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Disston Tools in South Deerfield sells equipment to Chinese company

— A Chinese tool company loaded and boxed several pieces of equipment from Disston Tools in South Deerfield for shipment to China on Thursday afternoon — a month after the manufacturer laid off 15 employees.

Headquartered on West Industrial Drive, Disston manufactures hole saws, saw blades, drill bits and other hand-tool accessories for national buyers like Home Depot, Sears and Ace Hardware.

The 165-year-old company is owned by CEO and chairman, Stephen Chen, a California resident.

The Deerfield plant was considered the primary factory with a second site in China.

It was bustling outside the 300,000-square-foot factory and office building at noontime as two truck drivers loaded and strapped down onto flatbed trucks about six pieces of large equipment used most commonly to cut teeth into blades. To the right of the RDF Logistics trucks were too large wooden boxes holding the equipment that would be shipped to China.

Plant Manager Mike Rau, a 14 year employee, said surplus equipment was being sold for scrap metal, and that a Chinabased company, Top Easton Co., another tool manufacturer, bought a few other pieces. He would not say how much equipment was being sold or at what the price. He added the China company was not taking all of the equipment. He would not say how many people still work at the South Deerfield factory.

To his knowledge, Rau said, the company was not closing.

“Plans are under way. I’m not at liberty to say,” Rau said. “ Deals are pending. I don’t want to go public. But one thing I can guarantee you is there will be changes.” At about 12:30 p.m., a carload of Top Easton employees arrived.

Tony Qiu of Top Easton, confirmed the Chinese company had purchased equipment from Disston and would ship it off to China.

The sun glaring into his eyes, Richard Carey, a materials handler, sat outside the facility at noontime and watched the equipment loaded onto a flatbed. The Turners Falls resident has worked at Disston for 25 years.

“I’ve worked here for too long,” Carey said resignedly. “We take it day by day. It’s all any of us can do anymore.” Just before 1 p.m., a second flatbed truck arrived to load and ship three more pieces of equipment. Rau was not aware a second truck was coming.

Earlier, on March 15, the company laid off 15 employees, a number confirmed by Michael Truckey, director of the Franklin Hampshire Career Center.

According to Truckey, the career center sent its rapid response team to the South Deerfield factory.

“They did lay off a few people. We’re working with them under the career center services,” Truckey said.

Truckey said the career center offered the former employees a career orientation, which involves retraining, a career counselor, resume preparation, workshops and job hunting help. He did not know how many employees are remaining.

Weather Underground • AP The career center received a list of names to reach out to in March through Disston.

“The company was understanding and supportive of providing us with information,” Truckey said. “Franklin County is happy valley. No one likes making these decisions but the world economy makes us make these tough decisions. People don’t want to lay off their own neighbors.” The sale of equipment and layoffs are part of a continual downsizing that has plagued local employees for the past few years. In 2009, the company laid off 72 workers and it cut another 47 employees in 2008.

The Deerfield property was formerly owned by Rule Cutting Tool Co. Before that, it was owned by the Millers Falls Co. in Greenfield, which moved to Deerfield after it was bought out by the Ingersoll-Rand Corp.

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