July 29, 2014

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Everything changed for the worse in 1982 PDF Print E-mail

Like most industries, Schultz, Baujan & Company struggled through the Great Depression. Prosperity began to return in the late 1930s with the sales records being set during the World War II years.
The post-war years brought massive change to the nation and the milling industry was not exempted. A wave of milling industry consolidations swept across the country. Employees and townspeople alike nervously wondered whether Schultz, Baujan & Company would be a buyer or would be bought. The answer came in 1953 when Colorado Milling & Elevator acquired the firm, changing the name to Beardstown Mills Co.
The next major change came on Aug. 8, 1968, when the mill complex was purchased by Theron T. Chapman, Jr. of Winnetka,  and Robert G. Fischer of Beardstown. They renamed their enterprise Critic Mills, Inc., to take advantage of their well-known brand. Indeed, the future looked bright.
An ominous omen appeared on Sept. 2, 1981, when a fire broke out in a bin containing 700,000 bushels of feed pellets. Two days later, 63 sticks of dynamite were needed to blast an opening in the bin, allowing firemen to bring the blaze under control.
Next came the tragedy of Thursday, April 1, 1982. Greg Moore, 23, Beardstown; Steve Edwards, 28, Rushville, and Allen Tomlinson, 37, Rushville, were in the basement of the livestock feed pellet mixing plant known as the “little feed mill.” At about 3:15 p.m., Edwards, assisted by Moore, was welding when something went terribly wrong. Apparently, a spark ignited grain dust.
The resulting explosion rocked the east side of the city. Fire erupted from the mill’s top floor. Glass, concrete and other debris was thrown hundreds of yards from the plant. One of the buildings was scarred by a gaping hole.
Amazingly, Moore, Edwards and Tomlinson walked out of the building. A helicopter took the severely burned Moore and Tomlinson to Springfield’s Memorial Hospital. On April 8, Moore was flown to Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C., where he could receive skins grafts from their skin bank. Meanwhile, Edwards was treated at Beardstown Hospital.
The community quickly rallied to aid Moore, who did not have health insurance. More than $5,000 was contributed in a matter of days. Moore, who suffered burns over 75 percent of his body, lost his valiant battle to survive on May 27, and the entire community mourned his death. Moore is buried at Oak Grove Cemetery.
Despite public assurances repairs soon would be made, Critic Mills remained silent until some operations were resumed in 1988. It was evident the mill’s halcyon days were dimming fast in the rearview mirror. Fischer retired as president in 1999. Later, the company was sold to Clarkson Grain Company of Decatur.
Though some operations continue, the mill complex stands as a monument to Beardstown’s rich industrial heritage and the men and women who labored in those enterprises.