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Wiard Plow

Photos: NYS Troopers in 1921 and a Wiard Plow sign

By Howard B. Owens


Photos from Albert Kurek. He isn't sure where the photos were taken. There's a sign that says "Wiard Plows" and a "Le Roy Plows" sign. The men are NYS Troopers and the photos are from 1921, Kurek said.


By mid-April, what's left of the Wiard Plow factory buildings will exist only in pictures

By Howard B. Owens


Old industrial buildings off of Swan Street that weren't destroyed by arson in 2010 are being felled by code enforcement in 2015.

Tom Mancuso, current owner of what was once the Wiard Plow Factory, appeared in City Court today to update Judge Michael Del Plato on his progress toward bringing the property into code compliance after citations were issued by the City of Batavia.

The case was continued to April 17, giving Mancuso time to complete demolition of the half-dozen brick structures on the property.

The only thing that will be left of what was once one of Batavia's landmark companies will be the former office building, which is owned by Smart Design and undergoing renovation.

Two of the old factory buildings were destroyed in a fire in 2010 that was deliberately set by a 14-year-old resident of the city. (For The Batavian's complete and comprehensive coverage of the fire and its aftermath, click here.)

For decades after Wiard Plow closed up shop, the buildings were used to house several small businesses. The Mancuso family invested money to help bring in business and support those businesses, but the buildings were all vacant by the time of the fire.

Tom Mancuso still had plans for the wood and brick industrial buildings, but the fire was a big set back.

"The arson fire destroyed everything we had invested," Mancuso said. "The insurance proceeds did not cover the loss, so we came out of pocket on the fire and now we're going to be out of pocket again on the demolition."

It took some time to get the necessary demolition permits from the state, but Mancuso is through that process and a contractor is on site, preparing the property to be ripped apart beam-by-beam, brick-by-brick.

Asked how much the demolition is costing his company, Mancuso said, "Too much. More than we have."

Still, Mancuso is looking at the bright side.

"It will make the street better," Mancuso said. "It's a good thing for the community. You hope something good will come of it. For years, we've tried to find somebody to build something or do something there so we can redevelop it. We'll hope this allows something good to happen sooner."




Youths accused of Wiard Plow arson will move quickly through family court

By Howard B. Owens

For the three youths being hauled into family court on arson charges stemming from the Wiard Plow fire on May 8, justice -- such as it is -- will be swift.

Family court operates much faster than adult court, according to Assistant County Attorney Durin Rogers.

Rogers spoke on the condition that his comments not be construed as speaking specifically about the arson case, but in general about how family court operates and what a youth facing felony charges might expect. He is prohibited by law from talking about specific cases in family court, where all matters are kept confidential.

The outcome of a case such as this could range from conditional discharge, to two years probation, to placement in a limited-security facility for up to 18 months. 

That's as close as a youth charged with a felony might come to prison, unless the young offender committed one of a series of offenses eligible for juvenile offender status.

As a JO, a youth could be tried as an adult.

The charges in this case do not fall within that statutory definition, Rogers said.

Some cases, he said, are just seen as acts of juvenile delinquency.

Asked if the public will ever know the outcome of the case, Rogers said he couldn't comment.

Det. Todd Crossett told WBTA this morning that the arrest of the three 14-year-olds is the last the public will ever hear of the case.

As for the parents of youths in such cases, they face no charges tied directly to their children's actions, and are not technically financially liable for the damage caused by a minor to private property, Rogers said. 

In family court, there are hearings and respondents (called defendants in adult court) who receive legal respresentation. A convicted youth can be ordered to pay restitution, but not the parents, Rogers said.

That doesn't mean the property owner victimized by an act of vandalism can't sue the parents. But in order to sue them, the property owner would have to know who the youth was who committed the crime. Asked if there was a procedure for a property owner to find out the name of defendant in family court, Rogers said he couldn't comment on that.

