Nancy Cassell

March 9, 2009

Concrete Evidence

Between her husband’s foolishness and her son’s rebellious attitude, how was she supposed to save Cassell Paints from ruin?
Nancy Cassell, half owner of the family business, was dressed in a long sleeved blue blouse to protect the fair skin of her arms from the burning sun. To shade her face she wore a wide brimmed tricolor cotton hat that seemed more French than American despite the red, white, and blue stripes. Light wool slacks were cooler than cotton and emphasized a figure that was trim for a woman in her mid-fifties.
Together, she and her husband Blain had sweated to build their paint business, to subdue the encroaching waters, to drive back the mosquitoes and to hold control over a company that had gone into debt many times in order to grow and compete in the paint business.
This land had always been tough to conquer. Since the time of the failed British campaign launched from the east against New Orleans in 1814, the hundred acres of shifting shell banks and soft sand that hosted Cassell Paints had perniciously resisted development. That is, until she and her husband Blain Cassell had cleared the brush and sunk pilings into the treacherous soil. They built their original paint manufacturing plant near the bayou at the back of the property figuring to take advantage of the waterway to move materials to and from the port. Five years later they moved everything nearer the road after being wiped out by rising water from a hurricane. The new facility was protected by eight foot levees on the south and east and a new drainage canal on the north.
Although Fall was supposed to bring cooler weather, Nancy Cassell wondered if the heat and humidity would ever moderate. Heat and humidity were bad for paint manufacturing—the high humidity ruined the resins and the heat caused problems with the volatile solvents. For the second week, New Orleans sweltered under a haze of chemical laden salt air. On the east side of New Orleans where all of the noxious materials seemed to settle, there wasn’t much in the way of Gulf breeze to disperse the brown layers of pollution. Light puff ball clouds floated slowly overhead while air movement sputtered eratically at ground level. The short shadows cast by the midday sun were colored a pale yellowish gray.
The six foot ventilation fans on the roof of the production area alternately growled or whined as the direction of the light breeze changed and the blades tried to make headway against fumes escaping from the mixing tanks that produced industrial paints of various grades and colors. Inside, carefully calibrated portions of expensive pigment mixtures were being added to a variety of viscous resins, thinned with high quality solvents, and finally sealed in drums and cans. Some of the paint would go on ship’s hulls, some on helicopter decks and military vehicles, and some would be used on railway cars and construction equipment. There were cheaper lines of product designed for ordinary architectural use. According to their motto, wherever the going was tough, Cassell Coatings were there to serve you.
She felt the circles of perspiration soaking through her blue blouse and the sweat running down the back of her neck as she held a bundle of important paperwork away from her body. She threaded her way around a stack of scrap steel that was as hot as a frying pan, avoided some black creosoted timbers that smelled like old railroad ties and cat piss, and stopped to look carefully for snakes before she stepped out onto the service walk along the wall of the last loading bay.
Nancy was determined that she wasn’t going to let her husband, Blain Sr. screw up the nuclear power plant project that she had launched despite a storm of protest from the board of directors. She saw the project as Cassell Coating’s last chance to redeem itself from the debacle over the antifouling coating business. They must succeed or else they’d have to sell out. She was afraid that Blain was already headed down his usual self destructive course.
Nancy Cassell turned the corner of the warehouse and continued on her short cut towards the laboratory building. As if to mock her efforts to save her company, she had to cross a path of brown grass that led towards an abandoned corner of the property. One of the “hopes” for the future of Cassell Coatings used to be reached down that path, now hidden behind a screen of bushes out of direct sight.
Blain’s great project had done so well and had gone so wrong. Nine years back, Cassell’s antifoulingi coating, their number one money making product, was going to be banned from U.S. ports as well as many marine facilities around the world as old-formulation antifouling coatings for ships had been changed under pressure from environmental restrictions. In desperation, Cassell Coatings had started talks with Coastal Technical Associates in hopes of developing new coatings to replace the old ones. Miraculously, CTA chemists had hit upon a unique solution that held considerable promise. Cassell couldn’t afford the normal strategy of trying thousands of formulas, testing, moving into hundreds of coatings, testing, and then getting to the one or two formulas that held promise, so Blain had okayed a budget for a lab scale trial and gambled on an all-or-nothing approach based on CTA’s untried theory.
Nancy’s education was in business, but even she had understood the implications of the chemistry.
Batches produced in the lab confirmed the theory. The price would be highly competitive because Cassell wouldn’t have to add any other, more expensive ingredients to their paint. In less than three years they had possession of a low toxicity, effective coating with a slow release the defended a ship’s hull against the onset of barnacle growth. Blain knew that they could revolutionize the antifouling industry.

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About charles frenzel

I've been writing all my life. I've also painted, composed, sculpted, contributed to molecular research, advanced some mathematical concepts, lived on a sailboat, and worked for a Nobel Prize winner. Nothing in my life has pleased me more than to share my life with my wife and friend of over forty years.

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One Response to “Nancy Cassell”

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