Winston-Salem’s ‘reluctant millionaires,’ Part 2

“Free from the grip of Northern interlopers [after the 1911 breakup of the tobacco trust], Mr. RJ began force-feeding Reynolds stock to employees. … Never mind that many didn’t want to go into hock….As the value of Reynolds stock ballooned in coming years, Winston-Salem came to be known as ‘the city of reluctant millionaires.’…

“[After the 1989 buyout by KKR] the world’s greatest concentration of RJR shareholders [wasn’t] thanking [departing CEO F. Ross] Johnson even as the money gushed into town.  Nearly $2 billion of checks arrived there in the late-February mail….  The river of money had washed away the last of RJR’s stock. Local brokers and bankers who managed people’s money got calls from distraught clients. ‘I won’t sell my stock,’ more than one sobbed. ‘Daddy said don’t ever sell the RJR stock.’ They were patiently told they had to. They were told the world had changed.”

— From “Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco” by Bryan Burrough and John Helyar (1990)

Winston-Salem’s little ‘puddle jumper’ that could

On this day in 1948: Piedmont Airlines, headquartered in Winston-Salem, inaugurates passenger service with a DC-3 flight from Wilmington to Charlotte to Cincinnati.

Over the next four decades Piedmont will grow from what competitors dismiss as a “puddle jumper” to the nation’s eighth largest airline. In 1987 Piedmont is bought by Washington-based USAir [later US Airways] for $1.6 billion.

Pictured: Pinback button promoting Piedmont’s new flights from Charlotte to London Gatwick in 1987; plastic badge for child passengers; pinback button promoting Piedmont’s in-state Florida shuttle service, circa 1985.


Winston-Salem’s profitable pairing: tobacco and wagons


In a state with notoriously rough roads, the Nissen wagon — a lighter-duty counterpart of the Conestoga — played a crucial part in early production and distribution of tobacco.

Founded in 1834, the Nissen Wagon Works grew to cover more than 600 acres in Winston-Salem’s Waughtown community. By 1919 it was turning out 50 wagons a day. I was surprised to learn that production continued into the 1940s — who was still buying wagons that far into the automobile age?

Pictured: a celluloid pocket mirror from the collection.

Babe Sowers was a brick-layin’ man

“[John D. Rockefeller Jr.] did not feel satisfied with the quality of red bricks being made for the reconstructions and restorations [at Colonial Williamsburg] until his staff found, by serendipity, Babe Sowers, a black man who still molded bricks by hand on a farm near Winston-Salem, North Carolina, just as his great-great-grandfather and everyone in between had done.

“Babe Sowers became a hero to the Rockefeller purists. He could mold 12 bricks a minute, or 4,000 per day. John Henry, move over and make way for Babe Sowers, a man whose legendary efforts were witnessed and documented.”

— From “Mystic Chords of Memory: The Transformation of Tradition in American Culture” by Michael Kammen (1991)

Link dump pops first cork of year

— Revisiting the one-drop rule.

— Lost and found: Minor-league pitcher’s championship ring.

— Train station turned garage… turned train station?

— “In writing workshops I often see people trying to write Southern accents…. It should be done sparingly and only if…”

— R.I.P., Billy Joe Patton, last of the red-hot amateurs.

Unlike Panthers, link dump works Sundays

— Amy Sedaris says no thanks to North Carolina  turkey feathers.

— Before the Stevens Center was the Stevens Center….

— Discovery Channel sees a Whiteville man about a log.

— Baba Ram Dass: My son, the Greensboro capitalist.

Monday morning link dump: Patricia Neal, R.I.P.

Death noted: actress Patricia Neal, who played opposite Andy Griffith in the prescient and underrated “A Face in the Crowd” and opposite Gary Cooper in “Bright Leaf,” which inspired “Bright Leaves,” Ross McElwee’s  bittersweet documentary on tobacco.

— A big day for challenging long-accepted Civil War numbers: the death toll for North Carolina troops and the percentage of Confederates who owned slaves.

— Baseball Hall of Fame acknowledges error in plaque discovered by Durham blogger.

— “Junebug” screenwriter relishes the serendipity of Winston-Salem’s annual Bulky Item Collection day.

— Just when you thought Walter Dellinger couldn’t be any more ubiquitous….

Where Nixon was the one, a last hurrah


On this day in 1989: Richard Nixon, driven from office 15 years earlier by the Watergate scandal, addresses a fund-raiser for Gov. Jim Martin at Winston-Salem’s Benton Convention Center. It will be the 76-year-old Nixon’s final appearance in North Carolina, a state that twice gave him its presidential electoral votes.

“When I was in Washington, D.C., a couple days ago, I saw one of my friends in the press,” he tells the crowd of 300 campaign contributors. “The other one was out of town.”

3-ton statue weighs in for Meck Dec

Whatever your opinion of the long-disputed Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence, this  bronze-clad sculpture of deliveryman Captain James Jack is  quite a piece of advocacy art.

I can think of two other examples of equestrian statues in North Carolina: Gen. Nathanael Greene in Greensboro and R. J. Reynolds in Winston-Salem. Are there more?