Personal Project on Little Rock Crate & Basket Co.

It’s been a pandemic since my last post… seriously, it’s been a minute, and a world of things have happened since then. Of all the “pivot” moments, I think the biggest one was my dad officially shutting down his business, selling the property and retiring. It was the place of my childhood full of familiar faces, smells and memories, and I’m going to miss it because it was one of last constants in my life… but, I’m actually really happy that my dad is going to be able to take some time for himself because being a business owner can be time consuming and extremely stressful.

Here’s a quick summary of the family business… My great grandfather was an engineer and machinist at a basket company in Little Rock in the early to mid 1940’s when my grandfather was in high school. There was a brief time that the family moved to Jacksonville, Texas, but eventually moved back to Little Rock in 1957. By that time my grandfather had met, and married, my grandmother. My grandfather started working for the basket factory as a manager in 1957, and in 1965 he purchased the business and changed the name to LR Containers. He then changed the name to Little Rock Crate & Basket Company in 1969. My grandfather had a heart attack in 1977, and my dad left his second year of college to help run the family business. His younger brother, my uncle, joined around 1979. At some point, all of us have worked there: my grandmother, aunt, mother, brother, sister and cousins.  We all have stories, but my dad’s are the best! Some of them can never be told in certain company, lol.

My last time to walk around the property, I carried my camera to take photos of the spaces I’ve known my whole life. It was bittersweet to leave, but the slow dissolution of the people, machines and buildings over the last two years made it a little easier to walk away since it was no longer the same space. I will miss visiting my grandfather’s office, as a child it was to see him and the ten years since his death to remember him. I will miss digging through my dad’s top drawer to look at rolls of coins and the glass container of mercury saved from broken thermometers. I miss seeing my uncle’s face light up and hearing him say “Beffer.” He passed away unexpectedly a few years after my grandfather. Life keeps moving forward, and I’m thankful for all the memories.

We celebrated over 100 years of business, and a whistle that was so loud the mayor called my grandfather and told him to lay off the steam.

I’m grateful I was able be able to revisit this place through photos, though I wish I had taken more when it was full of life.

Images above are of the signage, the doors are the front and rear entrance to my dad’s office. The window is where employees would pick up paychecks, gloves, etc., and I can still hear the sound of how it slides. The archaic system of timecards was in place until the end, as was the steam whistle (center image) that sounded multiple times a day and could be heard throughout Little Rock.

The above images show the interior of the building after the basket machines were removed and sold. The chain and conveyor ran scrap wood to the boiler, which ran throughout the day and fueled the factory. The large vats held dye to color the wood, and my dad has a story of walking around the edge when he was eight, and being pushed in by his younger brother and getting dyed red. The lathe took debarked trees and turned them into strips of wood to be used to form into baskets. And then there were all the signs… Some stayed relevant, and some just stayed in place as part of history.

The above photos show a view of the property from the back. This was once full of logs that would be brought in, debarked and then turned into baskets. A pair of gloves lay on a stump, suspended in time, where twine was cut for many years. Baskets ran on a conveyor through a giant drier that had airplane propellors running to move the hot air as the final part of the process before being stacked and shipped. The second story door was used to load rail cars with baskets for shipping across the United States, eventually the tracks stopped being used and were covered up with weeds. Rails on either side of the employee entrance heard many conversations as people took breaks, and waited for loved ones to pick them up after work. A second story deck was used to load baskets into trucks. A stack of 1/2 peck baskets in an array of colors, and stamps that could be found on crates and basket.