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Column: Reeves Pulley Co. remembered 125 years later

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Reeves Pulley Co. would have been 125 years old next month. It didn’t make it.

I’m not sure when it stopped being Reeves Pulley Co. Maybe, in a far removed sort of way, there still is a Reeves Pulley Co. out there.

If there is, it’s nothing like the company that was once Bartholomew County’s leading employer: not the company that helped launch two other Columbus megacorporations — Cummins Inc. and Arvin Industries — by giving jobs to their co-founders, Clessie Cummins and Q.G. Noblitt; not the company that was a surrogate family to thousands of other workers.

The anniversary came to my attention while going through microfilm copies of The Evening Republican (the name this newspaper went by from the late 19th century to 1969 when it was rechristened The Republic) for February 1963. Tucked away on an inside page was a photo of a group of older gentlemen. They were the guests of honor at an appropriately named Old Timers Dinner.

It was the headline under the photo that got my attention — “Reeves celebrates 75th year at annual dinner.”

Even at that point in time, there were signs that the Reeves company which had been a fixture in the city for three-quarters of a century would never be the same. By then it had a new name. In 1955 it had merged with Reliance Electric. By 1963 the Reeves plant on Seventh Street was one of many branches of a much bigger company.

The original name was still used by practically everybody in Columbus. It also had a Reeves at the helm — Robert Reeves, the sixth member of his family to preside over the Columbus-based business. He had succeeded his uncle, Carl M. Reeves, in the chief executive position in 1961.

In the years that followed, the company that was built so much on the Reeves name transitioned into a shadow of its former self, lost in the labyrinth of a major corporation.

The name was dropped entirely in 2002 when Reliance consolidated its Columbus operations, closing the historic Seventh Street plant where the Reeves Pulley name had been tagged onto the back of Reliance Electric and moving all workers into the 10th Street Master plant.

Even the loose connection with Reliance ended in 1994 when the Columbus operation was taken over by Rockwell Automation, beginning a chain of ownership changes that have eroded the original Reeves influence.

There are still people alive who associate themselves with the original, unadulterated Reeves Pulley. Mention of them pops up occasionally in The Republic — mostly in their obituaries. Eventually, even that connection will be severed.

There’s a certain melancholy associated with what happened to Reeves Pulley Co. I would imagine that for many, Reeves Pulley would have been an ongoing entity that existed for their children and the children of their children.

Here in Columbus, we put a lot of things in that kind of framework.

Until the mid-1980s. it was a general assumption that the children of workers at Cummins Engine Co. would step into jobs with the company upon graduation from high school, and when the time came, their children would follow suit.

It was a brutal awakening in the 1980s when company officials announced dramatic personnel policy changes, warning local residents that the workplace rules of the days of old had changed forever.

I’m sure that prior to 2000, people in Columbus couldn’t envision a future without Arvin Industries.

The belief was shaken that year when the company that had been a fixture in the city for almost eight decades merged with Meritor Inc. For several years the name Arvin was still on the company but only in combination with Meritor. Not too long ago, even that designation was dropped, and the company became only Meritor Inc.

Various components of the company in Columbus were sold off. There are still people who once worked at Arvin Industries who are now working for the companies that acquired some of the original holdings, but in time they will retire.

Reeves and Arvin are becoming part of history. Those who worked for them, were part of them, are fading away as well.

Maybe nothing is forever, but just the same. ... Happy birthday, Reeves Pulley.

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