Rushville Republican

May 7, 2013

Ward: When making furniture was king

Bill Ward
Rushville Republican

RUSHVILLE — I have fond memories of Rushville when it had three lumber yard/coal yards, four railroads went through town, the city owned the electric utility and the phone company was user owned and operated. The main industry was furniture, with three large manufacturers in town. International was the biggest by far and finally had over 300 employees before it left town. Rushville Furniture was a Lee Endres owned and operated plant on 11th and George in front of International’s office complex. Park Furniture was on 11th and Oliver by the railroad and made cherry bed room furniture basically.

In my life time, I can remember knowing families who had three generations working together at International.

The high school Vocational Department had one of the best wood working vocational programs I have ever seen. I remember many items coming out of that wood working class that were beautiful and wonderfully made. Those young men would in later years work for the local furniture industry. My family even had a cotton processing plant on 7th and Oliver that was basically started because of the furniture industry in town. My brother Gene was hired on after World War II by Carl Niessen and eventually became President of Schnadig Corporation, the latter day owners of International Furniture.

The vocational program at the high school was basically directed toward the furniture industry or farming. There was a metal working class that seemed to interest farmers’ sons and showed them how to weld and use metal to their benefit.

Both metal and wood working classes were held under the seats in Memorial Gym during my youth. All the needed equipment and tools were there and those two classes were the ones that were the most popular in the school at the time.

Park Furniture basically made wooden items for the bedroom: bed stands, chest of drawers, etc.

Rushville Furniture made some upholstered items, but basically was a wood maker too.

International was upholstered and had their engineering department in Rushville as well as manufacturing. In fact, prior to them enlarging their plant on 11th and George they had three plants in town. One was the old Park Furniture facility and the other was the Innis Pierce plant right across the alley from White Felt on 7th and Oliver.

The Innis and Pierce facility was the first of the furniture facilities to be placed in Rushville. It was a showcase plant for several years, even had a garden with three fountains in it including one that was used to house an alligator for several years. It was state of the art from the 1880s to the time it went under during the Depression. Our plant was the old ice plant right across an alley from this facility and our only customer to start off with was International. We even used heat from International to warm our plant for several years.

There was an alfalfa dehydrating facility behind the old Innis and Pierce plant owned by Farm Bureau that was used for several years after World War II. International had numerous people working both at 7th and Oliver, 11th and Oliver and 11th and George. I spent a lot of time at International as we supplied them with the cotton batting used in their product. We would run inventory, order, make and deliver it all for them.

I loved to watch the tack spitters work. They were called tack spitters for a good reason; they actually spit tacks to make the upholstered furniture. Each would have a hammer with a magnet on the end that would pick up the tack and hold it until it was hammered in the wood frame of a piece of furniture. The workers would put a handful of tacks in their mouths then spit out one at a time and pick it up out of their mouth with the hammer. I did notice a lot of individuals with missing teeth thanks to tack hammers being much harder than enamel teeth.

There was no plywood or cardboard used then, not like it is now. All the wood was kiln dried and cut to the correct patterns then glued and doweled into the furniture. It was good stuff that lasted years and years. Many of the upholsterers at International would moonlight at upholstery shops after work. When International left town many went into business as upholstery shops to make a living and most did well. Furniture was the main stay of industry in Rushville for some 50 years, finally dying out when International closed up and left town. I was fortunate in that I had managed to diversify some years before the furniture industry left town. We served Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin, Georgia and Florida with cotton batting until I sold out in 2002.

Rushville was noted for its fine furniture for many years. Now we have Trane, INTAT, Copeland and many farm related industries. Rushville is attempting to grow and do so by not relying on a single industry as we once did.

Our town and its people have changed over the years, some times for the better and also for the worse.