"Finer and bigger plant" rose from four early disasters
Champion has endured a series of national economic ups and downs during its nearly 100 years in business, but some of the severest trials for the Hamilton mill had nothing to do with business cycles. Two deadly floods and a pair of devastating fires within 15 years would be enough to put many companies out of business. Instead, each time a persistent owner and a determined work force restored or rebuilt the mill in minimum time.
In May 1895 -- 13 months after the Hamilton mill started production -- the Champion Coated Paper Company reported sales of $209,473.18, a figure that would almost triple ($617,944.22) within the next three years before the first disaster struck.
A flood wasn't a new experience for Hamilton. In the town's 107-year history, the Great Miami River had left its banks five times (1805, 1814, 1828, 1847 and 1866) before Peter G. Thomson built a paper-coating mill on the west side of the stream. But in 1898 the river would reach an all-time high of more than 24 feet in Hamilton.
By Tuesday, March 22, 1898, rain had soaked Hamilton for a week. That day a thunderstorm hit the area, causing flash floods and washing out railroad tracks. About 500 people were evacuated from low areas in the city overnight as the 160-mile Great Miami -- that drains about 4,000 square miles -- rose an average of 2.5 feet an hour. Some parts of Hamilton were flooded by dawn Wednesday, March 23.
It was 6:30 p.m. Wednesday -- an hour after the 30-member night shift had taken over at Champion -- when water started rushing through floor boards in the mill. Superintendent Frank Williams had already directed action to save property and inventory. Off-duty employees -- those residing nearby and others who could be easily contacted in a city of about 23,000 people with fewer than 250 telephones -- were called into the plant.
Priority went to removing belts from the machinery, all of which were connected to the Hamilton-built Corliss engine. The belts were stored in high places. Next, crews turned to preserving paper. Rolls were stacked as high as humanly possible. There were no forklifts or other power-lifting devices to aid or speed the process. Rolls weighing 400 and 500 pounds were piled four and five high in the warehouse. In some instances, workers braved water waist deep and a swift current to save company resources.
By 10 p.m., nothing else could be done. It was a matter of how high the muddy water would reach -- and how much damage it would cause. The workers were sent home, all but four, who couldn't reach their residences because of high water. H. T. Ratliff, shipping clerk; Dad Cook, millwright; Charles Soule, reel man; and Jack Weber, night watchman, remained in the mill, determined to monitor the worsening situation and minimize the loss.
The four took refuge from the water atop a paster in the south part of the damp, unheated mill. Meanwhile, railroad cars loaded with coal washed away as the water swept along North B Street before the river peaked at 3 a.m. Thursday, March 24.
Such a setback wasn't a new experience for Peter G. Thomson, the founder of the mill. Oct. 8, 1884, his five-story book and publishing plant in Cincinnati had burned, a loss of about $75,000 with only $55,000 covered by insurance. Thomson immediately found a new location and was back in business before Christmas 1884.
After the river returned within its banks Friday, March 25, Champion employees tackled the nauseous task of cleanup. With shovels, brooms and mops, the workers removed mud, water and debris. Thanks to the preventive efforts of the night shift and other workers, the down time was minimal. "Within three days, the damage was repaired, the mill thoroughly cleaned and all employees had returned to regular work," wrote Reuben B. Robertson Sr.
Champion operations also were hampered by the flood's impact on the city and the region. A city water line across the river had been snapped by the undercurrent and city water, electric and gas facilities had suffered heavy damage.
One bridge, the Columbia at the south end of town, had been destroyed and the High-Main iron truss bridge was damaged. Railroad and interurban lines were disrupted for several days.
The flood took seven lives in Hamilton, four other people were reported missing and more than 170 families required assistance because their homes had been severely damaged or destroyed.
Three and a half years later, Thomson was employing 410 people in his coating mill and a local newspaper had noted earlier in 1901 that in less than six years, Champion "has doubled the capacity of its plant six times, and developed from a puny infant into an industrial giant." The same newspaper had to use superlatives again in describing the night of Sunday, Dec. 22, 1901.
The Hamilton Republican-News called it "the largest fire" and "the heaviest loss" in Hamilton history, and termed the mill "a blackened, wrecked and ruined mass with only the skeletons of burned and charred walls left." The newspaper said "all else is debris and chaos in the plant proper, save the office building and the west ware room."
Destroyed were the plant's machinery and a "large and valuable stock of paper," including loaded railroad boxcars ready for shipment.
