Soulé Steam Feed Works, Company History
 

Product Line

     The product line of Soulé Steam Feed Works focused on serving the lumber industry from 1892 until the mid-1950s. The products are listed below:
  • Soulé Rotary Steam Engine: Patented 1896 and 1902
  • Simplex Automatic Lumber Edge Stacker: Patented 1897
  • Simplex Lumber Hand Stacker
  • Simplex Lumber Flat Stacker: Patented 1905
  • Soulé Spee-d-twin Steam Engine: Patented 1923
  • Steam Operated Timber Unloader
  • “St. Bernard” Saw Mill Dog
  • Lumber Stacking Truck: Patented 1899
  • Success Cotton Seed Huller: Patented 1899
  • Soulé Single Cylinder Mechanical Log Turner

    This product line was manufactured at the subject location. The company’s most successful products fulfilled the needs of the large sawmill market that boomed from 1885 until the 1930s. The building boom that started in the large U.S. cities at the end of the 19th century and continued until the Great Depression created a great demand for lumber. This demand made Soulé’s product line viable and kept the company profitable for many years.

    Because steam was the only portable and dependable source of power during this period, the patented Soulé Rotary Steam Engine was used in several types of lumbering operations from 1892 until 1922. The rotary engine was used to drive a sawmill carriage or “feed” and was a dependable means for the sawmill operator to move the log into the spinning saw blade to cut the lumber. These rotary engines were also used to power winches that could drag and lift the logs onto railroad cars, wagons or into the sawmill. Ads that appeared regularly in The Tradesman through the 1890s announced, “The Soulé Steam Feed is the best on Earth, because it is the most durable and most easily controlled.” The ad further proclaimed the engine as “The quickest, simplest and cheapest, can be attached to any mill. Will save cost in one month run.” That was an extraordinary claim for a product during this period. A total of 2,300 rotary engines were built and sold across the U.S. and internationally. A few of these engines are still in operation in Australia and India. Over a period of years the Soulé rotary steam engines became known as “steam hogs” because they consumed a great amount of steam during operation. By 1905, Soulé had made another improvement in the rotary, but more efficient feeds were available. Soulé started developing a more efficient engine to operate sawmill feeds and log winches.

    By 1922 the Soulé Spee-d-twin, which was a two-cylinder reciprocating steam engine, was designed and patented. This engine became the favorite feed engine among the sawmill operators due to its efficiency, power and dependability. This engine featured a unique valve that allowed the engine to have a considerable amount of control both forward and reverse. Its configuration and size allowed an easy retrofit for any Soulé rotary engine or to the friction carriage feeds that were supplied with sawmills and were often difficult to maintain. The company built and sold 4,301 of these engines between 1923 and 1984. This number does not include all the engines that were returned to the factory, rebuilt and then resold to other customers. Records indicate that some of these engines were factory rebuilt three times. Company records show the ship date, purchaser and original end-user for each and every engine built. The durable engines were sold in all 50 states and internationally. The steam “shot-gun” sawmill carriage at the larger sawmills eventually replaced the reciprocating steam feed engine. The advent of gasoline and diesel engines and electric power to operate sawmills rendered steam an energy source of the past.

    The other important product patented and built by the Soulé Steam Feed Works was the automatic lumber stacking system. Lumber industry historians agree that without the automation introduced at the turn-of-the-century for the large sawmills, the steady supply of cheap, standardized lumber that fueled the building boom in America’s large cities would have not have been available.

