Even major fire couldn't keep buggy plant idle for long
At 7:15 a.m. on Wednesday, March 18, 1914, everything was business as usual at the John J. DELKER Buggy Plant here. Little did anyone dream how much things would change in the next 15 minutes.
Workers were on the job in the three-story building constructing and outfitting carriages that ads claimed were lighter, stronger and "handsomer" than the competition's. Each week, the 60 employees completed 90 buggies and even at that brick rate they couldn't fill all the orders that were coming in.
At 7:30 a.m., fire broke out on the plant's second floor in the trimming room where straw, hair and other materials used in filling buggy cushions were located.
So complete was the building's devastation that no one could be sure of the flame's source, but it was theorized that an over-heated stove was the origin.
So rapidly did the tongues of fire spread that even when the large brick building was virtually engulfed, some of the workmen still were unaware of the conflagration.
And their lives were in peril. As the Henderson Daily Gleaner reported the next day, "The flames quickly burst through to the third story to the paint, oil and varnish room. These liquids added fuel to the flames and before the fire department could arrive the entire building was a roaring furnace with flames shooting hundreds of feet into the sky."
When the fire exploded through the third floor, some 15 employees on that floor fled to the stairway but found their exit cut off by a wall of flames. They then rushed to the elevator shaft and, the Gleaner said, "made a hasty descent just in the nick of time. As they passed the second floor flames enveloped the shaft."
The roof had no sooner caved in than the sidewalls began to crumble and crash down. "Chief (Lonnie SMITH) and Firemen STEPHON and KRAMER had narrow escapes from death or injury by falling walls," the newspaper related. "They were working with streams near the east wall when Chief SMITH noticed the wall tottering.
'He warned the men to a place of safety and within a few moments the wall tumbled down."
Realizing that the plant could not be saved, firemen turned their attention to the DELKER Brothers building situated within 10 feet of the buggy factory. Six streams were turned on that threatened structure. Nevertheless, the building's south wall was ruined by the intense heat and would have to be rebuilt.
Much less fortunate, however, was the boarding house that belonged to Mrs. Tom HOPWOOD at the rear of the buggy plant. That building was destroyed and Mrs. HOPWOOD - unlike John DELKER - had no insurance. DELKER reported he had 80 percent coverage on the buggy factory, but poor Mrs. HOPWOOD told the paper her policy had expired only a short time earlier.
It seems nothing less than a miracle that the fires claimed no lives. Though many of Mrs. HOPWOOD'S boarders were sleeping when the house began to burn, all managed to escape.
DELKER may have set some kind of record for getting back to business. Moving at lightning speed, he and workers had gotten company ledgers and a dozen carriages out of the building in the first moments of the disaster.
"Within a few hours after the fire he opened again for business in the old KITCHEL factory building which he owns on the corner of First and Ingram Streets," the Gleaner said. "From this building he will fill orders as rapidly as possible. Necessary machinery will be installed in the building as quickly as possible."
Reprinted with permission.