The fire started about 11:30 p.m. as two workmen were cleaning valves on a platform in the drying room in the west end of the mill. A worker's lantern overheated and exploded, spraying oil through the room. In moments, a light wind helped spread the flames.
One of the most spectacular events, according to the hundreds who watched the fire, was the collapse of a 104-foot iron smoke stack, which may have been a lifesaver. "There was every indication for a time," said the Republican-News, "that a terrible explosion would add to the horrors of the Champion fire. The heat caused the great battery of boilers to hiss and roar, and it looked as though it would explode. Finally, the big iron stack fell and at once there was a tremendous roar of escaping steam. It is supposed the falling stack broke the steam connection and allowed the steam to escape, thus averting a possible disaster," noted a reporter. There had been a series of small explosions when a chemical room burned, but they did little harm.
A slight wind fanned the flames which seemed to "spread through the buildings with almost lightning rapidity" from north to south, the newspaper reported.
Fire Chief P. F. Welsh said "it was an awful fire to fight" because "the character of the stock made the heat so terrific." Water problems hampered Hamilton firemen. "The water pressure," said the Republican-News, "was wretchedly poor, but it later improved, though no amount of water could have stopped the terrible blaze. There would have been much better water service at the fire last night if the new 12-inch main in B Street had been completed.
As it was, the trench greatly interfered with the firemen," the newspaper reported. Ironically, as the fire struck, plans for a $23,000 sprinkler system were on Thomson's desk.
Estimates of the loss varied, later running as high as $800,000 and including $175,000 in paper. That night it promised to be a dismal Christmas and new year for Champion employees. The next morning, "in the face of an all-day drizzling rain, thousands of people visited the ruins of the Champion Coated Paper Company's six-acre plant," reported the Cincinnati Enquirer, also noting that "the new plant recently erected on the north, which covers another six-acre plot, was not harmed."
One of those inspecting the scene that morning was Peter G. Thomson, who announced that "the Champion Coated Paper Company will at once rebuild. We will begin to rebuild at noon tomorrow." Champion's founder promised to "ultimately put up a finer and bigger plant than ever," and pledged to "give employment to as many men as we can, of our present force, clearing up the wreck." He also added that "our employees will be paid tomorrow afternoon as usual."
Soon about 500 men were rebuilding the mill that would be about a third larger than the former structure. It was expected to employ about 650 people, a 58 percent increase over the 410 who had been working in the destroyed mill.
With employees doing much of the work, Champion was back in production in June. "In the incredibly short interval of five months, a new coating mill was completed on the site of the December fire," noted Reuben B. Robertson Sr., "and 18 new metal-framed coaters of improved designed installed."
On the same day, June 7, 1902, an adjacent papermaking mill also opened, and for the first time in its eight-year history, Champion was producing the paper it coated.
"Practically all the equipment in this mill was fabricated in Hamilton," said Robertson. "Five small paper machines and one board machine had been purchased from the Black-Clawson Company -- at that time prominent builders of machinery for the paper industry. Power was supplied by Hamilton Corliss engines from the Hooven, Owens, Rentschler Company." In his memoirs, Robertson said it was "an 800-horsepower Corliss being augmented by a secondary unit of 500 horsepower."
"The new paper machines, operating at about 200 feet a minute, had a start-up capacity of well over 100 tons daily," said Robertson, "and it was not long before the mill was manufacturing from pulp, old paper and rags all of the raw stock furnished to the coaters."
The company soon resumed its pattern of growth and prosperity. Annual sales rose from $1.849,457.80, according to an April 1903 report, to $3,362,236 in an April 1907 report.
By 1910, a city financial publication boasted that "the mills of the Champion Coated Paper Company, comprising 27 acres of floor space, are the largest in the world devoted to the manufacture of coated paper. All the postcards used by the United States government are made in this mill, as is the paper on which any of the best-known publications are printed."
Tragedy struck the Hamilton mill again in 1913 with a record flood followed by fire. Between nine and 11 inches of rain fell in the region within three days. Engineers later said with the ground already saturated, 87 percent of the rain ran off into the river that divided Hamilton. Within 48 hours, the Great Miami in Hamilton rose from 4.8 feet to an all-time high of 34.6 feet (later revised to a crest exceeding 44 feet).
