Dreaming of SpringtimePosted: February 23, 2014
In my daily hikes through the forest here in Southeast Missouri, I’ve been listening to the training cd of frog and toad calls, and feeling like it is already Spring, even though the trees are bare and colder weather is on its way back into our lives during the coming week. Spring is still over 3 weeks away, “officially”. Lately, we have had some relief from the more severe winter we have endured this year. We can hope that it has an impact on the insect population come summertime. But the mild and sunny days, have many thinking about Spring already.
I’ve been reviewing the sounds of frogs and toads, in preparation for the annual surveying that I do for the Missouri Dept of Conservation, in partnership with the North American Amphibian Monitoring Program through Patuxent Wildlife Research Center and the USGS. This year I must take the certification test, so that my data can be verified as valid for compiling with other such efforts all across the eastern United States. Our family goes out 3 times from March through the end of June. We make 10 stops and I spend 5 very peaceful minutes, standing out in the darkness, listening. Because of our participation, my older son often catches and brings frogs and toads to me to identify. Not to worry, he is a rescuer (has saved many from our backporch outdoor kitties) and is very gentle and considerate of them. The blessing is, not only do I know what they sound like but I get physical experience with what they look like as well.
And thoughts of Spring, have caused my older son to begin asking when our family will go on our annual float trip to the Jack’s Fork River, in the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, that we are blessed to have access to, only a few hours away. We always spend about 3 days and 2 nights on the River, camping out on gravel bars. We have taken our boys on these canoe river floats since they were yet infants and they are naturals out in the wild. We usually do not go before April. We like to go for our annual outing before the crowds begin to take over the river, after the fall and winter have cleansed the shores a bit and downed some more wood for campfires. That can also mean some difficult obstacles in the river as well, because the park service has not gone out to remove them yet. Still, it is wonderful to be away from modern human necessities – electric lights, television and telephone calls – for a few days. Very refreshing; and it always re-centers us in family strengths, and reminds us of all that is truly important in life.
For a long time, our families had aluminum canoes; but they are really not the best material on Missouri float streams due to the hard granite rocks that one must navigate around with varying degrees of success. When our boys were very small, a single canoe was adequate for our family. I would paddle in the front and my husband in the rear (he has been out on Missouri float streams for over 50 years; and so, is very skilled and has always been resourceful too). We would put each boy in the center of the canoe, in large plastic coolers with the lids removed. On more than one occasion, these functioned as floating escape pods to secure the children’s safety, after an unexpected, unfortunate event with a downed tree or unavoidable boulder. And of course, the kids wear flotation vests; and we do too, since they do.
But the boys are older now; and so, a few years ago, my older son and I split off into a separate canoe (leaving my husband and younger son together in a second canoe); and we began to find that it was more efficient and convenient to rent the lightweight, modern canoes that have very tough shells and are not so prone to leaking as our heavy, aluminum canoes became. So, it was with a bit of concern and sadness that I read in Plastics News this week, that the ONLY manufacturer of that canoe shell Royalex material, a factory in Warsaw, IN, is ceasing production. This is an outcome of an acquisition by PolyOne, of Spartech Corp. It is entirely driven by the bottom-line profit motives that guide many American corporations. And profit is admittedly a necessary to remain a viable business.
PolyOne said that “Royalex is a low volume, unprofitable product that was in a steady decline in demand well prior to our purchase of Spartech last year. We have not identified upside or growth opportunities for Royalex that would make it viable as a continuing product line.” They also tried increasing the price first by 25%, after the acquisition for the Royalex material, to their canoe manufacturer customers – thereby reducing the “affordability” factor that had been one of the material’s more attractive features. Most of the canoe manufacturers did expect at least 3-5 years “notice”, that PolyOne intended to close that plant; but they were actually only given less than a year.
It is said that “canoeing” is a struggling business. Most of the Canoe Manufacturers use Royalex as one of their primary materials. That is because it can handle “difficult” waters. It has also been affordable and lightweight, while very strong and durable. Well known names like Mad River, Old Town and Wenonah have been using the material in their fabrications. Now, it is likely that canoes will still be made from some other material; but the manufacturers are scrambling for that alternative, and they’ve not been given very much time to make engineering and fabrication changes. Wenonah has a blend of polyester and fiberglass called Tuff-Weave, which they expect to bridge some of their own material “gap”.
Royalex was developed by Uniroyal in the 1960s. Royalex is a customized, hand laid-up material that is layers of ABS and ABS foam sandwiched between vinyl. The foam core offers resilience, shock absorption, insulation and buoyancy. The substrate provides strength. The surface ply gives color, a smooth texture, and resistance to weather and abrasion. Uniroyal (and then, Spartech) initially had higher hopes than a single market of canoe manufacturers for Royalex. They expected to find additional markets with go kart makers, for bus fenders and other complex shapes. However, when PolyOne acquired Spartech, they found there was only one market where Royalex was fully accepted and that was with canoe manufacturers. The oldest canoe “material” dates back to the Netherlands, a single pine log, carbon dated to 8040-7510 BC.
It is true that any time a manufacturer deals with a single-source material or supplier, ongoing business can be put at risk at any time. Because we have been in business now for over 30 years, we have had our own moments of challenge and we have always found a way through these, usually more easily than we thought, when first presented with that. Yemm & Hart is a niche provider. Our size allows us to provide our customers with uniquely custom, 100% post-consumer recycled options, that the large, profit-and-cost-driven manufacturers have no interest in.
I think there is a definite place for small scale and targeted manufacturing in this country, as a continuing source of employment. I am grateful that our business has survived the extreme contractions of the economy and its effects on the construction industry. So many jobs have been lost in this country since the 1990s, due to off-shoring and technology. Some who have sent their business over to China have found themselves in serious difficulties, due to cultural and legal differences. It is short-sighted to eliminate upward mobility and the middle class “consumer” market; due to having made a narrow perspective, “maximizing profit”, the guiding rule. At this time, not only the United States of America but much of the planet, is struggling to balance the basics of valuing the quality of life for a country’s entire population, as impacted by private business decisions. There will be a ripple effect from closing the Royalex plant, that won’t adversely impact PolyOne; but that is likely to impact many others down to the river level, float outfitter and canoeist.
~ Information Resources
I am unable to provide you with an “online link” to my information resource for this week’s blog. The news isn’t all that new – a big uproar over in the “canoe community” over this can be found via google, around July-Aug 2013, after news leaked out to the public. I would still like to acknowledge my own source for this blog –
“PolyOne rocks the boat for canoe manufacturers” by Catherine Kavanaugh printed in Plastics News, Feb 17, 2014 issue, as a main cover story “Special Report”, under the category of “Thermoforming”.
Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer