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LM&F celebrating 100th anniversary in Laurel

Laurel has the distinction of being the place where two new industries originated. One was the Masonite Corporation. The other was the Lindsey Wagon Company, whose eight-wheel wagon revolutionized the lumber industry at the beginning of the 1900s.

Lindsey Wagon was the genesis of Laurel Machine & Foundry (LM&F), and this year LM&F is celebrating its 100th anniversary. Laurel’s oldest industry, owned by the Mulloy family since 1911, has 150 employees and more than 800 customers in 33 states, including Georgia-Pacific, International Paper, Roy Anderson, Essmuller, Howard Industries, Masonite and the Nissan plant in Canton. LM&F has facilities at its original site on Front Street in Laurel and at Hawkes Industrial Park, which were opened in 1989.

The company has steadily grown and changed over the decades, and two of the most significant changes have occurred in the last 10 years, according to Gene Mulloy, LM&F’s president.

“We use a couple of kinds of computer-controlled machine tools now, one in the mill shop and another kind in the fabricating shop in the cutting of plates.”

But the biggest change has been in the foundry, Mulloy said. “We’ve moved from the old cupel melting process with coke to a new electrical induction furnace.”

Mulloy explained that with the cupel process, cast iron was melted. And what was melted was what was produced. It depended on the cast iron. There was no way to control or alter it.

“But, with the new process, steel is used instead of iron — though a little iron is mixed in at times. Carbon and silica are added to the steel and you can check it before you pour it…add or change something, if necessary.”

Mulloy said that it’s like mixing a recipe. And quality is much better this way. Also, steel is more readily available than iron. LM&F operates as a general contract shop whose services include: The manufacturing and repair of custom machinery and machine parts from carbon and stainless steel, brass and aluminum for new and used equipment.

The casting of gray iron, alloy gray iron, ductile iron and brass, both machined and rough, which can be poured in sizes from four to 4,000 pounds.

Sheet, plate and structural work in stainless steel, aluminum and carbon, including mitered fittings, pipe, tubing and forged steel flanges, as well as fabricated storage tanks and pressure vessels and fabricated steel assemblies.

General job service shop repair and in-stock mill supplies, whose inventory includes more than 10,000 industrial and oil field mill supply items. This shop is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Changing an industry

No matter how much fine timber was available, it was useless unless there was an effective way of getting it out of the deep woods and swamps and to the sawmills. The standard, six-wheel wagons often slid in mud and capsized or couldn’t make it over deep ridges.

The Lindsey wagon had eight wheels, which gave it better balance, traction and made it steadier. The truck, which was one piece in the six-wheel wagons, was in sections and therefore flexible.

The eight-wheel wagon changed the lumber industry, first in Laurel, then throughout the Pine Belt and finally in Europe and South America. The Lindsey Wagon Company had a foundry division which made the metal parts for the wagons. In 1911, the Mulloy brothers, J.W. and Dick, who had come down from Meridian to work in the lumber business, bought this foundry division.

There were fewer than a dozen employees. The facility was located in two wooden buildings and most of the customers were local sawmills. And in 1924, when Masonite originated, LM&F constructed the first “explosion gun,” where wood could be exploded with steam inside a cylinder before being made into the hard-pressed Masonite board.

“Masonite is still one of our customers,” Gene said. “We do a lot of work for them, not only in Laurel but in their other locations, including overseas.”

J.W. was killed in an industrial accident in 1917. Dick became president and served until 1982, when Gene, J.W.’s grandson, became president. Trent Mulloy, Gene’s son, is LM&F vice president.

During the late 1990s and into the beginning of the 21st century, LM&F was prospering — 1997 saw the highest sales rate in the company’s history — and expanding.

In 1997-1998, the Foundry Division added a new core line, molding line and quality assurance clean room as well as tripling the size of its warehouse space, at a cost of some $500,000.

But, Gene Mulloy, it’s been a rough 2-1/2 years since Sept. 11, 2001. “We’re busy right now,” he said. “But the metals world, particularly, has had trouble in the past couple of years.”

Mulloy added that he’s not sure why, but that there are several possible reasons. “Well, there’s Iraq, with the government using so much steel in the war effort. And so many steel companies and foundries have gone out of business or consolidated. And, the story is that China is buying up all the scrap from us. Then, the dollar has been devalued.” Gene indicated that steel prices have “sky-rocketed, gone up as much as gasoline. The steel mills can name their own prices these days.”

Trent echoed his father in talking about the aftermath of the terrorist attack in 2001.

“After 9/11, manufacturing was in a lot of trouble,” he said.” And business was going offshore. But in the last four or five months, business has definitely been picking up. We have some new accounts and we’ve hired some new people.”

Trent said that eventually, LM&F wants to move all of its heavy manufacturing from Front Street out to the Hawkes facility.

“And we want to expand our service center and keep it at its present location, on Front Street.”

An anniversary celebration was held at the Hawkes facility recently, as some 600 employees, customers and friends peeled and ate a ton of crawfish and watched 100-pound anvils propelled by two pounds of gunpowder and shot 800 feet into the air in an anvil-shooting contest.

Contact MBJ contributing writer at George McNeill at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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