The full force of the flood hit the morning of Tuesday, March 25, 1913, creating a pool as wide as three miles by evening . The water stretched from present Erie Highway on the east to C and D streets on the west.
The rushing water entered the Hamilton mill about 9 a.m. Tuesday and soon the boiler room was submerged. As in 1898, employees rushed to remove belts from machinery and place them out of the water's expected path . Paper was hoisted off the floor until after 2 p.m. when the water reached shoulder level. By then three Hamilton bridges (Black Street, High-Main and the railroad) had been swept away within two hours (between 12:12 p.m. and 2:12 p.m.). The fourth, the Columbia, toppled into the river at 2 a.m. Wednesday.
Leaving the mill was a challenge for the last 15 to 20 employees because the water was dangerously deep and swift.
Emma Cook was one of many Champions whose dedication to their jobs placed them in peril during the flood. She had started in February 1896 on the single coaters -- the first female to work in that capacity -- before moving to the sample room in 1900. She collected paper samples, first for Peter G. Thomson, then Alexander Thomson and finally Logan Thomson, who mailed the samples to customers.
After others had left, Cook remained in the sample department until she could place her instruments and samples in a place she believed would be safe from the rising water. Finally, William Schenk insisted that she leave because water was coming in the back of the plant. She found the usual route out the North B Street door impassable. Instead, she had to go through the mill and up the hill to the west. Days later, she returned to the sample room to find her samples destroyed and many of her instruments had floated away.
The last man in one part of the complex escaped through a skylight to the roof and then jumped to the hillside west of the mill. Elsewhere, 10 men were stranded on the east side of North B Street without access to the safe, high ground along North D Street.
Alfred Anderson -- who worked in the mill from 1906 until 1939 -- was in that group. His boss in March 1913 was Homer Ferguson. "When the water started to rise, orders came for everyone to get to safety, but Mr. Ferguson hated to see all that good paper in the shipping room being spoiled by the flood waters, and he asked us all to stay and move all the paper that we could upstairs," Anderson recalled. "We worked as long as possible, but the water was getting too high, and was too full of logs washed from the woodpile for safe crossing."
"By 6 in the evening, the water was 15 feet high on B Street. To get across the street to No. 1 mill from where we could reach safety, we had to lay a board across three electric cables -- which were by then without electricity -- and by sitting on the board, pulled ourselves across the cables," Anderson explained. "Homer Ferguson, the head of the department, refused to cross the cables until the last of his men was safely over."
During their perilous escape, the board and additional ropes were placed across the cables, enabling the 10 men, one at a time, to be pulled across the raging water to the roof on the west side of the street -- and then to safety on the hillside.
A few hours later -- shortly before 1 a.m. Wednesday, March 26 -- fire erupted in the flooded mill, destroying everything above the water line. The company's loss was reported as $1.7 million. It replaced the 1901 conflagration as Hamilton's worst fire, but it could have been worse.
Disruptions caused by the flood complicated the job of the Hamilton fire department. Only one truck could reach Champion and it was a hose wagon, not a pumper. Eventually, a pumper was brought to Champion from the Oxford fire department. Meanwhile, several mill employees joined the undermanned group fighting the Champion blaze. One of them was Charlie Soule, who had been one of the 10 original employees in 1894.
Soule responded when a hose connection, which was below the surface of the flood waters, broke loose. Disregarding his personal safety, twice he dove about 12 feet to the bottom, but to no avail. On a third try, Soule plunged into the icy, muddy water and repaired the broken line, which, according to observers, enabled firefighters to bring the flames under control and save the mills from complete ruin.
After the water receded, more than 1,000 Champion employees began a massive cleanup, removing mud and debris and salvaging machinery and paper to make way for another rebuilding. For some, it was the third time they had been involved in helping the company recover from a disaster.
Workers responded to calls from as far as Ross (Venice) to collect rolls of paper that had been swept down the river. Errant, waterlogged rolls of paper and machinery were recovered and hauled back to the mill for nearly two weeks. "They had the mill cleaned out," said Frank Burns, who started at Champion in 1914, "but there was all kinds of paper outside the mill. It had got wet. Finally, they just had to ditch it," he recalled.
Champion employees toiled with heavy hearts as the flood had taken more than 200 lives of family, friends and neighborhoods in Hamilton. At least another 85 people would die later of complications associated with the flood. More than 10,000 people in the city of about 35,000 were homeless, some of them Champion employees.
The number of buildings destroyed topped 2,300, including 300 which had washed away.