Crossett told WBTA this morning that detectives don't believe the three youths meant to burn down a building.

"I don't think there was the thought when they went in there to say, 'Let's burn the whole thing down,'" Crossett said.

With the old wood and chemicals in the building, Crossett said the youths' fascination with fire became something too big too fast.

"I think the fire just got really out of hand really fast," Crossett said.

The foundations of the old factory buildings have been cleared of debris, as the pictures with this post show. Owner Tom Mancuso was not available to comment today on the future of the space.

As the chapter on the May 8 fire comes to a close, Mancuso's company is also pushing ahead with the Masse Gateway Project.

Trio of 14-year-olds charged with arson in Wiard Plow fire

By Howard B. Owens

Three 14-year-old boys have been charged with setting the Wiard Plow factory fire, which destroyed a good portion of the historic structure May 8.

Because the boys are juveniles, their names are not being released by law enforcement. Two of the boys face two counts each of arson, 3rd, and the third member of the trio faces one count of arson, 3rd.

The first two boys are accused of starting an early afternoon fire in an abandoned office in the old factory. The 1:40 p.m. fire was quickly extinguished by the Batavia Fire Department after a passerby reported seeing smoke coming from the building before the fire had much chance to spread. 

All three were allegedly involved in starting a second fire in the evening -- reported at 7:40 p.m. --  which quickly engulfed a good portion the structure causing an estimated $288,000 damage.

Lead investigator Det. Kevin Czora along with other members of the Batavia Police Department, the fire department, New York State Fire and the Genesee County District Attorney's Office spent three months building the case against the suspects. Detectives conducted numerous interviews and gathered physical evidence.

The three juveniles, because of their ages, have been referred to Genesee County Family Court to answer the charges.

Besides the arson charges, all three were also charged with burglary, 3rd, criminal mischief, 2nd, and conspiracy, 4th.

For previous coverage, click here.

Detectives aiming for thorough investigation in Wiard Plow arson

By Howard B. Owens

While police investigators have concluded the Wiard Plow factory fire was intentionally set and they have at least two suspects, no arrests have been made yet.

"We're still trying to nail down a few things," said Det. Kevin Czora, who has been leading the investigation.

A number of youths may have been involved in setting both fires in the historic factory building on May 8. The first fire did little damage and was put out quickly. The second fire several hours later leveled the back part of the old brick, steel and wooden structure.

At least one person was present at the ignition of both fires, Czora said.

Czora said he doesn't know why the youths set the blaze.

They may have used accelerants to help push along the second fire, but lab results are not back yet.

After the State's fire dog, "Shadow," alerted on chemicals on the old factory floor, investigators attempted to gather traces of whatever chemicals were on the floor to send to a crime lab.

Detectives conducted numerous interviews over the past several weeks, Czora said. The interviews were key both in identifying suspects and corroborating statements.

In a release about the investigation earlier today, the PD said evidence used to crack the case included "electronic" evidence. Asked if that meant phone calls or text messages or cell phone photos, Czora just said, "communications."  He said the communications included suspects and witnesses.

The youths apparently entered the factory buildings without permission on dates previous to the fire, Czora said.

The case has taken a long time to develop to this point, Czora said, because investigators are trying document as many details as possible.

"Because of the scope -- the evidence, the witnesses, the suspects -- we just needed to make sure we investigated thoroughly and completely so as to make sure nothing is unidentified or missing from the investigation," Czora said.

It will be up to County Attorney Charles Zambito to file charges once the investigation is complete, and the youths will be dealt with in family court.

Juveniles are suspects in Wiard Plow factory arson

By Howard B. Owens

Unidentified juveniles are being blamed for the fire that destroyed a portion of the Wiard Plow factory building on May 8.

Following a weeks-long investigation, Batavia Police detectives have concluded the fire was arson.

In a news release this morning, the department said numerous interviews of suspects and witnesses as well as electronic and physical evidence led to the identification of the suspects.