    The first Soulé Simplex Edge Stacker was placed in operation in the mill of Camp & Hinton Co., at Lumberton, Mississippi in July 1895. From the beginning, Soulé’s method was a demonstration of the practicality of this method of stacking lumber on kiln cars and carrying it in that shape through the kilns. The method he used was to stack the lumber on edge rather and stacking it flat or horizontally. Kiln-dried wood, as compared with air-dried wood, was important in both the lumber industry and the building industry. The process created dimensionally stable lumber that provided better standardization and greater quality in building practices.  Soulé received a patent on the lumber-stacking machine on June 29, 1897. More than 100 of these stackers were installed in the largest sawmills in the United States. In 1919, it is estimated that 65 percent of the lumber production of this country was manufactured in a relatively few large mills, which represented less than 5 per cent of the total number of sawmills in the country according to Professor Ralph Clement Bryant in his 1922 book, “Lumber: Its Manufacture and Distribution.” Bryant also stated that 32 percent of the large mills were located in the southern states; 8 percent in the North Carolina pine region; 4 percent in West Virginia; 25 percent in the Pacific states; 12 percent in the Lake States; 4 percent in the Rocky Mountain region (Idaho and Montana); and 2 percent in New England. Thus, 44% of the large mills were located in the southeast region of the U.S. and readily serviced by Soulé. During 1919, there were 792 large mills cut more than 10 million board feet of lumber.

    The original design plans for the Soulé stackers are on file in the company vault. The list of installation plans reads as the “who’s who” of large sawmills. Some of the most notable mills included the Great Southern Lumber Company in Bogalusa, Louisiana, Grays Harbor Commercial Co. in Cosmopolis, Washington and Potlatch Lumber Company in Elk River, Idaho. Both the Great Southern Lumber Company and Grays Harbor Commercial Co. issued postcards illustrating the lumber stacking systems designed and built by Soulé.

    Charles Waterhouse Goodyear II, heir to the Goodyear timber company fortune, wrote the book “The Bogalusa Story”. This book relates how the Goodyear family of Buffalo, New York purchased vast amounts of timberland in the South and developed the Great Southern Lumber Company. They also built the mill town of Bogalusa, Louisiana. In the beginning they hired a seasoned lumberman, Will Sullivan, who set out to build a sawmill plant designed to output a million board feet of lumber every twenty-four hours. According to Goodyear’s account, Will Sullivan could visualize ingenious improvements in manufacturing practices that could be applied to the mechanization of lumber operations. Sullivan kept a mental blueprint of the mill in his mind supported by a notebook filled with data and sketches. The engineers who had designed mills from coast to coast offered little encouragement in building such a mill. Fortunately the Goodyear brothers believed in the plan and the mill was built. Goodyear calls this mill design the start of the machine age in the lumber industry. Mr. Sullivan told the engineers to utilize sorters and automatic stackers throughout the mill to keep handling to a minimum. The mill used the Soulé Simplex Automatic Stacker in every practical application. In April 1938 the last of the Great Southern Lumber Company's virgin timber was harvested and manufactured into lumber in the Bogalusa sawmill. After 30 years of operation the company was dissolved and the assets sold. It took nearly three years to liquidate the company. The mill was cut up and the scrap metal was sold. The destruction of this mill was a great loss considering the groundbreaking technology the mill embraced. The city of Bogalusa still exists, testament to the profitability of the lumber mill.

    Other products that were manufactured and marketed by Soulé include the “St. Bernard” Saw Mill Dog, a device used on the mill’s carriage bolster. It fulfilled the sawmill owner’s need for a cheap, simple and reliable dog, which would effectively hold small logs. This allowed the mill to utilize more small logs, thereby increasing lumber productivity from the forest. At the beginning of the 20th century, log utilization was roughly 50%. Through improvements such as the Soulé Simplex Stacker and the mill dog, productivity increased until now approximately 75% of the log is utilized.

  

Competitors

    There were few direct competitors to Soulé Steam Feed Works products. Companies such as Filer and Stowell focused on building and marketing sawmills sold with or without feeds. Most sawmills of the day used “friction feeds” which were often difficult to maintain and had a multitude of exposed parts, which could break or hang-up due to a build-up of sawdust, shutting down the mill until repairs were made. Several attempts were made by other manufacturers to develop a dependable steam feed. Wheland’s Machine Works in Chattanooga, Tennessee attempted to market a two-cylinder steam feed at the turn-of-the-century, but all indications show that it was not a great success. Clark-Peerless, another sawmill equipment manufacturer tried to market a steam feed during the 1890s, but it was not a popular choice and only one ad appears for this unit. By 1916, Lane Manufacturing of Montpelier, Vermont started selling a steam feed with their sawmill setup.

