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Wallflowers: 1940

Wallflowers: 1940

December 1940. Radford, Virginia. "Influx of construction workers in small town to build Hercules Powder Plant. Five of the boarders at Mrs. Pritchard's house in the parlor. Eighteen men board here." Medium format acetate negative by John Vachon. View full size.


My father moved to work at Hercules in 1966

I was born in Radford. My father worked there for 40 years. My grandfather and uncle also worked there.

I know two of their names

The fellow sitting in the rocking chair is Leo Donathon while the person to his immediate right sitting down is W.W. McDaniel. I'll leave the searching pleasure to you.

Putting the class

... into "working class."

Big Ben Bibs

were the brand made by Jellico Clothing Manufacturing; after many changes of ownership it was bought at one point by the more recognized Wrangler.

That isn't a price tag on the bibs, but rather the Big Ben logo, before it switched from white to a red or a gold background seen in later years.

Overalls and suit coat

My grandfather, who died in 1975 at age 91, wore that combination for every formal occasion -- church, weddings and funerals. His footwear was “high-quarters”, also called boondockers. He had two pairs -- one for work and another for Sunday, which he polished and brushed to a high sheen every Saturday night.

When he was 75 he worked with me (age 17) on grain harvest and made a dollar an hour, which he said was his best wages ever.

Farmer Chic

It's about time that overalls and suit jackets became a thing again.

Good lookin' guys

Bet the women of Radford were glad to have these men in town.

Well dressed

I'm always impressed with how well dressed most men were back in the day. This is a good example. Even the men wearing bib overalls have collared shirts and sport coats. They are all clean looking and well groomed. I'd bet they all have a fedora, trilby or homburg on a nearby hat rack too.

Tick... tick... tick...

Maybe it's just me, but I sense that time passed slowly at Mrs. Pritchard's boarding house.

Mr. 1/10th and small humans

Mr. 1/10th after he saw the photo was heard to say "Why did you make me wear my Sunday best for that?"

Also, why did they hire "little people" to work construction? If those are normal sized humans I'd like to know how tall Mrs. Pritchard's ceilings were.

Fun coincidence and great Shorpy story

I read this post this morning and then headed to my father's cabin in the mountains near Galax VA for a day trip. Visited with a neighbor there who had just secured a job with the military as a construction contractor in Radford. I said "hey, they built a powder plant there in 1940" to which he replied "that's right and how the heck did you know that?!?". I simply answered "Shorpy" and he just accepted the answer without further question.

Great group photo

I think the two guys on the right (standing and sitting) are brothers. Dressed alike and they have the same jaw, cheekbones, nose, and similar eyes. The guy with the pipe looks like the strong-willed one and younger--but you never know.
The guy on the left (that's not chopped off) looks like a fun-loving sort of person, but it's interesting how he's sitting kind of closed off, with hands clasped and legs crossed.

You always wonder what their lives were like, how things worked out for them, if they were mostly happy.

And yes, that's some busy wallpaper. I also think it's interesting how they'd just nail or tack any sort of small thing onto the wall; calendars or magazine items or whatever.

That's a pretty floor lamp, but an ugly shade.

Fascinating Fashion

Overalls with a dress jacket is a new one for me. Need to work on the tractor and meet with the bank at the same time? That’s how it’s done!

That wallpaper

As a builder I found that when people look at a little swatch of sample wallpaper or even paint colors they have no idea what is going to look like on an expanse of wall or ceiling. Many have made that mistake even after the advice of experts not to. Well they have to live with it!

18 boarders

With enough room for 18 boarders, Mrs. Pritchard's house must have been substantial.

And it looks like Mrs. Pritchard does not discriminate between white and blue collar.

But - does the gentleman on the rear right still sport the price label on his brand new bibs?

Why they built it there

The powder plant in Radford was one of several ammunition-producing facilities built in anticipation of involvement in World War II. A number of criteria were announced for selecting locations:

- In the South for access to cotton
- Near to sources of coal
- Away from the coast to prevent aerial bombardment
- "Suitable labor" (which evidently required importing these guys).

The plant is still operating.

Before they invented Excedrin

Why did people select such busy wallpaper? It's so busy it is just about giving me a migraine just looking at a picture of it. It's horrific.

The saintly nurse

I was never one of those girls who aspired to be a nurse, but I have a great deal of respect for all in that profession. The majority of my half-dozen-or-so hospital stays have been for the purpose of childbirth, between the years 1980 and 1989. During that time, at the community hospital where all four of my children were born, nurses still wore the white uniform with white stockings and shoes, and the cap with pins denoting their earned degrees. I miss that. To me, a (female) nurse will always be a gentle but brisk and efficient person in a white dress with white stockings and white shoes, and starched white cap, just like in that picture on the wall of Mrs. Pritchard's boarding house. I never actually saw a nurse with a beam from heaven radiating down upon her face, but around some, there was definitely an aura.

A bit more?

I'd say there are about 5 and 1/10th, actually.

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