plant's kiln system have cut the plant's hourly workforce down to about 82, Hardy said.

His father, George W. Hardy, and uncle, James W. Hardy, also worked at the plant.

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