    The Soulé automatic stackers were patented in 1897 by the company and were fiercely protected. The law firm of Mason, Fenwick and Lawrence of Washington, D.C. handled the company’s infringement research, complaints and lawsuits.

    For many years there were no competitors for this product line. In 1916 Hilke Stacker Co of Middletown, New York devised a stacking system using a cable system, but Soulé was too well established for such a product line to be a success. Pawling and Harnischfeger of Milwaukee, Wisconsin marketed monorail hoists to move lumber and Matthews Gravity Conveyors marketed conveyors to move lumber, but neither devised or marketed an automated means of stacking lumber. When the patents eventually ran out in the late 1920s, such companies as Filer and Stowell began building stackers based on the Soulé design.

    The majority of products invented by George W. Soulé and manufactured and marketed by his company served the lumber industry. Soulé also patented the “Success” Cotton Seed Huller. This unit used a single knife to do the hulling instead of the twelve to sixteen knives or serrated crushing surfaces that the competition used. This allowed easy replacement and retargeting of the knife. This huller was introduced in 1897, but unfortunately there was a limited market for such a small-scale cottonseed huller and the line never took off. It was also hard to compete with companies such as Bauer Brothers of Springfield, Ohio and the Chandler Company of Bridgewater, Massachusetts who were the leaders in nut and seed oil extraction.

  

Marketing and Advertising

    From the very earliest day, Soulé Steam Feed Works advertising focused on the national market. The company’s existing advertising logbook, which runs from 1906 until 1974, records the names of trade and business publications, dates of issues and the amounts paid for promoting their products. This logbook shows that Soulé advertised exclusively in national and regional trade publications until March 1948. The earliest known instance of advertising by Soulé Steam Feed Works dates to 1892 in The Tradesman, published by Adolph S. Ochs in Chattanooga, Tennessee beginning in 1879, with more than 10,000 subscribers from across the U.S. This publication promoted industries and manufacturing in the South and had the reputation as a fair and honest publication during the period of “yellow journalism.” The company advertised in such influential industry publications as Iron Age, published by David Williams Publishing of New York and Manufacturers Record published in Baltimore.

    Soulé also published ads in lumber trade magazines such as the nationally distributed American Lumberman Weekly, Lumber Trade Journal, Lumber Review, Lumber World Record, and regional publications such as St. Louis Lumberman, West Coast Lumberman, Southern Lumber Journal, Mississippi Valley Lumberman and the Dixie Lumberman. They advertised monthly in American Lumberman from 1906 until 1944 and in the Southern Lumberman from 1906 until 1974. Soulé advertised in the West Coast Lumberman from 1930 until 1941.

    Soulé’s primary advertising emphasis was on the steam feeds, beginning with the rotary steam feed in 1892. This product was advertised until the introduction of the Spee-d-twin steam engine in 1923. There were several ads for the automatic lumber stackers, but they were inserted less frequently since these expensive units were designed for use in the largest capacity mills.

    After World War II most of the advertising focused on the local and regional market. Even though Soulé continued to manufacture the Spee-d-twin steam engine, the majority of advertising promoted the mill supplies, machine shop services, foundry casting and machine repair business.

 
As Employer

    Soulé Steam Feed Works trained and employed a number of individuals that worked their entire lives at the factory. These people became “fixtures” at Soulé and some were known by colorful nicknames. One memorable character, William “Hot” Sellers, assembled and repaired the Spee-d-twin engine until his retirement in the 1980s. The company continued to receive requests for his services decades after his retirement. There was also a steady flow of other workers who would train and work in the machine shop, then move on to other jobs. An excellent example is Richard Wiggins, a long-term employee who left to teach machine shop skills at Ross Collins Vocation School when the school opened in 1942.

