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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 >>

Hickory Springs company faces financial difficulties in the 1940s

The furniture business lost its profitability in the 1940s because fewer people were buying new homes. For years, it was difficult for the Hickory Springs company to make enough money. Meanwhile, the company lost money because of an unscrupulous lawyer.

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

KATHLEEN KEARNS:
And did Parks talk to you about what had happened in the company before that? Did you hear stories?
PETE UNDERDOWN:
Oh, yes. When they were down there, I came home on leave one time and visited the plant down there and this A.J. Horton, I talked to him a long time about the spring business. I was always kind of mechanically inclined, and I got interested in it and knew a little bit about it. But at that time, Parks planned on me going into the furniture business with him, not the spring business. But in the meantime, the bottom dropped out of the furniture business. Everybody's business was bad. It was like having another Depression or something around here, because we depended just like everybody else in North Carolina did. Other than tobacco, furniture was the big producer. And at one time, Lenoir used to make seventy-two percent of all the casegoods made in the world in furniture. That's many years ago too.
KATHLEEN KEARNS:
When the bottom fell out, can you tell me what the causes of that were? Why did it get so bad?
PETE UNDERDOWN:
Well, everybody got in the business, and everybody got all the furniture they wanted. Like that dining room suite I was telling you about, made by hand back there sixty years ago or so, or fifty. I guess about it was about fifty-five, fifty-six years ago when I made that thing. It's still holding up real well. I bought a new table because I gave the old table away one time, didn't have room for it in my quarters when I went back on active duty, so I gave the table that I made away. Gave it to my father-in-law as a matter of fact, on account of I didn't like to eat at his dining room table on account of it had too many legs on it. You couldn't get your legs under the table without hitting a leg, so I gave it to him. It had pedestals on it. His had a leg here and then it folded out and had another set of legs and all such as that. Not a very good design for people who want to live in comfort. But it's still around there, and my sister was up here from Florida last week, and I bought a suite of dining room furniture from Bernhardt's, and she's moved all over the United States on account of her husband. Wound up and retired as a vice president of General Motors, and they lived up North and down South and just about everywhere while he was working for General Motors. And she had a dining room suite that I sent her from Bernhardt's back when I was working there many years ago. And she says it's still in perfect shape. I couldn't keep one hardly that perfect. But the bottom really just fell out of furniture because building was real slow and not a lot of people had money enough. This was before the day of Fannie Mae and everything and money was very tight.
KATHLEEN KEARNS:
Neil and Bob Bush each told me that during that period around '47 that several of the people that Parks was in business with turned out to be dishonest in one way or another.
PETE UNDERDOWN:
Yes, they did.
KATHLEEN KEARNS:
Can you tell me more about that?
PETE UNDERDOWN:
Number one, his lawyer, Parks's lawyer.
KATHLEEN KEARNS:
Was that Cummings?
PETE UNDERDOWN:
Yes, it was Ted Cummings. Has anybody told you anything about him?
KATHLEEN KEARNS:
I just have the name.
PETE UNDERDOWN:
Well, I'll tell you what he did. When Parks went to California to get the mess straightened out out there-.
KATHLEEN KEARNS:
The railcars of furniture?
PETE UNDERDOWN:
Right. He gave Ted Cummings sole power of attorney for Hickory Springs Company. When Parks came back to Hickory, he no longer owned Sherrill Furniture Company. Cummings had used Parks's power of attorney and had signed it over to himself. That was one crook []. And you couldn't bring a suit against him to save your neck. You couldn't get a lawyer. He was a very prominent lawyer. [END OF TAPE 2, SIDE A] [TAPE 2, SIDE B] [START OF TAPE 2, SIDE B] START OF TAPE 2, SIDE B
KATHLEEN KEARNS:
This is Tape 2, Side Number 2. Please continue.
PETE UNDERDOWN:
But anyhow, when Parks arrived back in Hickory, he no longer owned Sherrill Furniture Company, which he owned. Mr. Sherrill owned maybe a third of it. It was named Sherrill because it was one of his ventures that he was using the name of just anybody, like H [unclear] up at Hudson. But you know Sherrill is still in business today. It's really an outstanding company today, not due to anything that Mr. Cummings did, but due to the fact that they had a good foundation to start off with. And his signing it over to himself, at least Parks's and Mrs. Lewis's part of it over to himself, he became major shareholder in it. And it just never went to court. It was just a great loss that they should have pursued, but they didn't. And at the same time, Mr. Cummings had the authority to do that, because Parks had given him that authority. And we had several other little doings, the old Hickory Springs now. A contractor from up in Lenoir, a good friend of Parks's also, he went to school with his sons, a couple of his sons, built a plant at Granite Falls. Well, about four or five years after that plant up there was completed and everything, he showed up one morning with a bill for about-I don't know-somewhere around twenty-five thousand dollars. And he claimed that they still owed him on that building up there. And instead of going up there and taking over that building, the federal government came down here and took over Hickory Springs. Locked the doors.
KATHLEEN KEARNS:
When was this?
PETE UNDERDOWN:
This was about 1948.