Government services and transportation facilities also were devastated. It would take the city and its citizens several years to rebuild and recover from the 1913 flood. For many, the emotional scars remained for a lifetime.
"I was early in my sixth year of life. Some first impressions in one's early childhood are the lasting ones and are indelible in one's memory," recalled Bill Thompson in his March 1959 column in The Log, a Champion employee publication.
"The Thompson clan was living at the corner of Black and North Second streets from which vantage point we could see the suspension bridge that natives of the time bragged would never be washed away by floods. We saw it washed away by the surging current of the Great Miami River," Thompson said.
"We saw houses and sheds floating down the river. Neighboring houses were broken away as the water kept coming with added depth and speed," he said. "As the water began seeping through our second floor, we moved to the attic, using doors across the rafters for beds. The powers that be had a floating house lean against ours, breaking the current. Folks from that dwelling and another broke through their roofs and climbed through a hole made in our roof. There were about 35 praying souls in the same attic by crest time. That crest found the water half way up to the second story windows."
The Hamilton Daily Republican-News, in a special flood edition published in August, said "the greatest sufferer in the Miami Valley from the March flood was the Champion Coated Paper Company of Hamilton." But, thanks to its loyal employees, Champion set an example for the devastated community.
Within three months, the entire mill was in full operation. The coating mill started production June 15, 1913, just 10 weeks after the disaster. By August, other parts of the plant had been restored. loyal employees at the Hamilton mill had personified resilience, which dictionaries define as the ability to bounce back from adversity and quickly recover strength and spirit.
In June 1914 -- less than 15 months after the 1913 flood -- an assassination triggered warfare in Europe, but the United States didn't officially enter World War I until April 6, 1917, when Congress approved President Woodrow Wilson's request for a declaration of war on Germany.
At first, the war had little impact on the Hamilton mill, but transportation problems soon complicated operations. "Despite obstacles presented by the war effort, the Champion Coated Paper Company's net sales rose quite steadily: $5,176,167.54 in 1914; $6,262,981 in 1917; with an increase to $8,070,837.71 in 1919," said Reuben B. Robertson Sr. in his memoirs.
In December 1914, Robertson said, Champion "was awarded a contract by the United States Internal Revenue Service to furnish all of the water-marked paper stock for government use in the manufacture of stamps required by the new Emergency or War Revenue Act. A month later, Champion received a contract from the treasury department for 500,000 sheets of special stock for the printing of customs stamps."
In 1916, Forrest E. Davis, a reporter for Dayton Sunday News, said "every time you use a government postcard, you are using a piece of paper manufactured in Thomson's mill. He turns out 47,000 pounds of paper for these postals every day. And his plant in Hamilton turns out 300 tons of paper a day of all kinds. And when you read a magazine or a book, nine chances out of 10 the paper was made by Thomson."
When the United States entered the war in 1917 -- because the threat of German invasion was considered a possibility -- guns were issued to Champion employees so they could defend their homes.
Hamilton and Champion also felt the negative effects of the war for the first time late in 1917. Hamilton -- and other communities -- suffered severe shortages of coal in December 1917 as one of the coldest winters in history gripped the area. Dec. 10 city officials reported between 400 and 500 Hamilton families without coal to heat their homes and coal dealers had none to deliver.
Low temperatures dropped below zero on 11 of the 31 days in December and snow totaled 16.5 inches in the 22 days between Dec. 6 and Dec. 28. January would be no better. Fourteen days the low was below zero, including nine in a row, and the season's snowfall reached a total of 30.5 inches by the end of the month. Snow and cold caused a 12-hour interruption to Hamilton railroad service Saturday, Jan. 12.
The railroads were blamed for the coal shortages during this critical period, but they were only following orders from the government, which had dictated that priority should be given to coal ordered for warships and merchant vessels hauling supplies to allies and U. S. forces. Other edicts also hampered the normal flow of rail traffic.
Dec. 26, 1917, President Wilson, exercising war-time powers, announced a federal takeover of the nation's railroads Dec. 28. That was followed by a mandate from Harry A. Garfield, federal fuel administrator, who ordered a five-day shutdown of industries east of the Mississippi River from Friday, Jan. 18, through Tuesday, Jan. 22, 1918. Coal deliveries to industries also were prohibited during this period. The order was meant to conserve coal on hand and allow the mines and railroads to build domestic stockpiles.
