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Wheeling tool maker sees sixth buyout in 160 years

Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register photo by Ian Hicks Warwood Tool employee Tom Crockard feeds steel bars into the furnace at the company’s factory.
Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register photo by Ian Hicks
Warwood Tool employee Tom Crockard feeds steel bars into the furnace at the company’s factory.

WHEELING, W.Va. — A true made-in-America success story entered a new chapter Thursday as the Warwood Tool Co. changed ownership for the sixth time in its 160-year history.

After almost 50 years with the company, Warwood Tool President James Haranzo officially sold his stock in the plant, which Henry Warwood founded in Martins Ferry in 1854 and settled into its current home on North 19th Street in Wheeling in 1905. There, in an age when many manufacturers have substituted computers for good, old-fashioned elbow grease, Warwood Tool and its 20 or so employees still forge hammers, chisels, picks and more by hand.

The decision was far from easy for Haranzo, a former Wheeling mayor. He’s received several offers to buy the company over the years and turned them all down.

“He is so in love with this business and so in love with this town, it was hard for him to step away,” said Phillip Carl, a member of the new ownership group along with his father, Michael Carl, and longtime friend and former college roommate Logan Hartle.

What set this offer apart, however, is that the new owners all have deep roots in the area, and they seem to have no intention of messing with tradition.

“It’s going to remain in Wheeling under good, Wheeling people,” Haranzo said of the business.

Warwood Tool’s staff will remain intact through the transfer, as will the business’s time-honored handcrafting process – a fact which made it easier for Haranzo to walk away.

“His employees are like family, and he wanted to make sure the new owners treated them as he did,” said Haranzo’s daughter, Laurie Haranzo Raleigh.

As the availability of cheaper, foreign products has eroded the Ohio Valley’s manufacturing base, Warwood Tool has stood the test of time.

Although not immune to the struggles faced by local industry – the plant once employed more than 120 people at its height – the business attributes its survival to the dedication of its employees and an unwavering commitment to quality. Haranzo said, with no small measure of pride, that Warwood Tool has never been sued for selling a defective product.

“We start out with good, quality steel, and we have employees that do a good job. They care about what they make,” said plant manager and 40-year employee Cliff Thorngate.

Hartle and Phillip Carl, both John Marshall High School and West Virginia University graduates, said they inherited their entrepreneurial spirit from their fathers. Prior to taking over at Warwood Tool, Hartle worked in engineering and Phillip Carl, in advertising sales.

“We’ve always had that mentality that if we can do it for other people, we can do it for ourselves,” Phillip Carl said.

The new owners are well aware of the plight of manufacturing locally, but that has not deterred them. Phillip Carl sees a growing market for the tools made in Warwood as the railroad industry is seeing a resurgence after a period of decline.

“On a national level, manufacturing is really coming back,” he said.

“The Haranzos are a great family that’s owned a wonderful company,” Mayor Andy McKenzie said. “How appropriate to keep Warwood Tool in Warwood, West Virginia.”

The visit brought back plenty of memories for Councilwoman Gloria Delbrugge, who represents the Warwood area on council and worked in the office at Warwood Tool during the 1970s.

“I loved it here. They were good to me,” she said. “Everyone said you couldn’t buy a sledgehammer like they made here.”

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