Colonels of Truth

Apparently Col. Harlan Sanders, of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame, had rather tumultuous early life. From Damn Interesting, via Ed Driscoll:

The seventh of May 1931 was a hot, dusty day in the mountain town of Corbin, Kentucky. Alongside a dirt road, a service station manager named Matt Stewart stood on a ladder painting a cement railroad wall. His application of a fresh coat of paint was gradually obscuring the sign that had been painted there previously. Stewart paused when he heard an automobile approaching at high speed—or what counted for high speed in 1931.

It was coming from the north—from the swath of backcountry known among locals as “Hell’s Half-Acre.” The area was so named for its primary exports: bootleg booze, bullets, and bodies. The neighborhood was also commonly referred to as “the asshole of creation.”

Stewart probably squinted through the dust at the approaching car, and he probably wiped sweat from his brow with the back of a paint-flecked wrist. He probably knew that the driver would be armed, angry, and about to skid to a stop nearby. Stewart set down his paint brush and picked up his pistol. The car skidded to a stop nearby. But it was not an armed man that emerged—it was three armed men. “Well, you son of a bitch!” the driver shouted at the painter, “I see you done it again.” The driver of the car had been using this particular railroad wall to advertise his service station in town, and this was not the first time that the painter—the manager of a competing station—had installed an ad blocker.

Stewart leapt from his ladder, firing his pistol wildly as he dove for cover behind the railroad wall. One of the driver’s two companions collapsed to the ground. The driver picked up his fallen comrade’s pistol and returned fire. Amid a hail of bullets from his pair of adversaries, the painter finally shouted, “Don’t shoot, Sanders! You’ve killed me!” The dusty roadside shootout fell silent, and indeed the former painter was bleeding from his shoulder and hip. But he would live, unlike the Shell Oil executive lying nearby with a bullet wound to the chest.

This encounter might have been as commonplace as any other gunfight around Hell’s Half-Acre were it not for the identity of the driver. The “Sanders” who put two bullets in Matt Stewart was none other than Harland Sanders, the man who would go on to become the world-famous Colonel Sanders. He was dark-haired and clean-shaven at the time, but his future likeness would one day appear on Kentucky Fried Chicken billboards, buildings, and buckets worldwide. In contrast to most other famous food icons, Colonel Sanders was once a living, breathing person, and his life story is considerably more tumultuous than the white-washed corporate biography suggests.

Much more at the link – read the whole thing.

Drugs

An interesting observation from Niall Ferguson, Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power (2002), 12-13:

As Defoe observed in his Complete English Tradesman: ‘The tea-table among the ladies and the coffee house among the men seem to be the places of new invention…’ What people liked most about these new drugs was that they offered a very different kind of stimulus from the traditional European drug, alcohol. Alcohol is, technically, a depressant. Glucose, caffeine, and nicotine, by contrast, were the eighteenth-century equivalent of uppers. Taken together, the new drugs gave English society an almighty hit; the Empire, it might be said, was built on a huge sugar, caffeine, and nicotine rush – a rush that everyone could experience.

I once wrote a paper in grad school about the advent of coffee in Europe. They posted it online, and I discover that it is still there! An excerpt:

Why did coffee become so popular, and come to fulfill a “progressive” social function? Why not tea or chocolate, or, as alcohol was never banned in Christendom as it was under Islam, wine or beer? One suspects that coffee may have become “fashionable” somewhat randomly. It was cheaper than tea and more caffeinated than chocolate (as contemporaries observed, it tended to be more caffeinated than tea as well). It is of course a stimulant rather than a depressant, which makes it more conducive to conversation (and some regulars at coffeehouses, like Voltaire, would consume up to fifty cups a day), and does not leave one with an alcoholic hangover. Coffee did have its detractors (who claimed it was nothing more than a slow poison), but its proponents were equally willing to extol its benefits, such as its ability to ward off plague or to dispel noxious odors.

Pallets

From my friend Matt Lungerhausen, a fascinating article on shipping pallets. I like the Georgia angle! If “whitewood” ever becomes obsolete, one thing to do with it is to turn it into mulch, as does Bo’s Pallets, a local business I drive by from time to time.

Excerpts:

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Although the technology was in place by the mid-1920s, pallets didn’t see widespread adoption until World War II, when the challenge of keeping eight million G.I.s supplied—“the most enormous single task of distribution ever accomplished anywhere,” according to one historian—gave new urgency to the science of materials handling. During the summer of 1941, at Fort Wayne, Indiana, the army staged a field test of various materials-handling contraptions, and the pallet–forklift combo trounced the competition. The Quartermaster General ordered a million pallets, and the domestic pallet industry was effectively born.

Military depots began by palletizing heavy, regularly shaped objects, such as tins of K-rations. But over the course of the war, these depots, facing shortages of time, space, and labor, brought more and more items under the regime of the pallet. The Quartermaster Depot in Jeffersonville, Indiana, which occupied ten city blocks, was particularly aggressive in this regard; during a six-month stretch in 1943, workers there discovered novel methods of palletizing mattresses, saddles, baled goods, pyramidal tents, and tanned cowhide, among other items. By the end of the war, Jeffersonville had palletized 98 percent of its stock.

The pallet industry boomed after the war, along with interstate highways, long-haul trucking, and the rise of a national consumer culture. The canneries of the Salinas Valley were early palletizers, followed by other grocery sectors, then the auto industry, then everything. In 1954, pallet manufacturers left the country’s wooden box association and founded their own trade group, the National Wooden Pallet and Container Association, or NWPCA. Its slogan: “Pallets move the world.” Sometime in the early 1970s, on a CBS news broadcast, John Kenneth Galbraith informed Dan Rather that pallets were the second-fastest-growing industry in America. “What are those?” Rather asked. Or so the legend goes.

The boom ultimately created a problem, because all of these pallets did not disappear when they reached their destinations. They piled up: on loading docks, in stockrooms, in landfills. Beginning in the late 1970s, people realized these used pallets might have value, and the pallet recycling industry was born. There was good money in recycling, especially in the early days. The supply of raw material was cheap, if not free, the capital investment was minimal, and the whole thing had an appealing simplicity: acquire pallets from wherever they end up, fix them up, sell them back to manufacturers. The service this new generation of recyclers provided was called “reverse logistics.”

CHEP, a subsidiary of Brambles Limited, an Australia-based multinational corporation, is the largest pallet business in the world. The company earned $3.5 billion in pallet-related revenues during fiscal year 2013, and in many markets has achieved pallet monopoly. CHEP’s roots stretch back to World War II, when the American military shipped millions of palletized loads to Australia. At the end of the war, those pallets were abandoned, and CHEP was formed out of this accumulation. After four decades of growth and expansion, the company entered the US market in 1990, in what amounted to an obscure case of military blowback.

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Read the whole thing.