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Early Merchants Hard-Nosed Businessmen

By Charles Cooper

Hello everyone, I hope you are having a good week. I don’t usually quote from a previous column, but this week I thought it was necessary. Bill Sissell said in his August 20 column that I didn’t mention the section crews, so I’ll revisit my August 13 column when we touched on this topic.

Someone asked me recently about the houses that were placed at intervals along the railroad and were painted an orange shade. I’ll include the answer I gave, which is they were section houses. In the old days, the maintenance was handled by crews that were responsible for so many miles, called sections.  

The section foreman lived right by the track in a section house. He had a hand car that hauled the crews to the job, and the necessary tools were locked in a tool shed also painted the same orange color.  

Mr. Wren Knight was the foreman responsible from Water Valley south and his section house was located where the Big Yank building was located in later years. Mr. Knight’s son, Bill, and I were in the same graduating class and I remember him working on the section during summer vacations. After graduation he went to work in maintenance and became an executive in the Chicago office.  

Bill was instrumental in getting the caboose for the Casey Jones museum. As far as I know, not one section house has survived and the work today is done by maintenance trucks equipped to run on the rails. The work once done by picks and shovels is automated.

I keep every column and there are over four hundred written over the last nine years.  

Do you remember that the fire station was once located where the Herald was before moving to its present location. The fire truck was backed in the alley next to it. Blu Clark was the Fire Marshal and volunteers made up the rest of the crew.      

“Fatty” Barnes was one of the most beloved characters in town and he would also be the last volunteer to reach the scene. They said that once he showed up late and someone commented about it and he replied, “Well, at least I’m in time to save the lot.”

He died after church one Sunday and the whole town went into mourning.  

Mrs. Barnes ran the lady’s hat department in McCullar-Suratt, and she and mother were the best of friends. Her son, Billy, along with Lonzo Harding and Buddy Hart, were the early employees of Trusty Funeral Home, which later became Newman-Gardner.  

Hugh Trusty was very hard-nosed about his competitor, the McLarty Funeral Home, and one day Buddy Hart came in wearing a new pair of shoes and when Hugh found out he had bought them at McLarty’s store, he threw a fit and had him take them back for a refund.  

Robert McLarty didn’t believe in burial insurance, so Will Gardner, who who knew everybody in the county, would stand outside the McClarty store and write burial policies on people.  

Of course, Robert McLarty was livid but since it was a public sidewalk there was nothing he could do. There  was nothing subtle about business rivals in those days.

Will Gardner almost single handed built Newman-Gardner to be the dominant funeral Home in Water Valley by building the largest burial insurance debit in the area.  

His strategy, coupled with the professional funeral directors team of Cap Gardner and O.V. Newman, eclipsed the McLarty Funeral Home until Hamric Henry took over in 1947.  

    As Hamric told me many times, “I had to practically start from scratch” and what a great job he and Dorothy Jane did.  It’s a tribute to his accomplishments that the chapel in Seven Oaks is named in his honor.  

I’ve always been proud that I had been a part of Newman-Gardner and Henry Funeral Home.  Don’t forget that I would welcome pictures with any of the memories you would like to share with us. My email is or write me at P.O. Box 613189 Memphis, Tn 38101 and have a great week.

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