A Boot Strap Businessman Passes

by Curt Kovener curt-line.jpg

A local businessman who epitomized the solid work ethic axioms “Nose to the grind stone” and “Shoulder to the wheel” lost a lengthy battle with cancer on Sunday.

His parents named him Lee D. Royalty but we all knew him as “Sam”.

He came from a large family and humble beginnings and built what is today one Crothersville’s oldest industries from literally nothing to one of the largest producers of cellulose insulation in the eastern US.

The saga of Sam Royalty and his partner Earl Murray is an American success story. The two began as home builders, seeking a way to be competitive and lower costs of their homes to consumers, and developed on a way of taking a product that was thrown away—newspapers—and converting it into insulation for the homes they built.

In the cold winter off season, Sam & Earl worked on the technology and mechanical design of turning a useless product into an energy efficient, cost cutting commodity. I suppose it could be said they were in on the cutting edge of recycling in Indiana before recycling really became embraced by the public. But Sam often said they were looking for a way to keep their home building employees working throughout the winter months.

Eventually, a demand was generated for their home built product which prompted the pair to begin what we now know as Regal Industries.

Sam was the nuts & bolts guy at the plant. If something went wrong with a machine, something wasn’t working just as it was intended, Sam fixed it. He knew how because he was the one who built it. And when he wasn’t fixing he was supervising the day-to-day plant operations.

I can recall numerous time I visited the local plant I would see Sam, with his always present styrofoam cup full of coffee and his hair and jacket dusted with gray cellulose insulation, walking with all speed and due diligence to get to the next matter he felt needed to be addressed.

I sometimes joked with Sam that Regal couldn’t survive in business without the raw product produced by Crothersville Times readers when they finished with their weekly newspaper. Truth is, newspapers from throughout the state generally ended up as bagged insulation product. As consumers and newspaper print plants became more ‘green’ and aware of recycling and reusing, Regal’s source of raw material grew.

I remember the near tragedies at the local manufacturing plant. Over the years Regal has had a number of fires—when the raw product of paper and the heat generated in the manufacturing process meet those things will occur. There was one fire in the main manufacturing plant some years back. Even as firefighters battled the blaze to bring it under control, I recall seeing Sam and Earl huddled in the company break room. They had some paper napkins on the table and were outlining what needed to be done to get back into production and how to improve their efficiency with the new line.

Ten days after the fire, the company was back in production. Sam later told me that the whole motivation to get back into business was that “We have a lot of families depending on us for a pay check each week.”

It’s too damn bad that today’s Wall Street and financial CEO’s don’t have Sam’s business philosophy. If they did, our economy—and our nation—would be much better off.