Because of their age, the case against the suspects will be referred to family court, where defendants names are kept confidential.

Wiard Plow fire still labeled 'suspicious' by police

By Howard B. Owens

Don't call it "arson" just yet.

Batavia Police Detective Kevin Czora said this afternoon that just because the state's fire dog, "Shadow," detected the scent of chemicals in the old Wiard Plow building on Tuesday doesn't mean an accelerant was used to ignite Saturday's big fire.

"You're talking about the floor of an old business that used many different kinds of chemicals," Czora said.

The investigation continues, Czora said, and detectives continue to question various individuals in an attempt to figure out if the fire was deliberately set, and if so by whom, or if not, exactly what caused the fire.

A key to answer the questions will be what the state's fire lab determines were the chemicals that caught the nose of "Shadow."

Plans change: Wiard buildings destroyed in fire were going to stay

By Howard B. Owens

Redevelopment plans first published in 2005 for the area of Wiard Plow factory buildings show the section of buildings destroyed by fire being torn down.

However, when The Batavian spoke with Tom Mancuso of the Mancuso Business Development Group, Mancuso said the fire was a significant set back for redevelopment and the buildings destroyed were a key part of the project.

A reader pointed out this seeming contradiction, which we missed at first, so we got a message to Tom Mancuso -- who is traveling -- and Mancuso replied via e-mail:

Our current redevelopment plans for Swan had contemplated demolishing the street front buildings in order to create parking for the mixed use commercial/residential renovation of the 3 story building sections which have now been destroyed.

In view of this loss, we now need to evaluate the condition of the remaining structures, determine what will survive and decide what a feasible redevelopment of those sections might look like (and cost).

In a comment on our previous post, Tim Hens says:

The plan linked from the City Web Site is a "conceptual" plan from 2005. Things have changed in the redevelopment. I have been involved in the process and the Wiard Bldg was not one scheduled to be demolished.

Odor of accelerant found at Wiard Plow fire location

By Howard B. Owens

"Shadow" knows. The State's fire dog knows how to smell out the fuels that feed intentionally set fires.

This afternoon, "Shadow" alerted three times on a patch of uncovered Wiard Plow factory floor -- a space that was more recently the office of a button-making operation -- indicating a chemical was used to help spread the fire that destroyed the building Saturday night.

The location of the probable accelerant is a space adjacent to the office where a smaller fire was found and extinguished earlier Saturday.

The evidence now -- including burn patterns -- makes it clear that two separate fires were intentionally set at the location.

Wooden studs between the two fire locations show that the second, hotter fire was on the east side of the wall between the two spaces. On the west side, where the first fire started, much of the paper that was thoroughly soaked by the fire department when it responded to the 1:40 p.m. fire was only charred, not destroyed. There was still an old family photo completely untouched by flames in the piles of paper.

The baseboard of the west side of the wall was also unscathed, further indicating most of the heat from the fire was contained to the east side of the wall.

On the east side of that wall is where "Shadow" told his master that he smelled some sort of fuel. On the west side of the wall, "Shadow" never alerted on any scents, even though he made at least three passes through the former room.

Batavia Fire investigators immediately got to work gathering material from the floor to be sent off to a crime lab for analysis.

The lab may be able to determine what kind of accelerant was used.

Yesterday, Batavia Police detectives said they have no suspects in the case. Four to five subjects were interviewed soon after the fire erupted at 7:40 p.m., Saturday.

This afternoon, Det. Kevin Czora and Det. Todd Crossett were not immediately available for comment on developments in the case.

Above, Lt. James Steinbrenner points to burn patterns from the fire. The stud is shows more burning on the east side of the wall between two offices, and the baseboard behind the stud is still intact. This indicates that the fire which consumed the building started on the east side of the wall. The smaller fire put out earlier in the day was on the west side of the wall.

Here "Shadow" alerts on a second spot where he picked up a strong odor of accelerant. When "Shadow" finds accelerant, he immediately sits down. The last spot the dog's nose was at is where an investigator places a marker.

