Laclede Chain turns challenge into opportunity after roof collapse.
By: Mike Chalmers
Located in St. Louis, Missouri, and in operation since 1854, Laclede Chain represents one of America’s most historic industrial chain manufacturing companies.
A family-owned business since 2010—driven to provide proactive resources and high-quality solutions for safety-driven chain users—Laclede has expanded exponentially since its early days as a single blacksmith’s shop manufacturing hardware for the wagon trains heading west nearly 170 years ago.
Across the better part of two centuries, the company has built a culture around safety, innovation, and service, committing themselves to their customers, as well as continuous improvement—all of it fortified by a “human” touch and the relationships that emerge from genuinely trying to understand people’s needs.
But it was Laclede that found itself in need on Easter Sunday, this past April—or at least in need of some assistance, as a severe weather system blew through Vicksburg, Mississippi, and caused the roof to collapse on part of its facility there.
While the building was unoccupied at the time, and utilities were immediately disconnected when first responders arrived, one of the first officials to arrive on the scene remarked that it looked like there had a been a sizable explosion.
But the damage was ultimately confined to the office portion of the building, and in the weeks since that stormy holiday, Laclede Chain’s Vicksburg location has experienced a resurrection of its own—at least the damaged portion of the facility.
Looking back, Laclede’s Vicksburg Plant Manager DaCondra Smith was highly impressed with how her team responded and recovered, but before that, she had to manage the moment in all of its unexpected immediacy.
“It was Easter Sunday; I was home—just finished cooking dinner for my family,” she explained. “We were just sitting down for dinner and I went into the other room to check my phone, and I had a bunch of calls from the Chamber of Commerce. The fire department, and a couple of employees had also reached out to me.”
So, Smith started returning calls. First, the fire department. “They told me that our building had collapsed, and that it looked like a bomb had gone off—and the roof was inside the building.”
Hoping for Good News
Although it was empty at the time, Laclede’s Vicksburg facility hosts around 55 employees and handles production, shipping, receiving—pretty much everything—so Smith and her family didn’t hesitate to put dinner on pause to jump in their vehicles and head to the plant.
“Both of my assistants were already there,” she noted. “I’d also been speaking to the Chamber on the way over—but at that point, no one was really sure what had happened. It was both traumatic and emotional. You know, this is a facility I’ve been managing since the first machine was installed, so it was all very personal to me.”
Smith was at the facility until around 10pm that night in order to secure the building, which had no power. As for the recovery, it started the very next morning. “And we were inside the building on Tuesday—had a team inside pulling everything out that we could recover,” she acknowledged. “Imagine all the files—everything—was completely wet. And we didn’t know how much of the structure was going to continue to fall within that front office area, where pretty much everything we needed as a facility to operate was stored—including the employee break room.”
Disaster response and recovery activities being what they are, she didn’t have a decent understanding of what she was up against until the end of the week. “We cleaned up that building and pulled out and recovered everything that we could on faith,” she said. “And we were hoping for good news from the structural engineers.”
Going with the Flow
Complications notwithstanding, by Friday of that week, Smith was able to give her employees the news that they could return to work. “So, we spent the rest of the week and weekend just cleaning up the water, etc.—actually had to get sandbags from the fire department,” she said. “And our leadership came right in from the start—they were here helping out with everything. Tough decisions and calls, organizing the St. Louis team, helping out with financials and insurance companies. We also had to call in a restoration company.”
True to their legacy and reputation, however, Smith and her Laclede staff were basically back in action about as quick as humanly possible—modifying as needed. “We were only down about a week,” she said. “My administrative assistant’s office became a child’s desk pushed into a corner of the maintenance shop; I had all of my equipment on a mobile cart—we were just sort of floating around the facility making it work.”
The facility was back to around 99 percent to their standard production for the month, as well. “Everyone just came back super motivated,” said Smith. “People were appreciative to be back in the building and things were just ironing themselves out. But, yes, we made a strong recovery. The guys just really worked hard to keep their machines running and making chain.”
As for revitalizing the damaged office area, Smith indicated that it’s just about being flexible and going with the flow after a while. “We had inspectors coming in—we had a team on standby waiting to take that portion of the building down as soon as they get the greenlight,” she said. “But the idea is for us to come up with new plans for that as well. It’s just one step at a time. The plumbing and electric rerouted—we put all of the equipment into a Tough Shed we got from Home Depot so we could have a new server room and intercom system. But again, we made the most of it and we’ve made a lot happen.”
All told, even surprises within the surprise have kept Smith on her toes. “We couldn’t locate our janitorial supplies. We had no place for them—so our janitor was dealing with her own issues, trying to mop the floors, and it’s so hot in this tin building. She needs an air conditioner and a fan in order to mop the floors. So that’s the conditions the employees are in right now. And again, everyone is very proud of their commitment and positive energy.”
Ultimately a Blessing
And in the end, emphasized Smith, that’s ultimately what a situation like this comes down to. “We’ve honestly just tried to take the positives from this,” she said. “We were actually in need of a better setup in our front office area, and now we’re going to have one. We’re not looking at it like a tragedy. It happened on Easter Sunday and there was a big gaping hole in the middle of the ceiling when I came in the next morning, everything was black, and the only thing you could see was this golden glow shining in. It kind of reminded me of the moment. The resurrection popped into my mind, you know? The paintings that people have created of that day—that was the feeling I had in my heart the next morning. That there’s always a rainbow at the end of this road.
“Most importantly, no one got hurt. We were wanting to expand things and we wanted a better office area anyway, so I just look at it as a slight inconvenience, but ultimately a blessing.”
Over a month since the incident, production is pretty much back to normal at Laclede and Smith is looking forward to the new digs. Upon reflection, she sees this circumstance as a time when everyone came together in a moment of need to stabilize the company and keep the business “afloat,” so to speak.
“There were a few times where, while the employees were back in the building, before we could get everything completely sandbagged, it started raining,” she explained. “We had to have teams of people with brooms and squeegees—it’s raining and the water is coming under the wall like a flood. So, we’re literally just trying to force the water out the door so that it won’t come on to the production—all while we’re literally running machines. It was truly something to see.
“But again, from the Chamber of Commerce to the Fire Department, the National Guard, and even local businesses—everyone was willing to support us and help out. They’ve all been calling to check on us. We’re really connected with local high schools, as well, and at one point, some of the students called and asked if there was anything they could do to help. That touched my heart, and reminded me that believing what you’re doing is the right thing leads to success in the end. And a little faith doesn’t hurt either.”
To learn more about Laclede, visit www.lacledechain.com.
This article first appeared in the May/June 2022 Issue of Wire Rope Exchange.