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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Sidney Leneer Pete Underdown, June 18, 2000. Interview I-0091. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Parks Underdown had little money left after a streak of financial mishaps

Parks Underdown's company lost a great deal of money after a trainload of cotton batting failed inspection and a manager stole the employees' withholding tax funds. Underdown paid some of those expenses out of his own funds, which made it difficult for him to raise money.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Sidney Leneer Pete Underdown, June 18, 2000. Interview I-0091. 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

Just between us-I don't whether we ought to record this-he couldn't raise forty thousand dollars in cash in 1948. He was hurting. Now this conversation is between me and you. You can record it. Right before I came to work with him, we'd got in kind of bad shape. Shipped a trainload of furniture to California, and the cotton batting was supposed to be all new cotton and all of that. You didn't buy all new cotton batting back in those days. There was so much trash in it and everything. What cotton batting was made from was the sweepings out of the cotton mill. You take it down to the garnet room they called it, and you'd take a bale of cotton and you'd run it through the garnet and there's a bunch of stuff left over that you just don't put in there. But that's what cotton batting is made out of. And we used to manufacture that at Lenoir Pad and Paper too, had a big operation on that. But the inspector in California, this whole train load, went to one car and just took his knife and cut a cushion open and out comes the cotton batting and he says, "It's not pure cotton, not pure cotton." And they condemned the whole train load and it was setting on a side track out in California with demurrage on it, having to pay. I wasn't having to pay, but they were. And that almost broke him. But this was about sixty or seventy boxcar loads of furniture setting out there.
KATHLEEN KEARNS:
Do you know how much it was worth, what it would have been sold for?
PETE UNDERDOWN:
Oh, I'd say about fifty thousand dollars, in that neighborhood. Going back again to the fact that you could buy a lot of furniture at that time for fifty thousand dollars. But this was a trainload of it, and it cost them more than that to get it sanitized, and then repaired where the inspectors went through it, and then get it back on the market. Now, I don't know how much it cost, but I know it cost a lot to do it, and they were kind of hard-pressed for cash about that time. When I went to work for Hickory Springs, they were also a little hard-pressed down there, because one plant that we had, the manager took off and went to South America with all the withholding money that had been withheld from all the employees there for three months, their tax, Social Security, and everything that had been withheld. That was a rather high amount. I don't remember exactly how much. And he went down to South America to a country that we couldn't get him out of.
KATHLEEN KEARNS:
This was with Hickory Springs?
PETE UNDERDOWN:
No, this was the plant up where Koehler Campbell used to be.
KATHLEEN KEARNS:
The furniture plant?
PETE UNDERDOWN:
Yes, the furniture plant.
KATHLEEN KEARNS:
Was that the same plant that had the trainload of furniture that you were just telling me about?
PETE UNDERDOWN:
Part of it, yes. The whole trainload, when they found that one there. And remember that-. Well, actually, Sherrill Furniture, which is a big outfit now, Sherrill Furniture and the plant up there and the Huffman plant in Hudson.
KATHLEEN KEARNS:
H-U-F-F-M-A-N?
PETE UNDERDOWN:
Huffman, Avery Huffman was the manager of it. And Hudson. And all that, when it all got together it made a-they had to load it down in Hickory on the team siding, load the car. So I'm not sure exactly which plant it did come from, but part of it did come from that plant up there in Granite Falls.