Included with this column is a picture of a piece of brass that was carried to work each day by a fine, hard-working craftsman named Larry Shelton. Larry worked his entire career at our local Armco Steel Mill in Ashland.

Larry, like the Ashland Armco Works, has now passed on, but what remains are these two symbols, the closed mill and this piece of brass — all of a generation of strong, talented craftsmen who took much pride in their work and helped grow our local economy and, in turn, build this nation into the superpower that it is today.

Not familiar with the process of “brassing” into a jobsite? Well, in the “old days,” each employee on a plant or construction project jobsite was issued a piece of brass similar to the picture of Larry’s brass.

The brass had an employee number etched onto it that identified that employee. The brass piece had a hole in it so that the brass could be hung on an attendance board by a nail.

Each shift change, a timekeeper/security guard would receive each employee’s brass piece and hang the brass on a nail board next to that employee’s number. This time-consuming, cumbersome process was management’s way to identify specifically who was on a job site at any give time during a shift. The only way for an employee to enter or leave a job site was to walk past the brass shack and have the security guard or timekeeper give you your employee-specific piece of brass for the shift.

I remember the use of brass shacks on job sites up into the late 1990s and early 2000s. It was around that time that industry began considering better, more accurate ways to keep time and attendance on job sites.

After the tragic 9/11 terror attacks of 2001, knowledge of who was on a plant or construction site and who was not became much more important, especially for “soft target” sites like oil refineries.

I was fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time, saw a need for better, more accurate accounting of employee attendance and created the patented MAC Portal — or as I called it back in my early days, the “Electronic Brass Shack.”

The first MAC Portals were built for industrial and construction sites in our local area, but today the MAC Portal exists at refineries, power plants and construction sites on six continents.

Just as the Armco Steel mill is now obsolete and no longer in operation, the day of the “brass shack” has now come and gone. It has been replaced with its electronic successor, the MAC Portal. The piece of brass has now been replaced with employee badges and the nail board, while the security guard has been replaced by an electronic badge reader.

I am honored that the MAC Portal, still manufactured right here in Ashland, could be a part of this wonderful industrial history that our country has enjoyed for centuries. It gives me a great sense of pride to know that the manufacturing of these MAC Portals, near Ashland and shipped globally, have created jobs that are replacing some of the steel mill jobs that have been lost in our area.

The steel mill workers and all the other great craftsmen in this nation have a tremendous story to tell. They have built the U.S. into the most powerful country in the world — and that story continues today. American industrial exceptionalism is alive and well, and our industrial ingenuity continues to propel our nation forward.

ROBERT SLAGEL is President, CEO and owner of Portable Solutions Group. He makes his home in Ironton.

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