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In 1946, Claude H. Turney opened Turney Wood Products, Inc. (TWP) in Harrison (Boone County). It began operation in a garage, building furniture for the First Church of the Nazarene in Harrison. For more than twenty years, TWP used hardwood lumber—mainly red and white oak—from the surrounding Ozark Mountain forests to manufacture laminated church furniture, including pews, altars, pulpits, and lecterns. According to a 1965 company newsletter, “Operating in every timber activity from the forest to the finished product...this company has become the largest exclusive church furniture manufacturer in the western hemisphere.” The company closed in 1968.
In the mid-1950s, TWP employed more than 100 workers. The company eventually grew to employ more than 300, with three plants for different phases of the manufacturing process: the 48,000-square-foot Plant A, 18,000-square-foot Plant B, and 20,000-square-foot Plant C. TWP also had a fleet of trucks and private airplanes for crews to deliver and install the furniture around the country. The furniture pieces produced in the plants were put together by an installation crew inside of each church that purchased it. By the mid-1960s, the company was building and installing furniture for more than 1,000 churches each year (including U.S. Air Force chapels), with more than $3 million in sales for the year 1965.
TWP founder and president Claude H. Turney received several honors for his successful years of business, including being named in 1967 a Kentucky Colonel by Kentucky governor Edward T. Breathitt and an Arkansas Traveler by Arkansas governor Orval E. Faubus. That same year, the National Academy of Industry and Commerce selected Turney for its achievement award for citizenship, ability, and integrity. He was also active in various civic projects in Harrison and the northwestern Arkansas region, including helping to develop Camp Orr for Boy Scouts.
The company newsletter in August 1966 noted that four women had recently begun working as laborers in the finish department in the plant, challenging gender roles at a time when most female factory employees worked in an administrative capacity. TWP was a union operation, noting in that same company newsletter that it had signed a three-year labor contract between management and members of the union—Carpenters Local Union No. 2746, Brotherhood of Carpenters & Joiners of American, AFL-CIO. The agreement covered items such as wages, working hours, and conditions of employment.
The company started experiencing financial difficulties due, in part, to being over-extended, and controlling interest was sold in June 1967 to three Tulsa, Oklahoma, businessmen. On March 18, 1968, TWP suspended operations amid financial problems, filing for bankruptcy on March 22. L. E. Durand was appointed as the operating receiver, and the company considered enacting wage reductions and layoffs as ways to renew operations successfully. The plant was reopened in May 1968, but workers were laid off or saw their wages reduced despite the contract that existed between the company and the union—a contract the company in bankruptcy argued it no longer had to honor. This earned the ire of the union, which filed an unfair labor practice complaint and a lawsuit. The lawsuit, Carpenters Local Union No. 2746 v. Turney Wood Products, Inc., et al., was heard by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas on June 28, 1968. The court found that the bankrupt company did not have to abide by its pre-bankruptcy agreement with the union.
The company was sold at auction as part of bankruptcy proceedings in June 1968. In the twenty-first century, what was TWP’s Plant A building is still in use but not for manufacturing. The other buildings no longer exist.
For additional information:Carpenters Local Union No. 2746, United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, AFL-CIO, et al., Plaintiffs, v. Turney Wood Products, Inc., et al., Defendants, in the Matter of Turney Wood Products, Inc., Bankrupt, June 28, 1968. http://law.justia.com/cases/federal/district-courts/FSupp/289/143/1419172/ (accessed January 12, 2016).
Lantz, Archie. “Claude Turney Develops Major Harrison Industry.” Harrison Daily Times, February 16, 1953, p. 1
“Tulsa Businessmen Acquire Turney Wood Products Firm.” Harrison Daily Times, June 1, 1967, p. 1.
Turney Family Collection. Privately held by Junette Clayborn, Harrison, Arkansas.
“Turney Plant Closes Down.” Harrison Daily Times, March 20, 1968, p. 1.
Ali Welky Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture
Last Updated 1/15/2016
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