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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Bobby Wesley Bush, Sr., June 19, 2000. Interview I-0086. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Devastating fire destroys manufacturing plant as company experiences rapid growth

Bush describes the devastating fire of 1951 that leveled one the Hickory Springs plants in Lenoir, North Carolina. Sparked by the use of gas ovens, the fire led to the transfer of the main plant to Brookford, North Carolina. This remained as the main location for Hickory Springs until 1959, at which point the company boasted seven locations and built its new, main plant in Hickory, North Carolina. This anecdote reveals both the rapid growth of Hickory Springs Manufacturing Company in the 1950s and the danger of working with hazardous materials in factories.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Bobby Wesley Bush, Sr., June 19, 2000. Interview I-0086. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

I wanted to ask about that fire in 1951. I understand the plant just burned right to the ground.
Valentine's Day. A three-story building on Highland Avenue burned completely up. Cinder block building, steel beams and girders. And what the problem was, the ovens in the factory to temper the springs were fired by gas, not natural gas, manufactured gas. It was manufactured by Hickory Gas Company or something, and they piped it all over town. Well, the huge pipes come in because you'd use a lot when you were running those ovens. There was no cut-off. In fact there wasn't a cut-off until you got back to the manufacturing operation, and what happened, somehow the fire got started and this stuff was just whooshing in there, just building up a tremendous fire. I remember one of the things that impressed me was that we had a twenty-four-hour safe. It was supposed to be able to withstand fire for twenty-four hours, and the coin box in the safe, the coins were all melted together. Jack Tunnell had them as a paperweight on his desk. But that was a horrendous fire, believe me. And the company had just really started to almost break into the profits. Of course the Korean War came along and caused a lot of problems. So after that fire, they moved out to a plant in Brookford, which I think Anne Lewis owned at the time. Then the company bought it from Anne and then they expanded and expanded and expanded, making the plant longer and longer and longer because land on both sides wasn't available. So they stayed till 1959. That was the main location, but actually it wound up in 1959 that there were seven locations Hickory Springs was operating in. So built the new plant and moved everything in over the week of the Fourth in 1959.