A chicken in every pot
Annie Faye: Other than the early retail stores, Cattle Barn and Thomas Conveyor, what other companies employed locals?
John: That is a good question. I hadn’t given it much thought. In James L. Haley’s book Burleson Century, there is a chapter on the transformation of Burleson from a farming community into an urban community. During the 1940’s and 1950’s many of the locals sought employment in the surrounding communities. Many moved to where the jobs were. Burleson business and civic leaders responded by starting new businesses to provide jobs to those that wanted to live and work in Burleson.
Dick Thomas is one of my “go-to’s” when I need to know something about the “good old days” in Burleson. Dick, son of Jack Taylor, told me that his uncle Winston Taylor partnered with Harold Warren and Harry Rand and created a firm to organize a broiler processing plant in Burleson. (As a side note, all three of these men have a street bearing their family name, and Jack Taylor has an elementary school named in his honor. Thomas Street, which is north of Mound Elementary, bears the name of Dick Thomas.)
Mr. Haley describes the broiler processing plant thusly, “One of the most hopeful enterprises was a broiler processing plant that employed 30 people. It opened in January 1949, dressing over 15,000 chickens for market every week, but with double that capacity and the ambition to encourage local chicken farmers to deliver enough chickens to keep them busy. To manage the operation, the firm brought in Stacy Calvin, plant superintendent of a similar operation in Corsicana. He arrived with his wife of two years, Vera.” (As a side note, Stacy and Vera became very influential in Burleson. He served on the B.I.S.D. school board, and she served Burleson on the city council and as mayor.)
Back to Dick Thomas. He told me that his uncle Winston hired him and others to come in the evening and clean up the mess made by the employees after they had killed and processed 3,000 chickens that day. They made sure all the feathers were in one barrel, all the blood was in another barrel and the chickens feet, heads and entrails were in another. After they had packed up the gory stuff and set it outside, they would hose down the plant to make it ready for the next day’s delivery of live chickens for processing. A rendering plant would remove the barrels each night. Armour and Company would pick up the processed chickens, take them to Fort Worth and package them as Armour Star Chickens and sell to meat markets. Probably some of them were sold to Taylor’s Big Four meat market in Burleson. Such is the circle of life.
Dick also explained the processing to me. The firm would deliver chicken feed and baby chicks, which were brought to Burleson by train, free of charge to the chicken farmers, who would then house them in special chicken houses. Nine weeks later, the farmers would deliver the grown chickens back to the firm where the farmer was paid for the grown chickens less than the cost of the chicks and feed. It seems like a win-win arrangement for the farmer and processor unless the chicken died during the nine weeks.
The assembly line from the live chicken hanging by its feet on a conveyor belt to a chicken ready for the skillet was a sight to see and can best be described by Dick Thomas. I am sure it would be similar to processing hogs and cows for the family table.
John Duke Smith is a local history buff. Ask him a question at firstname.lastname@example.org