This column was published in the October 2005 Issue of The Business Journal.
Recalling a page from the city’s history…
Its name was The Melvin-Lloyd Co. and it was located down a short hill on Mahoning Avenue behind the old Ward’s Bakery at Tod and Irving Place.
The original Melvin was my uncle Charlie who died much too soon after forming the company with George Lloyd. After Uncle Charlie died, Mr. Lloyd asked my dad to come to Youngstown and assume my uncle’s role in the partnership. At that time, Dad had a good job as a district manager in Pittsburgh for Gulf Oil, then called The Gulf Refining Co. But, Dad decided the right thing to do was take over for Uncle Charlie and so we moved to Youngstown where he became Mr. Lloyd’s partner.
That’s the background to this story. Dad and Mr. Lloyd were in their early 50s, at least. When you’re young, all adults seem really old.
The Melvin-Lloyd Co. was a machine shop. If you remember the old “Bull of the Woods” cartoons, which were set in an old machine shop where a bunch of old timers chewed tobacco and chewed the fat as they worked, you have the picture.
The time: the late 1920s and early ’30s. Lathes, drill presses, planers – all belt-driven. Not a piece of direct-drive machinery in the shop. No computers to control or help with anything, including the bookkeeping, which my Aunt Flo handled. And yet, my dad’s machine shop enjoyed a widespread reputation for excellent machining and for repairing all types of machinery from movie projectors to bakery dough mixers, from commercial printing presses to machining steel rolls for the metalworking industry.
“The Crew,” as Dad called them, were men who took pride in their work. They considered themselves craftsmen. There wasn’t anything they wouldn’t tackle no matter how large or how small.
Sometimes they were called upon to work on a machine too large to be transported to the shop. A machinist would go to the site to take it apart and remove the broken part. He phoned the specifications and measurements back to the shop where another member of The Crew machined a new part and took it out to the site for assembly.
As Melvin-Lloyd’s reputation for excellence, dependability and honesty grew, so did the business. The partners bought a brand-new Model T Ford body truck so they could pick up and deliver work. Chain-operated hoists were installed. They began manufacturing chair tips that were secured to the bottoms of chairs to prevent them from sliding on hard wood floors. And they sold them by the thousands all over the country.
They also manufactured boiler stands to hold the oval tubs women used to boil their laundry on wash day. The stand held not only the tub but was gas-fired to keep the water hot. Both stands and tubs sold well; today the tubs make excellent containers for almost anything and command a good price in antique shops.
Everything was going well when The Great Depression hit and hit them hard. Orders for repairs on machinery slowed to a trickle and the products they turned out slowed as well. Many weeks Dad, Mr. Lloyd and Aunt Flo divided what little was left after they met The Crew’s payroll.
One summer evening one of Dad’s good friends drove into the driveway and came up on the front porch. So serious was his face that Mom and I retreated inside. Dad and his friend talked for quite while before the man left. Then Dad came inside, tears in his eyes. His friend had given him $5,000, a fortune in those days, to help him save the business. It paid their debts and helped with the cash flow.
When World War II broke out, Dad and The Crew manufactured portholes for Navy destroyers and the shop returned to profitability. At age 82, Dad retired because he could no longer read blueprints; he suffered from cataracts in both eyes. Mr. Lloyd, along with his nephew, continued to operate the business.
Today, the shop is gone, razed to be replaced by a parking lot. Someone who reads this may remember my dad’s shop. Its name was the Melvin-Lloyd Co.