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Photo Essay: Family-Owned Mac Steel in Rutland Closes After 70 Years

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Published April 5, 2023 at 10:00 a.m.


Driving along North Main Street in Rutland, you may have noticed a collection of fanciful metal sculptures — a massive dinosaur, a huge Minion and a complete jazz band, all made of steel. This is the Route 7 entrance to Mac Equipment and Steel, a family-owned Rutland institution that closed its doors last Friday after having been in business since the Eisenhower administration.

In 1953 David Mac saw an opportunity to collect and sell scrap metal and founded the company. Mac and his wife, Sonia, both Holocaust survivors, had met in a camp for displaced persons in Poland following World War II. The couple had immigrated to Rutland in 1949 thanks to a sponsorship from the local Jewish community.

David built the business and was eventually joined by his son, Israel, and later, grandson Josh. Following David's retirement around 1990, Israel, now 76, and Josh, 49, ran the company, buying and selling metal, and creating an invaluable resource for fabricators and artists alike.

I first met Israel and Josh in 2006 when I wrote a story about them for the Rutland Herald. Josh told me then that "iron is the most recyclable product on Earth."

"It can be processed over and over again and be recreated," he said. "Some businesses just sell new steel and others just do scrap recycling. Our business combines both."

Over the years, I have made occasional visits to take photos. When I heard the news on Vermont Public that Mac Steel would be closing, I made one last trip.

Wandering around Mac Steel's 65-acre yard, I saw countless piles of metals sorted into different categories. In one spot, I spied a vast pile of rusted brake rotors. Elsewhere were antique cars and trucks, including a Chevrolet Apache and a Hudson. The yard is a veritable outdoor museum of American industrial history.

"It's the best yard in Vermont and in the region," Salem, N.Y., sculptor Anthony Cafritz told me in 2006. "It straddles industrial history, and you can see a cross section or a diorama of industrial design. It reads like a real thick book of Vermont's past, present and historical usage of industrial metal.

"If you're stuck [for inspiration] in your studio you can go up to Mac Steel and it tantalizes new ideas and helps you rework things," Cafritz continued. "It can be a place of epiphany."

Josh was initially approached about offering the steelyard as a resource for artists around 2005 by West Rutland sculptor Glenn Campbell. "To me, it's one of the unknown museums that Rutland has," Campbell told me in 2006.

Over the past two decades, many artists have come to Mac Steel. In 2009 I photographed an iron pour, where members of the Rhode Island Iron Guild heated up old cast-iron parts and poured the liquefied iron into molds, creating a fiery performance art spectacle staged on a massive steel castle-like structure.

"You'll see people in the scrapyard that you won't see anywhere else," Cookie Mac, Israel's wife and Josh's mother, said in 2006. She completed the dynamic of the Mac Steel family business. "I'm the chief gofer," she said. "I mostly do work in the office and accounts, but I when I was younger, I would deliver steel all over Vermont," she said.

Asked why Mac Steel was closing, Josh said, "My Dad is about to be 77, and he needs a break. We were running on a skeleton crew." He added that finding help in their line of work is "nearly impossible."

"It's getting more expensive to run a business," he went on. "The markets have only got more volatile."

Another hurdle keeping the family business going: succession. Josh's son, Sam, is only 11, he noted, "and there's no one else to step in."

As for what he will miss the most, Josh said, "The coolest thing for me was working with my dad."

Asked what he learned from his father, who died in 1998, Israel replied, "If you work hard and treat people correctly, it'll be its own reward." But, he added, "It's a difficult and hard way to make a living."

The original print version of this article was headlined "On the Scrap Heap | Family-owned Mac Steel in Rutland closes after 70 years Story & Photos by caleb kenna"

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