On a wintry New England day last week, 1,231 workers began drawing their last paychecks from the Waltham Watch Co., in Waltham, Mass. Then the oldest watch company in the U.S. shut its doors. Waltham Trustee Daniel J. Lyne blurted an angry explanation. "The RFC," he said, "is . . . out to sell the firm down the river."

But if anyone had been sold down the river, it looked as if it was RFC—which was once again caught in a losing proposition. Although Waltham has a famous 100-year-old name, the company was reorganized...

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