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Auction taking place at fifth-generation business

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Vanes Boiler Works (above) in its heyday. The building (below) will be the site of an inventory and equipment auction Saturday.
Incorporated the same time as Brazil in 1873, the oldest family owned and operated business in the city, Vanes Boiler Works, will be selling off all the remaining inventory and equipment Saturday.

"Scrap is at a high price right now," family matriarch Shirley Vanes told The Brazil Times about the upcoming auction by Wyndham Brothers Auction Company. "There's also a lot of antiques, scrap material and working machines in the building."

Located at 114 West Montgomery, Brazil, the fifth-generation business was an integral part of Brazil history.

John Vanes, a boilermaker, started the business, which acquired three patents in the United States, and possibly a fourth in France for technological advancements in the manufacture of boilers.

The company was a busy place that employed more than 50 people in its heyday, with the men of the Vanes family at the reigns.

"It was (William "Bill" Vanes') joy, and his pain," Greg D. Vanes told The Brazil Times, in 2006, of his father's devotion to the family business. "He wanted to be in that chair every day."

When boilers stopped being manufactured in the mid 1950s, fabrication work, steel sales and a few repairs for local steel bridges, clay plants, coal mines and trucking companies became the main revenue for the business.

In 1998, while celebrating its 125th anniversary, Lt. Gov. Frank O'Bannon recognized the business and the Vanes family.

However, as time and technology moved forward, repair work on boilers slowly faded away as a source of income.

On March 7, 2005, Bill spent his last full day working at the business due to failing health. Bill died a couple months later, but the family didn't give up on the legacy he left behind.

Recognizing the need for new technology to upgrade the business, the big questions facing the family were the cost feasibility, rising health insurance premiums, operating expenses and soaring steel prices. Deciding how to carry on was a tough and reluctant decision for all involved, but practicality won and the family closed the business Jan. 13, 2006.

However, hope remained that the family business would reopen again. But a tough economy sealed its fate.

Although Vanes Boiler Works is closing for good, its place in local history possibly won't be forgotten. Shirley said the Vanes family is currently considering donating items and memorabilia from the business to the Clay County Historical Society.

"It would be a way for its memory to continue on. If the museum is interested, we could do that," Shirley told The Brazil Times about making arrangements for the final closure of the business. "We've worried and fretted about this for so long. It's been a sad time. Honestly, it's sort of a relief not to worry about it anymore."

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I have fond memories of growing up near the boiler works and playing with Billy, John and Greg.

My thoughts and prayers are with you guys.


-- Posted by slkinz@sbcglobal.net on Thu, Dec 2, 2010, at 6:13 PM

very very sad to see this happen to such a great place!

-- Posted by FIREMEDIC on Fri, Dec 3, 2010, at 12:09 AM

Wonder what Bill did with all them calendars from over the years? Funny what a person remembers.

-- Posted by driverdude on Fri, Dec 3, 2010, at 12:08 PM

Driverdude, I had the same thought as soon as started reading this story. However I also remember a very nice family who would do anything to help those in need.

-- Posted by jddriver4960 on Sat, Dec 4, 2010, at 9:57 AM

It would be a shame to see this building torn down. It is a part of history for Brazil. I would like to see this building saved, once it's gone we can't bring it back. I would buy it for the right price myself.

-- Posted by JimJim69 on Sun, Dec 5, 2010, at 7:24 PM

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