MUTUAL CRATE COMPANY OF AVON PARK, FL
By Donald R. Hensley, Jr.
The Mutual Crate Co. #3 and her proud engineer pose for the photographer.
I had bought two wonderful color Kodachrome slides
of a wood burning Lima 2-6-0 on eBay a while ago that were wrongly
listed as being on a sawmill near Baldwin, FL. However I had
recently purchased from this same dealer a pair of black and white
postcard negatives of this same engine that identified the location as
Avon Park, 210 miles south of Baldwin! After conducting research on
Newspapers.com and conferring with my good friend Thomas Lawson, who is
an expert in logging locomotives, I was able to determine that the
company that owned this loco-motive was the Mutual Crate Company of
This was a company that was not only unknown to me
but also many of the trav-eling railfan photographers of yesteryear as
Avon Park was off the beaten path. Even the late George Pettingil of
St. Petersburg missed this one and he photographed many of the crate
mills in Florida. I haven’t a clue who this photographer was, but
I’m pretty sure he was from the New England area (as the dealer I
bought these from sales most ly New England subjects and possibly had a
Winter home in the Avon Park or Sebring area. All the photos were taken
in February of 1941 which supports
this snowbird theory. What is odd is that he shot in both 122 b&w postcard and 35mm color slides.
The Flint Lumber Company of Avon Park was started by
several Philadelphia capitalists in November of 1918 with George Flint
as president, L. F. DeBordenare as vice president and manager.
They had purchased 21,000 acres of timberland known as the McArtin
tract. DeBordenare also was vice president and manager of the
Penn-Jar- ratt Lumber Co. of Marianna, Fl . The first locomotive was
unloaded on May 10, 1919, and logging and milling operations began the
following week. One locomotive was not enough so they added a number 2
in August of 1919, bought from the Georgia Car & Locomotive
Company #412 of Atlanta, an ancient civil war era locomotive originally
built for the US Military RR and then to the Nashville Chattanooga
& St. Louis system. By October of 1919, their land holdings had
increased to 71,000 acres and operated 16 miles of standard gauge
logging track with its two locomotives.
The engineer putting the 3 spot through its paces on a beautiful Florida sunny day in Winter.
The engineer acted as his own fireman, throwing scrap pine slabs into the fire.
The #3 is hidding behind drying pine slabs, When dried they will be turned into citrus and vegetable crates.
By 1922 Flint Lumber Co. built two crate mills on
the sawmill property, and received the smaller logs that were cast off
as inferior for dimensional lumber, but were just right for crate
manufacturing. Both the Mutual Crate Company and the Avon Manufacturing
Company were partly owned by the Polk County and Highlands County
citrus exchanges and the Flint Lumber Company . Mutual was the biggest,
producing 975,000 crates a year. Operating from September to June each
year to keep the citrus packing houses supplied in Polk, Hardee and
Highlands Counties but also marketed their crates on the lower east
coast were the lumber is not good for crate making. By 1924 Flint
Lumber Co. had logged out the big timber, but the crate mills carried
on with the smaller logs and the logging now being done by Phil Lacey
Logging Co. over the old Flint Lumber Co.’s tracks. While the mills
were closed over the Summer, Lac-ey’s crews were building new logging
branches into the woods, giving employment to many of the laid off mill
The Mutual Crate Co. went into receivership in June
of 1930 and was sold to new owners in August of 1933. Their
sale paper listed two locomotives, a 50 ton locomotive for scrap (the
#2) and an operating 30 ton engine(#3). Mutual operated for many years,
until being taken over by the Revell Crate Co. of Wauchula in the mid
1950’s, they in turn were taken over by the Elberta Crate Co. in the
1990’s, which is headquartered out of Bainbridge, GA. The crate mill,
though standing is no longer in operation.
1941 Aerial Photograph of Avon Park.
Of note is that the Seaboard Air
Line overpassed the Mutual Crate Company’s line, a rarity in Florida,
where almost all rail crossings were at grade. The only other railroad
over pass that I know of in the state,
was a mile away were the Seaboard passed over the Coast Line tracks before their lines entered Sebring.
Sanborn Fire Insurance map of 1921
The number 3 was a fine product of the Lima Locomotive Works, known for
their geared Shays, but their logging 2-6-0s were perfect for Florida’s
terrain. This engine was Lima s/n 1030 built in June of 1906 and her
history from Thomas Lawson is as follows:
1) Brook Park Lumber Co. #1030, Enterprise, Miss. (built as 36-in. gauge);
2) Birmingham Rail & Locomotive Co. #1072, Birmingham, Ala. (rebuilt to std. gauge);
3) Jackson-Tinney Lumber Co., Talladega, Ala. (7-1916);
4) Southern Iron & Equipment Co. #1706, Atlanta, Ga. (10-1921);
5) Thayer Manufacturing Co., Thayer (Walterboro), S. C. (1-1922);
6) Southern Iron & Equipment Co. #2470 (1931);
7) Mutual Crate Co. #3, Avon Park, Fla. [by 1933}.
Advertisment in the 1921 Directory and Guide of Florida Railways (ACL, SAL & FEC)
An article in the June 15, 1924 Tampa Tribune.