Call me a softy, but it’s nice when old girlfriends find true love, traded-in vehicles have second lives and old closed-down workplaces have the electricity turned back on.
Good on you, Leona! (For example).
There goes a kid driving my old truck! (For instance).
Hey, somebody bought the Whirlpool plant! (Well, it’s under contract. Part of it).
Ah, Whirlpool factory, old friend. My one summer spent working there in Fort Smith, just a hop across the Arkansas state line from home, did more than any high school guidance counselor, youth minister or scare story from the welfare line ever could to keep me in college.
The pay was great in the mid-’80s: $10.85 an hour, plus time and a half for overtime, and there was lots and lots of overtime. I did not make as much in the newspaper business until the mid-’90s.
The after-hours were, ah, memorable at the Henry the 8th Club after second shift. They were a tad too, ah, memorable sometimes for some of the college boys brought in at Whirlpool for summertime peak production. Henry the Eighth was no Regal Beagle. It wasn’t quite a road house, but Patrick Swayze and Sam Elliot would’ve fit right in. The beer flowed, the whiskey flowed and the devil-in-the-bottle took his toll the next afternoon.
Hot, hard work
The work I did was hard. Lord, it was the hardest, hottest work I have ever done — and that includes hauling hay. It was 125 degrees at my work station.
I did the math once. It came to something like 83,000 refrigerator boxes that I single-handedly wiped down with an alcohol-soaked rag, after single-fingeredly gouging out the hot Permagum, an industrial sealant, from each refrigerator as it passed by on the assembly line. A big gray glob of the stuff was along the bottom of the back of each unit poked into a space the huge industrial die a few yards away made for a hose.
So, it warms the cockles of my naturally redneck, blue-collar heart to see the old place get bought. It was a blow to my old stomping grounds when Whirlpool closed in 2012 after years of decline. Just 1,000 or so worked there at the time; more than 4,000 were employed at peaks.
Whirlpool’s footprint was big. People drove in to work from two or three counties deep on both sides of the Oklahoma-Arkansas border.
Spartan Logistics, which started leasing space last year, has the 619,508-square-foot distribution center under contract. It must be all but a done deal, since Spartan is already marketing the space. The third-party logistics company specializes in acquiring and operating older warehouse properties as distribution centers in major manufacturing areas. The company has previously developed properties in Ohio, Indiana and South Carolina.
“We were really awestruck at the level of industrial activity in the Fort Smith area when we arrived here last year,” said Ed Harmon, chairman of Spartan Logistics and president of its development company.
“We are really excited about the opportunities here to work with the Chamber of Commerce and local businesses to serve their real estate and supply chain needs.”
Spartan said it will anchor the facility with an existing customer and will market the rest of the space for lease.
“The key to our growth remains great service to our business customers, hiring the best people, and finding great people. This location gives us an opportunity to do all three in Fort Smith,” Harmon said in a statement from the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce.
The main Whirlpool plant, around 1.5 million square feet, remains. It surely won’t be vacant long — not that I’m looking to go back to ... work.