Bob Mitchell: 1950s missed opportunity

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

As successful as Cassville was in the 1970s in acquiring payrolls for the community, there was an earlier failure that could have started whatever industrial revolution much earlier than experienced.

Ironically, the opportunity came from a Cassville native who had been successful in the invention and manufacture of truck trailer components.

Ted Hutchens, who started his fame in the latter years of World War II in manufacturing water tanks on sleds that were used in soaked jungles behind track vehicles, was anxious to locate a plant in Cassville that would make his latest invention that came to him in the early 1950s.

His earlier successes had been accomplished on North Boonville, just south of Commercial, in Springfield, where the firm, later known as Hutco Manufacturing, rolled out the sled-tanks, mostly destined for the use of the U.S. Marine Corps.

Just visiting

The possibility started with a stop-over visit with my mother at the Cassville Democrat when Hutchens, a native of Washburn and Cassville, was on his way to Ft. Smith, Ark., to have proto-types of his new idea made.

He mentioned during the visit about his plans and my Uncle Means quizzed him about locating the plant in Cassville. Hutchens was interested and suggested a meeting on his return trip might start the ball rolling toward that end. Such a meeting was arranged at the old Barry Hotel dining room, which was packed to hear the possibility of obtaining a new payroll.

Hutchens arrived at the meeting and visited briefly with old friends and then made his presentation to the group, leaving to permit Cassville to make a decision.

Discussion on the proposal went smoothly until a prominent figure brought up the failure of a Hutchens’ plant in Lamar a few years earlier. What this person didn’t mention was, sure there was a failure, but Hutchens went out on his own and secured a Lawn Boy Mower firm to move into the Barton County seat and take over his old facility, with even a larger payroll than he had on staff.

Some in the meeting took the attitude that if a failure had existed at Lamar, let us have a couple of them here, and that would have been a good thing.

Yet, there were the guiding forces of the community at the time, who didn’t want to take the risk. Later years proved them exactly wrong as Hutco built a plant at Mansfield and operated successfully to this day.

Pay scale

Later reasoning behind the opposition was the factor that Hutco probably upset the pay scale structure for this community, which at that time had many wages below the $1 per hour level. And, for many of them this would be more than they would be willing to absorb even to have the advancement of the community several years before it actually arrived.

In years that followed, Cassville did fool with a couple of cut and stitch firms that eventually either failed or moved to a more economic pay scale location.

With one of these, Cassville could have lost considerable funding had banker Arthur Smith not formed the deal and had equipment tied to the point that it could not be moved out of the community until paid in full.

This firm, moving to Arkansas, was later closed and the owner served prison time for unlawful financial dealings.

New breed

It took a new breed coming along in the 1970s with a determination that Cassville was going to get on the bandwagon so far as industrial development was concerned. And they did just that with acquiring Jumping-Jacks Shoes (which later became the home of Justin), FASCO Industries, Wells Aluminum, Alvey (which later became Thorco).

Coming here on their own, as obviously attracted by a quality workforce, were Able 2 Products and Precise Manufacturing. Both of which have grown considerably from their meager beginnings.

During this period, Cassville businesses and professionals, shelled out well over $100,000 to acquire building locations for those who dealt through the Industrial Development Corporation. And, there was never a project, which required lengthy periods of time as interest for Cassville’s advancement reigned high during that time.


In addition to financial contributions through the IDC and UDAG funds, there was help coming from several directions.

First, the City of Cassville, beginning, with former mayor Dr. Gale Purves, was in good condition as far as utilities were concerned to handle the projects.

Second, Gas Service Co., presided over by M.C. Braum, stood always ready to provide their services to the property lines.

Third, Barry Electric, under Joe Preddy, never shirked an inch in fulfilling their intentions to make whatever service that might be required to a newcomer.

Briefly, this is where we could have been earlier and are today.

Bob Mitchell is the former editor and publisher of the Cassville Democrat. He is a 2017 inductee to both the Missouri Press Association Hall of Fame and Missouri Southern State University’s Regional Media Hall of Fame.