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Old 01-04-2009, 11:26 PM   #1
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Default A little Baja history.

A little Baja history from the local TF.

BUCYRUS -- A small fiberglass company named Aeroglastics Inc., which built parts and products for other companies, moved into building fiberglass boats in 1971.

That company, Baja Boats, was originally located at 543 Jones St., which had been a roller skating rink. The company had many ups, and downs, in its turbulent 37-year history in Bucyrus.

Aeroglastics was incorporated on Feb. 5, 1970, by Neil E. Baker, Charles F. Coulter and John D. Sears.

The company broke ground for a new $1 million facility in the Bucyrus Airport Industrial Center on Dec. 10, 1974. The new building was the first phase of a four-year expansion program which saw all aspects of the company's operation move to Issac Beal Road.

Company president Baker said at the time that plans for the expansion began some years before when it became clear that projected sales would exceed the capacity of the Jones St. plant.

The plans were rushed, however.

While still on Jones Street, the company suffered a series of fires in 1976, the first happening on Jan. 23 and the second Feb. 5. Both were small fires, causing little damage.

The third fire, however, was different. Much different. Fire ripped through the plant in the early morning hours of Sept. 20, causing more than $140,000 in damages and virtually destroying the plant. Flames were estimated as high as 100 feet.

"We couldn't have saved the building by the time we got there," then Bucyrus Fire Chief Gordon Grove said. "The building was down and gutted within 45 minutes after we got there."

The fire occurred just two weeks before an annual trade show in Chicago, but dealers loaned boats to exhibit to generate subsequent sales.

In the meantime, the Jones Street plant was shut down and Baja executives decided to move quicker to build the new plant on Issac Beal Road.

The building suffered another major fire on Nov. 29, 1977. This fire hit a building just 20 feet south of the site of the first fire. Both fires were eventually ruled to be of suspicious origin.

Aeroglastics also suffered another setback on Dec. 20, 1976, when an administrative judge of the National Labor Relations Board found the company engaged in unfair labor practices and was ordered to restore three employees with seniority and other rights and pay them their earnings.

Aeroglastics appealed the ruling, kicking the case up to a three-member panel, who affirmed the ruling of judge Almira Abbot Stevenson on April 10, 1977.

Baja completed its expansion plans in mid-1979, finishing a 12,000-foot square building. At the time, the company expanded its work force by 40.

The company held yet another groundbreaking for a $1.5 million expansion on Jan. 17, 1984, to build a 20,000-square-foot warehouse. The expansion was expected to create 35 new jobs with more jobs coming as other phases of the expansion were completed.

By 1986, Baja reported sales of more than $20 million and 235 employees, that raised to $32 million and 360 over the next year. During peak periods, production hit between 55 and 60 boats per week coming out of the Bucyrus plant.

In 1987, president Doug Smith announced that the company was opening a new manufacturing facility in Mabank, Texas. In that story, Smith said his company is experiencing unprecedented growth. The Texas facility closed after a short time.

Baja opened an 86,000 square foot engineering facility in 1989 and its Baja Sport 250 was named full size boat of the year by Powerboat magazine.

"Our business has doubled every two years for the last eight years," Smith said in 1989. "We have had tremendous growth."

But ominous days were still ahead.

On Jan. 8, 1994, workers were stunned when they went to pick up their paychecks and were told there was no money. National City Bank of Columbus froze the company's assets after the company laid off most of its 380 workers, including those in management.

According to then Baja vice president Michael Scruggs said that the problem resulted from two missed loan payments.

National City Bank, however, in a subsequent story, said that the decision to close the facility and lay off the employees was solely Smith's decision.

"Anything (Smith) has done as far as closing or slowing down his operation was a business decision on his own," said Stanley Harris, manager of public relations for National City Bank at the time.

Baja announced Jan. 29 it would reopen on Feb. 7, and filed for bankruptcy protection on Feb. 3, filing a reorganization proceeding under Chapter 11 in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Canton.

Things gradually began to return to normal, and Baja employees were offered insurance in March.

Baja's mortgage with National City was purchased on March 31 by Genmar Holdings in Minneapolis, Minn. But management agreed to let Brunswick purchase assets to enable the company to come out of Chapter 11. In October of 1995, Baja Boats became the sole property of Brunswick/SeaRay Division.
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