     Soulé Steam Feed Works was a steady and dependable employer. The company paid employees an average of 50 to 70 cents per hour and the foreman and supervisors receiving a weekly cash stipend of between seven and nine dollars. According to the records the company operated six days per week with employees working an average of nine hours per day. These were the highest paying jobs in the Meridian area. In October 1907 Soulé employed 23 people in the foundry department and 23 machinists. By May 1917 the number had dropped to 31 employees due to the shortage of manpower brought on by World War I. Between 1922 and 1945 the company averaged 50 employees with 60 percent of the employees working in the machine shop and engine assembly shop.

    The company also encouraged an inventive spirit among their employees. Several employees went on to invent important items used today. A.D. Hunter invented and crafted a plane-to-plane air-refueling device in the Soulé machine shop. This unit was used during the Key Brothers’ successful endurance flight in 1936. The U.S. Air Force continues to use this same basic device to refuel fighter jets today. Another Soulé employee, David L. Stephenson, fabricated and welded the aluminum catwalk around the front of the the Key Brother's plane named the "Ole Miss". This modification was necessary for performing maintenance on the plane during the flight. The “Ole Miss” is now displayed in the National Air and Science Museum in Washington.

    James Keeton, who was married to George W. Soulé’s daughter and was a part owner of Soulé Steam Feed Works, modified his airplane as a refueling “tanker” and flew the refueling missions.

    Other former employees became inventors and businessmen. One of these notable individuals was Lawrence Secrest who patented a line of fabricating machinery and founded Secrest Machine Corporation of Alexandria, Virginia.

 


 

Description of Soulé Steam Feed Works Site

The Soulé Steam Feed Works is located on one complete city block at the edge of downtown Meridian, bounded by 5th Street on the north, 19th Avenue on the west, 4th Street on the south and 18th Avenue on the east. This block has contained industrial buildings or industrial processes since the early 1890s. The block was shared with residential houses until the 1980s. The previous owner removed the last of these wooden residential structures. The site now contains five buildings described in detail below. Neighboring buildings include the General Supply building to the south, which was built as a sawmill machinery manufacturing plant for the Cliff Williams Co. in the late 19th century. The Lauderdale County Detention Center, built in the 1990s, is located on the west side. A renovated 1950s Winn-Dixie Grocery Store, located to the east, now houses a warehouse and office. There are several non-historic, commercial buildings to the north built in the 1960s and 1970s. The recently rebuilt 1906 Union Station and Railway Express buildings are located one block away.

Building #1

   
Building Number One (see attached site plan) was built between 1890 and 1892 as the Meridian Candy Factory. The Soulé family relates that the building suffered fire damage and the owners sold the building to George W. Soulé. He converted it into a machine shop, assembly area and office for his fledgling steam engine business. The construction of the building is a brick, 2-story structure with heavy timber framing. The exterior of the building is covered with 2 layers of lime cement stucco with a heavy trim line in the center of the façade. The stucco was added to cover the brick in the 1930s and the second coat was added in the late 1960s. The upper portion of the west and south façades consists of a band that originally was painted and lettered with the name of the company. The north façade has a stucco plaque that was painted to match the company’s script logo. The downstairs of the building was converted to a mill supply store after 1907 when the new machine shop was added (see Building #2). The upstairs was converted into storage in the 1950s. The windows throughout the building are in irregular pattern and are wood 4 over 4 sashes. The window openings have a slight eyebrow arch.

    When the Mississippi Industrial Heritage Museum received title to the building in December 2003, the office space had been divided into cubicles and reflected several remodels. Two large steel I-beams spanned the space. The walls were covered with Masonite board during the earliest remodel, which was contracted to W.G. Wetmore, General Contractor in November 1919. The floors were covered with sheet vinyl from the 1970s. The ceiling was Celotex acoustical tile attached to furring strips that crisscrossed the original ceiling. Most of these features were in a very worn and shabby condition. The ceiling tiles were falling and there was evidence that the original pressed tin ceiling was above the tile.

    The Mississippi Industrial Heritage Museum restored the office to its 1920s appearance with the exception of the lower walls, which were replaced with tongue and groove pine boards installed below the chair rail. The Masonite board was irreparable in this area. The steel beams were removed since they were no longer needed to support the 2nd floor heavy storage. The metal ceiling was repaired and missing pieces were selected to closely match the originals. The upper portions of the walls and the ceilings were painted in the original colors using paint samples from the room. The shelving and the ceiling in the mill supply store were painted the original color.

