Reveling in E.L. Bruce Company history

By Published On: March 23, 2012

One of the pleasures of getting involved with the Bruce Museum project many years ago was the opportunity to dive into lots of history, a hobby of mine. I went into especially deep waters of Bruce history this past Sunday afternoon when former E.L. Bruce Company employees Newt Hanson, Brooks Collins and William Ottis Hurst visited me at The Journal.

The purpose of the visit was to begin compiling a file for the museum, and hopefully a few stories for the paper down the line, of their work in “procurement” for Bruce Company.

Hanson, 85, who built the home my wife Lisa and I live in, began working at Bruce Company in 1951. He always makes note of the floor in one of our bedrooms which he made from the “shorts” from the Bruce mill. The approximate 18-inch strips of wood offer a contrast and character in the wood grain no modern hardwood floor could ever duplicate.

Brooks Collins worked one fall for Bruce Company in 1949 but noted that the log camp was “too rough” for him. He found other work until 1954 when he returned to Bruce Company for good.

William Ottis Hurst went to work for Bruce Company in 1959, but did some part-time work when he was in high school under the tutelage of Hanson.

They shared the story of how Hanson was in charge of “timber stand improvement” and was given a crew one summer made up of the Bruce football team, of which William Ottis was a member.

“I think the coach thought it would toughen them up,” Mr. Hanson chuckled.

We spent much of Sunday’s history session trying to document the many names who worked in procurement.

They spoke of R.C. Thomas, who was the first timber buyer in this area for the company.

George Rogers, who lived in a house where T-N-T Grocery is now, was their first boss. He was over the Bruce mill and five others in the company in the 1940s.

They shared stories of Odis Logan and Eb Williams, who led some of the early logging crews. We mentioned Upton Stewart, Roy Dye and log scaler Bob Arrington.

I enjoyed the stories of Leroy Kirby, who operated the first “Loggers Dream” – a machine with a boom and tongs that was invented by a Louisville man for loading logs. Previously they had to be rolled up two skid poles on to the railroad cars and wagons. I could imagine what kind of difficult job that would have been given some of the early pictures of the massive hardwood being harvested.

Other names in our storytelling session included Jan Kisner, Jerry Warrington, Danny Massey, Fred Ludlow, T.W. Plunk, Joe Grist, James Ferguson, Bob Buchanan, Scott Suber, Bobby Cassidy, J.T. Holt, “Sunshine” Makemson and Travis Johnson, just to name a few.

The threesome have agreed to round up all the documents and memories they can so that I can continue compiling a history for the museum and a series of stories in The Journal.

Sunday afternoon’s visit was just a small taste of what’s to come as the four of us continue working on this project. Without question it certainly whet my appetite for more.

You may email Joel McNeece at joelmcneece@gmail.com

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