In Hamilton, the five-day closing was expected to save 20,000 tons of coal, but it also would cost more than 5,000 workers at least $225,000 in wages and their employers about an additional $300,000. At Champion, the shutdown idled about 1,500 people. The mill used about 350 tons of coal a day then, but only 200 tons could be saved because it required about 150 tons daily to warm the plant and protect plumbing and sprinkler systems from freezing.
World War I also meant that some mill jobs were opened to women for the first time as Champion men left the mill to, in President Wilson's words, "make the world safe for democracy." "Champions sprang to the defense of their country when this nation entered the World War," said Champion Activities in its November 1933 issue, which featured a recap of the war years. "Of 106 who left Champion to enter the many branches of the service, some returned; some did not; many suffered the hardships of trench and camp and crossed No Man's Land; a few paid the ultimate cost of war." The magazine listed 141 names of Champions who served, including men hired after the war.
In Hamilton, 990 men were drafted between June 1917 and November 1918. Scores of others enlisted and some were already in the National Guard when the war started, bringing to about 1,200 the number from the Hamilton area who were in the armed services.
Other Champions were drafted elsewhere, including Frank Burns, a mill employee for 48 years. "I sent my (draft) papers back down home (to Jackson County, Ky). I was gone from the mill for three months, but I was never sworn in," he explained. "We went down to McKee, the county seat of Jackson County." Six soldiers were brought from Louisville to train 31 men. "They drilled us around the courthouse there. I rode a mule out there every morning. One morning (as the war ended) they said you guys are free now," said Burns."
The first Champions to enlist were Barney Hall and Kenneth L. Faist, who later became employment and safety director. They joined the army in May 1917, and served together until they reached Paris, France.
Claude Peak enlisted three days after the U. S. declared war on Germany "after lying my way in." He was 16 years of age when he started his 26-month stint as a Marine machine gunner. At Soissons Aug. 8, 1918, he was part of a nine-man machine gun group that had to move out of its trench when German artillery started getting close. "After a quick conference, we decided to move up toward the enemy and get out of range," Peak said. A corporal was the first to go and he was cut down within 10 feet of the trench. Peak was next, and he and another Marine made it 200 feet to another trench. "We started out nine. Two -- myself and Kurt Young, a Cleves boy -- made the advance trench. The other seven all died in those few score feet." About 10 minutes later shrapnel hit both of the survivors. Peak spent 13 weeks in a hospital before returning home and eventual employment at Champion.
Walter Norville spent 13 months overseas after 28 months of training. He was with the First Army Division Nov. 8, 1917, when "we began a slow march toward the enemy. We knew they were somewhere ahead, but had no idea of exactly where," he said. "We mounted a low hill and descended the other side to a wide plateau. Straight ahead of us was a dense woods." As the unit advanced, the Germans fired from the woods, and "all around me the men crumpled and fell -- hundreds of them. I had just time to see that before I crumpled myself with a piece of shrapnel in my right leg." He used his first aid kit to bandage his broken leg. He was hit at about 2 p.m. Nov. 8, but medical aid didn't arrive until 10 a.m. the next day, Nov. 9, recalled Norville who worked on coaters after the war.
Veterans of World War I brought home many stories -- some gruesome, some pleasant -- and memories of buddies and people they had encountered.
An example was Frank Hobbs, who in December 1931 was working at the coating mill trimmers when a new employee, Frank Brockhoff, joined his group.
"Haven't I seen you somewhere before?" Hobbs asked. Yes, they had met during the war when the men were on opposite sides. Brockhoff, a German field artillery sergeant, had been captured in 1918 and taken to a prisoner camp at Bordeaux in France. Hobbs, an American artilleryman, was a guard at the camp. After the war, Brockhoff stayed in Germany until 1924 when he came to Cincinnati. Brockhoff, who became a naturalized citizen, moved to Hamilton in 1927 and went to work in the mill in December 1931.
Hard-working, ingenious and loyal
Kentuckians favored for employment at Hamilton mill
"Give me a Hamilton" a customer told a clerk in a small store in a central Kentucky town in 1907. The request puzzled a tourist, who happened to be from Hamilton, Ohio. He watched as the clerk scurried to a backroom and emerged with an inexpensive suitcase.
"Pardon me," interjected the Ohio traveler as the customer left the store, "but I'm a trifle curious to know just why you handed that fellow a suitcase when he asked for a Hamilton?"
