Legislator, students at foundry

The art of foundries is dying. There used to be more than 20 foundries in Williamsport – now Williamsport Foundry is the last.

Walter “Bud” Doebler owns the foundry with his brother Frank and sister-in-law Barbara Doebler. Bud Doebler gave a tour of the business Friday for state Rep. Rick Mirabito, D-Williamsport, and Randy Zangara, principal of Career and Technical Education at Williamsport Area School District. Mirabito initiated the tour, which entailed several area manufacturing businesses, to highlight the importance of manufacturing – and the difficult roadblocks it faces. Later in the day, various students joined Mirabito for tours at other manufacturing facilities.

Doebler’s thick steel-toed shoes scuffed the black residue, largely sand, that covers the warehouse floor as his workworn hands held up various metal castings his business creates.

As a custom jobbing foundry that has provided industries with casting since 1916, his is a niche market, where he and his 15 to 18 employees – molders, laborers and grinders – make specialty pieces in small quantities, unlike high-production foundries that do mass productions and no small, special orders.

They produce castings for various manufacturing companies. Some of the foundry’s products for heavy machinery can weigh up to 4,000 pounds.

“Usually these machines are unique, so we make parts special for them. That’s why we’re a jobbing shop,” Frank Doebler said.

But times are tough, and Doebler points to two causes: Overseas competition and a lack of work ethic in younger generations here.

One reason it’s cheaper to buy products overseas is because those companies don’t have the regulations businesses do here – workers don’t have to wear certain safety gear, and there’s often not the expensive machinery, just labor, he said.

Doebler advocates what he calls “common sense” regulations. He agrees workers should wear safety glasses and gear, but some of the disposal requirements of residuals seems too strict to him.

“I’m a foundry man, not a paperwork man,” he said.

His business uses cast iron, brass bronze and aluminum in casting, but has more recently been using cast iron almost exclusively due to safety and environmental regulations on the others.

Yet he calls his business “the best recyclers for scrap metal.”

“We take the old … products and re-mold them,” he said.

While they used to pour castings seven days a week, now they’re down to once a week.

He pointed out to Mirabito that most buyers are going to buy cheaper products overseas, even though his business can turn it out faster. Mirabito said money should be re-invested in the community by buying locally.

Doebler held up a cast-iron piggy bank. “We have thousands of patterns for knickknacks,” but because of its quality craftsmanship, the cost is greater than people want to pay, he said.

The work ethic of the younger generation doesn’t match up with the quality of work required, he said.

“Kids are not brought up with any kind of work ethic now,” Doebler said. At 70, most people still can’t keep up with him, he said. “This is hard labor.”

The world where manufacturing and its cast-iron work ethic thrived may no longer exist as it did when the brothers’ grandfather Walter Ertel Sr. and his brother William Ertel started the business in a chicken coop almost a century ago, but the Doeblers hope the community – and younger folks – can help bring it back.