    Another interesting feature of the office is the 8’ x 12’ fireproof vault. The vault door is accented with decorative surround featuring a pediment and pilasters painted black with gold trim. The company name is written in gold above the door. Some of the original vault furnishing exists including a wooden plan cabinet. The door is opened using a 5 number combination. The vault was built after the 1895 building fire that destroyed George W. Soulé’s office along with his correspondence and company records. This vault still holds the original company records, including the serial numbers and purchasers of each steam engine built, the blueprints for each of the automatic stacker systems that were installed, employee records, advertising ledger and accounting ledgers dating from the earliest days of the company.

  

Building #2

 

    Building #2 was built after 1907 and is directly adjacent to Building #1. There is no space between the buildings. A Meridian architect, Fred Gordon Shaw, designed the building, which represents the typical industrial building of the period. The original blueprints exist for the building, but it is apparent that changes were made during construction. The original blueprints show the staircase in one location, however it was built in another location. It appears that the upstairs was completed during the construction. The walls are 12 inches and 8 inches thick and are pressed brick. The windows are steel, full-height windows with a tilting feature for ventilation. The interior structure of the building is heavy wood beam with wooden floors on both the first and second floors. The first floor is installed directly on the ground and machinery is installed on concrete pads that pierce the wood floorboards. These belt-driven machines are operated by a line drive shaft that stretches 100-feet, almost the length of the building. This drive shaft utilizes one power source, now a large electric motor dating from the early 1920s. The building also contains a blacksmith shop located at the southeast corner of the building and includes two forges. One forge is a round hooded forge and the other is a fireplace force. Both forges use a blower powered by the overhead line drive shaft.

    A small rail and crane system allows the easy movement of heavy items around the building. The rail runs the complete length of the building and features a turntable that allows the rail cart to be turned 90 degrees to another rail that splits the building. Heavy loads can be moved between the foundry (Building #3) and the machine shop, as well as to the elevator or out to the street.

    The steam engine factory, located on the second floor, is exactly as it was built including the finished parts and partially completed assemblies left abandoned at the workstations and in the shelves when the company ceased manufacturing the engine. A 25-foot shaft powered some tools and attached fans to keep the area cooler in the summer. This shaft was driven by the main line drive shaft located on the first floor.

    A wooden overhead hoist system was created, so that the steam engines and large components could be lifted and transported anywhere in the final assembly area.

   An early 20th century employee locker room is located adjacent to the assembly area. This locker room has a battery of 24 sinks each with hot and cold running water. The sinks drain into a trough that allowed all the residue and metal shavings to collect below the sink and not stop up the drainpipes. These units were purchased from Manufacturing Equipment and Engineering Company of Framingham, Massachusetts. There are several homemade benches that were used by the employees when dressing and washing. There are numerous mirrors attached to the walls and plumbing pipes that allow the employees to get the last little bit of dirt off their faces. A communal shower with three showerheads was also provided for the workers. This shower has its original tin-lined walls, however the bottom floor was replaced with copper in the 1950s. There are 24 individual lockers, which were provided for the machine shop and assembly employees. The lockers are made of wood with a wire-covered top for ventilation. The doors are beaded pine boards and have a hasp with hasp staple for a small padlock. One employee, Mr. William “Hot” Sellers, worked for Soulé his entire work life and his locker still reflects his improvements from the 1930s including a scallop-edged mirror, comb holder and tray to hold his change. Other lockers have the previous employees’ names written above the doors. There is evidence that some lockers were papered with kraft paper in an effort to keep the owner’s clothes clean.

    The building also features a belt-driven wooden freight elevator that exists in its original form. This elevator was used to take the finished castings to the steam engine assembly room upstairs and carry the finished steam engines downstairs.

    In Building #2 about 75% of the original equipment remains installed in the building. As Soulé upgraded its technology, old equipment was removed and placed in storage. When the site was sold, all of the old equipment was returned to its original locations throughout the machine shop.

