Profitable Hot Tops

John’s story continues:

However, there were signs that a fall could be in the future. Our good hot top customers, Timken for starters, were converting to a cast iron hot top with a refractory lining that could be used 20 times with the replacement of a simple bottom ring after each use. This was much less expensive than the one-use clay hot top. The permanent hot tops did require additional crane capacity to set and remove the hot tops, plus a hot top set up building. If the plant was busy, it wasn’t always timely to slow down to enlarge crane capacity and build a hot top shed. This constraint kept our hot top business from completely collapsing.

At Waynesburg, we last a fine employee and citizen in a plant accident when Pedro de la Cruz, a setter, tragically walked into an electric line carrying a light standard and was killed. Pedro’s son Chris was a young high school football player who went to Dartmouth College and became an attorney.

During the 1950s, our hot top ‘money machine’ produced profits in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. JB wanted to pay off the preferred stock arrearage that had accumulated since 1929. DD, Dan and John Jr., who had become board members for some years, urged caution due to the impending death of our breadwinner, the clay hot top business. My report to the board concluded that when Copperweld Steel, WG’s last high-volume, high-profit top top customer, converted to cast iron hot tops, WG would lose money at the rate of 10 percent on annual sales of $2 million. I recommended saving some cash to invest in a continuous kiln, which would enable face brick and ladle brick to be cost and quality competitive. At Waynesburg, the grinding and proportioning plant had been rebuilt into a very good continuous, low-cost facility capable of producing whatever complex mixes might be needed in the future.

The controlling stockholders rejected my opinion and used about $400,000 in cash to pay off the preferred arrearage. We lost the opportunity to turn Waynesburg into a competitive factory by adding a continuous kiln. In 1954, John B Jr. and Dan had purchased the stock of Helen Kilpatrick, daughter of RE Whitacre, the first president of the Whitacre Fireproofing Company. Although opposed to the dividend policy, I understood the dividends made it easy for us to pay for the stock.

Hot top brochure inside Hot Top photos from brochure B&W