"Shadow's" reward for good work is getting to play tug, using a rolled up towel, with his master.

Investigators dig into rubble of Wiard Plow building

By Howard B. Owens

Investigators were on scene at the former Wiard Plow factory building this morning with a backhoe in an attempt to dig into the rubble and find the origin of Saturday's fire.

Digging started in the same location as the first fire on Saturday because, Lt. James Steinbrenner said, photos taken early in the second fire show that area as the hottest spot.

The backhoe was being used to remove the largest pieces of debris, and then investigators would use hand tools to dig down to the floor level.

Once the origin of the fire is located, investigators hope to determine the cause of the fire.

Mancuso: Destruction of Wiard Plow building is set back for redevelopment

By Howard B. Owens

The destruction of one of the Wiard Plow buildings in a massive fire Saturday will have the Mancuso Business Development Group going back to the drafting table, said owner Tom Mancuso on Monday night.

The very structure that was destroyed, despite its deteriorated condition, was a key building in redevelopment plans, Mancuso said.

"There's a lot to sort out and I still haven't processed it all yet," Mancuso said. "We need to understand what steps we need to take. We'll need to take some time and re-evaluate the viability of redevelopment."

Mancuso and the City of Batavia received a grant from RestoreNY for the Masse Gateway Project last year, which is the first phase of redevelopment of the million-plus square feet of industrial buildings that encompass the Harvester Center, the Masse building and the Wiard Plow structures.

Masse Gateway is intended to open an attractive entryway, featuring renovated Masse buildings off of Masse Place, into the entire Masse-Harvester-Wiard complex.

While the fire won't disrupt the Masse Gateway plans, Mancuso said, the building that was destroyed would have been redeveloped as early as phase two, and certainly by phase three.

The building was included in a RestoreNY grant that was rejected by the state a few years ago, Mancuso said, stressing its importance to his redevelopment plans.

"Now we have to move forward," Mancuso said. "I just don't know as we speak what that looks like."

The Wiard Plow building loss was a stunning blow, Mancuso admitted. When the buildings were acquired by the Mancuso Group in the 1980s it was with the intention to eventually redevelop the property, he said.

Mancuso even turned down offers a few years ago from construction firms that wanted to recover the beams in the building. Those developers offered to take the building down at no cost just to remove the heavy timber, but Mancuso turned down those offers because redevelopment rather than destruction was the goal.

"We bought the building to keep it from being torn down, so it is hard," Mancuso said. "It's not the way we wanted to see it go."

As for the bricks, which some people have speculated have some value, he said those evaluations might be overstated, but he would certainly entertain purchase offers for the old masonry.

Even as he takes a look at the viability of redevelopment, Mancuso said he is hopeful there will be a way to move forward.

UPDATE: In a comment on another post, Dennis Wight posted a link to the Masse Swan Village planning document (PDF) available on the City of Batavia's Web site. It clearly shows that the building destroyed in the fire was not intended to be one of the buildings left standing in the renovated complex. When we spoke last night, Tom Mancuso said he was leaving town for a few days. I have, however, left messages for him. I'll try to clarify this issue with him the next time we can talk.

Photo: One of the last photos ever taken from inside the Wiard Plow factory. It was snapped by The Batavian following a 1:40 p.m. fire on Saturday -- six hours before the second, more destructive fire. For the other three final photos available, click here

Interviews ongoing in Wiard Plow fire investigation

By Howard B. Owens

Four or five people were interviewed Saturday in connection with the Wiard Plow fire, which police are calling "suspicious," but stressing there is yet no direct evidence that the fire was set intentionally.

"We don't know if anybody was involved," said Det. Kevin Czora. "Again, it hasn't been ruled accidental and it hasn't been ruled intentional."

There is no evidence, according to a Batavia Police news release this afternoon, that the large inferno of Saturday night was the result of lingering embers from a fire earlier Saturday at the same location.

