(l-r) Jim Schwab, Pallet Logistics of America; Brent McClendon, NWPCA; Jimmy Wilson, Bay Wood Products, Inc.; Jim Taylor, Pensacola Skid & Pallet, Inc.; Robert Trexler, Pasadena Skid & Pallet, Inc.; Bob Wenner, Pallet Service Corporation; Hollis Large; Tommy Orr, WNC Pallet & Forest Products Co.; Tom Thrash, WNC Pallet & Forest Products Co.
More than 40 years ago, a group of well-intentioned young men commissioned a coffee table be made to resemble a high-end wooden pallet. The table was to be a gift for an influential U.S. Senator credited with bringing new industry and jobs to impoverished West Virginia.
As it turns out, the gift never made it to the lawmaker. A supervisor of the young men at a forest products marketing laboratory where they worked, discovered the table and squashed the plan. The table was destined for the office of the now late Senator Robert Byrd. That supervisor also directed an employee to take the one-of-a-kind gift out of the government-run office, and that is how the handsome table wound up with Hollis Large.
Large, a recent college graduate in 1971 with an entrepreneurial spirit, was leaving the USDA Forest Service Facility in Princeton, West Virginia to embark on a pallet manufacturing career in north Alabama. Decades later, Large gave the table to his friend and business partner Jimmy Wilson, the founder and president of Bay Wood Products in southern Alabama.
For a few years in the early 1970s, Large worked with the USDA Forestry Division in West Virginia. “I was placed in the pallet project division,” he said. “Our focus and objective was to find and develop markets for low-grade hardwood lumber” which was abundant there. Large and his coworkers, including the late Hugh Reynolds and the late Dr. Walt Wallin, decided the U.S. Postal Service might be a good customer for wooden pallets. At the time, the postal service was still using heavy canvas bags to ship magazines and other periodicals.
“What Hugh had in mind,” Large said, “was instead of putting them in mail sacks, to put them in bundles and stack them on wood pallets.”
The men took their big idea to Washington, to the post master general himself. “We had some pallets made and stacked them and it worked. It was beautiful, it worked so well. We took all this data and information to Washington to the main post office facility. They just weren’t sure.”
Large remembers the Post Master General and his top deputies worrying that the postal docks weren’t the right height. They also didn’t own forklifts and had no money for that kind of large-scale purchase. After several days in Washington, the men from the U.S. Forestry Department thought they were defeated.
“We left very discouraged,” Large said. Hugh Reynolds, though, described by Large as having a little more gumption than most, visited Senator Byrd’s office before they left. “He showed them the numbers and that it would save the post office many, many millions of dollars.”
The senator’s staff members listened to his ideas and said they would see what they could do.
“The next year, the post office was budgeted money to buy fork lifts and fix the docks,” Large said. “We wrote the specifications at the laboratory where I worked and they bought them. For some years, the post office was buying and using pallets and we felt really good about that.”
That genuine goodwill, Large said, prompted the forestry team to have the coffee table crafted for Senator Byrd.
“It was a master piece of wood workmanship,” Large said. A carpenter named Buzz who worked with the team, built the table in his spare time. “It had the U.S. Post Office logo on it. It was FAS kiln-dried oak. That’s the highest grade. It was a fine piece of furniture.”
When the chief of the laboratory saw the table, Large recalled, he told them he would rather they not give it to the Senator. “I worked there for four years and I resigned my position at the laboratory to move to Alabama. The chief said since you are going to go make pallets, won’t you just take that one?”
That’s just what Large did. The conversation piece sat in his office in Towncreek, Alabama, for the next 25 years, until 1998. During those years, Large got to know Jimmy Wilson, the business partner who also owns and operates a pallet and crate manufacturing plant in Robertsdale, Alabama, just a few miles from the Gulf of Mexico.
When Large retired, he gave the custom-built piece to his friend, Jimmy Wilson. Eighteen years later, Wilson said he wants to make sure the table -- and its rich history as a symbol of the proliferation of the wooden pallet industry in America -- are preserved for future generations. He felt the best place to uphold this symbol was at the headquarters of the National Wooden Pallet & Container Association (NWPCA) and office of The Pallet Foundation, located just outside of Washington, DC. To that end, Wilson had the piece restored to its original state for donation to The Pallet Foundation.
Since 2012, Wilson has been an active member of the foundation, a national group which supports research, education, training and safety in the wood packaging industry. He has also been a longtime member of NWPCA, serving for the past three years as a member of the board of directors.
The table was presented during the NWPCA-AHMI Fall Plant Tours on October 20, 2015 in Charlotte, North Carolina. NWPCA Chairman Jim Schwab accepted the gift on behalf of NWPCA and The Pallet Foundation. Both Jimmy Wilson and Hollis Large were also present for the occasion. Wilson hopes the gift will be a lasting legacy for the industry.
PalletCentral Magazine (Nov/Dec 2015)