 

Building #3

 

    Building #3 is a two-story brick foundry built in 1917 with additions from 1923-1925. Van Keuren and Warren (later Denham, Van Keuren & Denham), an industrial engineering and mill architect firm in Birmingham, Alabama designed the building. This foundry represents state of the art industrial design in the early 20th century. The original detailed blueprints for the building are in the office vault.

    A Paxson cupola furnace stands near the western end of the building. This furnace pre-dates the building and was used to melt iron until the modern Pillar electric furnace was added in the early 1970s. The building features an “X” and “Y” axis overhead hoist system that allows molten iron to be poured anywhere in the building. The original bronze and brass furnace still exists in another part of the building, allowing the company to cast both iron and brass at any given time without conflict. In 1977 a Vulcan Engineering NoBake System was added. This NoBake System, one of the first of its kind, is a casting process that involves the use of chemical binders to bond the molding sand.  Sand is conveyed to the mold fill station in preparation for filling of the mold.  A mixer is used to blend the sand with the chemical binder and catalyst.  As the sand exits the mixer, the binder begins the chemical process of hardening.  This method of mold filling can be used for each half of the mold (cope and drag).  Each mold half is compacted to form a strong and dense mold.  A rollover is used to remove the mold half from the pattern box.  After the sand has set, a mold wash may be applied. The iron is poured into mold. The iron casting is removed from the mold in a “shake-out” process.

    The coexistence of these historical modern molding and casting technologies in one foundry is a distinctive, perhaps unique, feature of the Soulé site demonstrating the practical application of continuous advancements in industrial technology.

     A large metal-slatted drum that was originally belt-driven handled the “shake-out” process. The Soulé family states that this piece of equipment pre-dates the building.

    The core-making department is another unique area in this building. A belt-driven mixer stirs the clay preparing it for the process. A belt-driven extruder, much like a “playdoh” machine, pushes the clay through shapes and creates cores. Cores are used to make the voids (holes and other shapes) in the iron castings.

    This building has two employee locker rooms located upstairs at the western end of the building and next to the cupola furnace. These rooms are important because they exist in unaltered condition and show the amenities offered to the employees. These types of facilities were not available to the average worker in the South during this time period. These two locker rooms show there were distinct differences in amenities offered based on race and worker skills. One locker room was provided for African-American employees. It featured a single shower and single sink. There were very simple lockers with slatted doors. The other locker room was used by the white employees, but was not as nice as the locker room provided for the machinists and assembly employees in Building #2. There were four individual sinks with cold water to be shared among the employees. A single shower was available for the employees in this space. The lockers were not as large or as well built as those in building #2.

    The upstairs of the eastern half of the building was constructed as an upstairs addition in 1924-25 as the pattern making shop and pattern storage. Several thousand original wood patterns remain stored in a wooden shelving system that rise the full ceiling height of 18 feet. These patterns were made from mahogany and Spanish cedar. Much of the original woodworking equipment dates from the building’s construction. One unique piece of equipment dates to the early 20th century and is not commonly seen in historic woodworking shops. The American Machinery Company of Grand Rapids, Michigan manufactured the Oliver No. 2 Wood Trimmer.

  

Building #4

 

    Building #4 was built as a wagon factory showroom and office building. This building is not attached to any of the Soulé buildings and is not considered a contributing building to the site. Cliff Williams built it in the 1920s for use by the Hemmings Wagon Company. The building is a single story brick building with non-operable steel windows. The roof and truss system of wood is used within the brick structure. The building has been modified over the years with all the windows on the north wall being filled with brick. A large door at the alleyway was also bricked up in the past.

    Hemmings built a log-hauling wagon that competed with the Lindsey Log Wagon. It featured several innovations over their competition, but the company closed in the 1940s and Soulé purchased the building for a warehouse.

  

Building #5

 

    Building #5 is a corrugated metal building located at the northwest part of the property. It was originally built in the 1920s and was used as a garage and storage area for the company. It features an arch truss roofing system and a concrete floor that follows the elevation change from 5th Street to the alleyway. It is a non-contributing building.