Donald Hoffmeyer slid down pipe to escape A.W.R. fire
Submitted by Nute Chapman
From Onaway Outlook August 9 , 2013
CAPTION #1: ONE OF THE MANY PICTURES taken on the day of the fire. No one seemed worried about the electric
lines overhead. Looking closely one can see over 50 people watching the fire. A hose cart can be seen next
to the leaning power pole.(Disastrous fire of American Wood Rim Plant Jan. 14, 1926. Onaway)
CAPTION #2: THE AMERICAN WOOD RIM CO. in early 1900s showing some of its growth.(Bird's-Eye View, Lumber Plant, Onaway, Mich.)
The following article was taken from the 1956 Onaway Outlook. It was shared by Thelma (Hoffmeyer) Curtis. It is her Dad's personal experience on the day of the fire.
When both exits from the burning building were blocked by a roof cave-in, Donald Hoffmeyer and other members of the crew in the American Wood Rim Company hand-finishing department broke a window and slid down a pipe to safety. "Just as we got away from the building the roof fell in where we had been working," Hoffmeyer recalled.
Recalling the fire of 30 years ago wasn't hard for the Allis Township farmer. Memories were vivid. "I remember that morning quite well," he said. "We started work at 7 and we were all quite happy because there was quite a pile of steering wheels for us to finish. we all figured we'd make close to the $6 for the day."
Hoffmeyer explained that his department got piecework rates when there was plenty to do. "We could make up to $6 a day that way," he said. "Otherwise we got $3.50 a day." He said the automobile steering wheels were made from shipped-in walnut, locally cut maple and beech.
Among those working with him were Dale Ervingham, Jason Minier, Donald McQuaid, Floyd Waldie and Bill Faltenburg Jr.
"I guess we were all too busy to notice when the fire whistle blew." Hoffmeyer said. "Bill finally gave the alarm, even then we thought at first the fire was up town. There were two main exits to the plant. We then started out the tramway and that was blocked, too. Two of the carpenters had broken out a window over the railroad track and were tossing out their tools. "Some fellows who were already out got ahold of some 2-inch, 21-foot steam pipe and put them up to the window. We slid down those." Hoffmeyer said that the fire started in the extreme south end of the plant and a strong wind was blowing. "There were thousands of gallons of benzene, paint and oil in the building which exploded."
As we wind down the trail and the fire, and get the American Wood Rim Company moved to their new home in Alma, we plan to jump into some other Onaway area history.
Our little town went from a fast growing town to nearly a ghost town in just a few short weeks. The Depression was sneaking up on the world and Onaway was to feel the crunch along with everyone else. The local bank closed its doors and made matters worse. Thank God for the few hardened pioneers who held our little town together and never gave up.
The Works Progress Administration (WPA) came along in 1935 and created 8 million jobs. This along with the Civilian Conservation Corps that F.D. Roosevelt had started in 1933 helped us to survive. From here we fast forward to World War II.
We plan to go back into the American Wood Rim ruins and pick up the pieces with Albert Ellenberger Lumber Company, where my own memories started when I would go there with my Dad to get rolled tar paper and roofing tacks. Later I would tour the ruins with the yard boss who was working when the factory burned.
-From The Onaway Outlook, August 9, 2013, p. 3. Retyped by J. Anderson.