Fire officials stress that the location was checked by several fire personnel after the fire, and a fire investigator even returned to the scene an hour after the first fire was extinguished to continue his investigation. He saw nothing to suggest there was anything left smoldering.

Non-department witnesses were also in the building after the first fire and saw nothing to suggest the fire wasn't anything but completely extinguished.

The building was without electrical power, so a short or other electrical problem has been ruled out as a cause of the fire.

A reader of The Batavian reported seeing two youths running from the scene at the start of the second fire.

There have been no arrests in the case and Czora said that right now the police are just talking with individuals about what they may know or what they saw. None of the subjects are considered suspects at this time.

"We're continuing to do interviews and, where they may lead or not lead, we'll just have to wait and see," Czora said.

Lt. James Steinbrenner is continuing his investigation for the fire department. It will be up to him to determine the cause and origin of the fire. He was unavailable for comment this afternoon.

Earlier, Steinbrenner told The Batavian that it was unclear if the first fire was set intentionally or accidentally. There was evidence of casual use of fire in the building (such as four small birthday candles laying down with the burned ends hanging off a table in a room adjacent to where the fire started). The fire did not fit the profile of arson, Steinbrenner noted, because it occurred during the day and there was no accelerant used to fuel the fire.

The first fire, which was reported about 1:40 p.m., was a small fire contained to an abandoned office filled with reams and reams of old files.

Batavia Fire back on scene at Wiard to douse hot spot

By Howard B. Owens

Batavia Fire's Engine 12 was back on scene this afternoon after smoke started to rise from the rubble near the still intact part of the structure. While smoldering wood has been allowed burn well away from the remaining structure, firefighters were concerned this was a little too close. 

Curious area residents continue to drive by the Swan Street scene on a regular basis.

Area residents coming out to see ruins of Wiard Plow factory

By Howard B. Owens

As a few last whiffs of smoke drifted from debris of the old Wiard Plow factory in Batavia late this morning, streams of area residents drove by the Swan Street location to see for themselves the destruction from Saturday's massive fire.

What they saw was more than the rubble of bricks, charred beams and twisted metal. They also saw the remains of Batavia's once thriving industrial history.

Firefighters were on scene as late as 10:30 a.m. as investigators tried picking through the debris to find the factory floor, in hopes of confirming the fire's origin and possible cause.

Lt. James Steinbrenner said they did get to a portion of the floor, but not the area they want to investigate.  Steinbrenner said the location investigators would like to examine is under much heavier rubble.  He said it will take heavy equipment to remove and it's unclear yet who will pay for that work.

Arson is still suspected, but police detectives have yet to announce any findings.

More pictures after the jump:

The bottom two pictures show the smashed windows of two trucks that may be associated with a business that had been (and might still be) occupying another section of the Wiard Plow complex. Based on the location of the vehicles, it seems highly unlikely that these windows were smashed by falling bricks from the fire.  A more likely possibility is that they were smashed previously by vandals.

Old factory of one of Batavia's most historic businesses partially destroyed in fire

By Howard B. Owens

There was nothing Tom Mancuso could do but watch.

Mancuso, donning a New York Yankees ball cap, and wearing a gaunt, dour expression in the unseasonably cold night, stood for hours just watching as firefighters tried to beat back the hungry red and blue flames devouring his building, the old Wiard Plow factory that his firm acquired in the 1980s.

Through the battle, Mancuso rarely turned away. He just watched.

"You can always build another 100,000-square-foot building," Mancuso said at one point. "You can never replace a 100-year-old building."

An Alarm of Fire
Just before sunset Saturday, Genesee County Dispatch started to get calls of a fire at 33 Swan St. -- the same location where a smaller fire had been extinguished by the Batavia Fire Department earlier Saturday.

On a day when the dispatch center dealt with hundreds and hundreds of calls, the switch board lighting up just fit the pattern.