"Because there is a steady stream of people from this neighborhood moving to Ohio with the city of Hamilton as the mecca," explained the clerk, "and so we have labeled these suitcases after the city."
That story, related in the Hamilton Republican-News in 1907, may or may not be true, but there is no question about a long relationship between transplanted Kentuckians and Champion's Hamilton mill. "They were mountain folks, basically from Kentucky in Hamilton," noted Dwight Thomson in describing the work force in his memoirs. "They knew the dollar, and they were amazing workers and very ingenious and loyal people," he added.
"Peter Thomson, founder of the vast Champion Paper Company . . . told me 55 years ago (in 1926) that he hired only mountain people, now in their fourth generation at the plant," noted Dr. Eslie Asbury in his 1981 book, Horse Sense and Humor in Kentucky. Dr. Asbury -- a native of Nicholas County, Ky. -- was retained by Thomson as a company surgeon for several years. The physician and horse breeder recalled a Champion employee brought to his office. "His first words betrayed his origin," Dr. Asbury said, "and I asked what county he was from. 'From Perry County,' he replied. 'Down there we have a saying, 'You go from Harlan to Hazard, to Hamilton, to Hell!' "
One of the first to cross the Ohio River and head for Hamilton was Jacob Wagner, who arrived April 4, 1900, from Alexandria, Ky., and had a job at Champion by that evening. "When I started to work, I got paid a dollar a day," he said. "We worked 11 hours a day, six days a week, on the day shift, and 13 hours a night, five nights a week, on the night shift," recalled Wagner, who retired as supervisor of the single coaters in July 1950, completing more than 50 years in the Hamilton mill.
Champion and other Hamilton industries coveted Kentuckians because of their knack for making things work. Farming and living in the remote hill regions required mechanical skills because there were seldom repair shops or stores nearby when a machine or tool broke or had to be replaced.
John Allen came to the Hamilton mill as a blacksmith during the Depression. "Give me a forge, an anvil, a hammer, a sledge, a few chisels and a pair of tongs and I can make almost any type of metal tool," said the Kentucky native when interviewed 25 years later.
An example of Champion's magnetism was reflected in a picture reprinted in the Log in 1940. In the 1913 photograph taken at a small school at Scoville, Ky., were about 50 children of varying ages. Within 27 years, at least 12 of the group had been employed at the Hamilton mill.
Finding the way to Hamilton and Champion wasn't a problem for ambitious Kentuckians who wanted to migrate, according to Nancy Gover, who made the transition in 1941. "The story was that when they came up from Kentucky on the train, they didn't say Hamilton, they said Champion," explained Gover, "and the conductors knew where they were going."
But being from Kentucky didn't guarantee Gover a job. "I was lucky to get on at Champion because I didn't have any relation working there," said Gover, who worked 47 years in the mill. "I lived in Somerset, Ky., and I had a sister living here, but she didn't work at Champion at that time. I put in an application at the Bell Telephone Company, but they tore up my application because they said I wouldn't stay, that I'd be going home." At Champion "a sorter forelady, Lottie Alford, helped me get in" because Jimmy Simpson, "my boss, thought she was my aunt or something, and that did it," said Gover.
"I had been working on the farm," said Frank Burns, who came from Jackson County, Ky, to work at the mill in 1914. "We were a big family, and dad didn't need me. I was aiming to go back. I had just finished school, and the teacher said I want you to go to college." But the Kentucky native came to visit his Burns grandparents, who resided in Hamilton. "Grandma said 'I'll take you over to Champion to get a job.' The foremen then hired their own people. There was no employment office. The foremen would come up to the door at the calenders every morning and every night. If they needed help, they'd say 'I'll take you, I'll take you,' and that's the way we were hired. Somebody would show you what to do."
Burns -- who never missed a day of work in his 48 years with Champion -- said "when I came here, you could get a job almost anywhere" because there was so much industry in Hamilton. "I was never off a day sick. I got up some mornings with a cold, but I went on in," said Burns, who exemplified the Kentucky work ethic admired by Peter G. Thomson.
"Champion was a fine place to work. It was then and is now," said the 98-year-old Burns in a 1993 interview. His two sons, Homer and Tom worked 47 and 46 years, respectively, for Champion, and his two of his three brothers were employed by the company for more than 30 years. A daughter Sally (Mrs. Charlie Carter) and a grandson also worked briefly at the Hamilton mill.