But this time, this was no "possible" structure fire. Witnesses -- and there were several -- reported seeing heavy smoke.

By the time the Batavia Fire Department was on scene, flames were already showing.

The call quickly went out for mutual-aid departments to respond -- from Le Roy, Stafford, Town of Batavia and several others.

By 8:15 p.m., big balls of flame were shooting from the back of the historic structure.

Among the witnesses to the initial smoke was a reader of The Batavian, who told us he saw two youths running from the building. He said that later those same two youngsters were being questioned by police.

A little after 11 p.m., The Batavian confirmed Batavia Police detectives Todd Crossett and Kevin Czora were at the police station talking with two juveniles. Their parents had also been called to the station.

Earlier in the day, the Batavia Fire Department responded to a report of smoke coming from the rear side of the same Wiard Plow building.

Two youths reported the fire, saying they were walking in the area when they spotted the smoke. Lt. James Steinbrenner said Batavia Police questioned the youths who reported the fire and determined they were in fact just witnesses and not involved in the possible arson.

The fire, according to Steinbrenner, appeared deliberately set. There were papers spread around the floor of an abandoned office space that had been ignited. The arrangement of the paper suggested it was sometimes used as bedding.

An electrical cause could be ruled out because the building had no utilities service.

People could gain access to the space where the fire was found through a collapsed wall in an inner courtyard-like area. There was evidence that somebody had used a pallet to construct a makeshift ladder to gain easy access from the courtyard down into the office area.

Four burned birthday candles sat on a table in a room adjacent to the office were the earlier fire was discovered.

That fire was completely extinguished by BFD before it had a chance to spread beyond the office.

This evening's fire, according to Steinbrenner, may have started several yards to the south of the earlier fire, but within the same group of rooms in the building.

Fire Protection
Mancuso was clearly concerned about access to his building. He said work crews just within the past couple of weeks had welded shut doors that vandals had been using to gain access by breaking locks. There was also a 10-foot-high chain-link fence that was supposed to prevent people from entering the courtyard area.

"It was secured from the casual person entering," Mancuso said.

Several fire companies from Genesee County responded to the blaze, including Le Roy, which over the previous six or seven hours had responded to 15 calls in its own district -- mostly trees and power lines down.

Batavia's interim fire chief, Craig Williams, said the first order of business was firefighter safety.

"It’s a vacant building, so our first priority is making sure our guys stay safe, so we weren’t going to enter the building," Williams said.

Firefighters formed a perimeter around the building, striking it with several streams of water -- including three aerial (or ladder) trucks.

One Batavia firefighter said Le Roy's ladder truck crew deserved special credit for attacking the fire from the front of the building and keeping the flames from spreading beyond the firewall.

“There were breeches in the firewall, because of construction and renovations over the years, but we dumped a lot of water on it," Williams said. "Between the firewall and our efforts it looks like we pretty much got it stopped at the firewall.”

All evening, temperatures were at or below freezing, and snow flurries occasionally blew through the scene.

Firefighters were universally thankful for the cold and damp weather. With the high winds of Saturday evening, the fire could have quickly and easily spread if not for the recent rains. The entire Harvester complex could have been lost. Winds of 30 to 40 mph were carrying embers directly over the old factory buildings.

Town of Batavia Fire was assigned early in the incident, Williams said, to watch over the Harvester buildings.

Shortly before 11 p.m., heavy-duty wrecking equipment was brought in to start knocking down bricks and mortar that were first set in the 1870s.

By knocking down the ancient walls, the remains of the fire could be more quickly extinguished.

By about 1 a.m., Sunday, most of the fire units who had responded were back in service.

Updated at 11:30 a.m., Sunday, to include information about weather conditions and potential damage to the Harvester complex.

Previous coverage:

Photos: Old Wiard Plow factory fire

By Howard B. Owens

Here are 29 photos from the scene of tonight's Wiard Plow factory fire.

More pictures after the jump:




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