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Heritage \ Writings \ Industry: Lumbering

Sparling Machine Shop
Williams and James Streets, Bay City, MI

1942 - War Effort. Contributed by Jim Petrimoulx - Apr. 2008.

The Bay City Times - Monday, August 24, 1942


win National Acclaim for All-Out War Effort

City's 2-Man Production Staff Prasied by WPB
Chieftain for Example Plant is Setting for Rest of Nation

Two Bay Cityans - J. L.”Jake” Sparling and Percy Fogelsonger - with a combined age of 139 years won national acclaim today for the war production example they are setting for the rest of the nation.

Working quietly 15 hours a day, seven days a week for the past 18 months, Sparling, the 60-year old employer, and his entire “staff” - Fogelsonger, who is 79, have produced 18,000 steel flanges for use in the war effort in a tiny shop at Williams and Jane streets.

Commended by Nelson

Today they had been presented with a large American flag poster, official recognition as a labor-management production drive committee. With it came a letter of commendation from War Production Board Chief Donald M. Nelson to the two-man staff laboring mightily for a nation at war.

It came about this way:

Mr. Sparling wrote to the White House to report what “the old gent and myself” were doing to win the war, and suggested they would like a pennant. The president referred the matter to Chairman Nelson of the War Production Board. Mr. Nelson instructed they be sent a large American flag poster. He also authorized the two-man plant be fully recognized as a Labor-Management War Production Drive Committee to head the list of 1,300 other War Production plants enrolled in the drive, some of which have 60,000 employees in multiple buildings covering miles.

Mr. Sparling reported to President Roosevelt he handled the heaviest castings while his assistant kept production up to schedule handling the lighter castings.

As they were not of combatant age, these soldiers of production said they “were very glad to help in this defense work as it gets money to buy war bonds and stamps.”

A representative of War Production Drive Headquarters visited the plant, where the two men make the flanges, all of which are used on wooden pipes that are installed in large defense plants, thereby saving steel. Mr. Sparling is a machinist who went to work in his father’s planing mill and at 20 was building sugar plants, mills, machine shops and waterworks in Northern Michigan and adjoining states. In 1922 he suffered business reverses and incurred debts from which he emerged with a small shop he ran himself making pulleys and doing odd jobs repairing machines.

Expands His Plant

Long before Pearl Harbor, Mr. Sparling wrote President Roosevelt inquiring how he could “help defense” and a letter came back signed by William Knudsen as Chairman of the Council of National Defense, suggesting he see if he could do some work for the Michigan Pipe Co. here in Bay City, and that company advised him they wanted a lot of flanges for the wooden pipe they manufacture.

Expanding for war time production consisted of putting Mr. Fogelsonger, who once was a lumberjack and log roller who rode logs down Saginaw Bay to the lumber mills to work. As Mr. Fogelsonger had the habit of spending time in the plant anyway, he was glad to go to work and soon learned to operate the 20-year old lathe which also went back to work for war production.

Labor-management relations have been ideal in this production drive according to Mr. Sparling “When we need money” he said “I go over to the pipe company and get what we have coming . We take out what we need for grub and living expenses and buy war bonds with what’s left. What good would money do for men like us anyway if we don’t win? Now get out of the way- we’ve got work to do.”

The story of Jake and the old gent is an inspiration to America’s 60 million workers and rebuke to the small plants and individuals who are belly-aching because they can’t find something to do in the war effort.

A Machinist at 12

Jake was a natural born machinist. His dad was in the construction business and at 20 Jake was helping build sugar mills and other plants. He set up the machinery for half-a-dozen of the large sugar plants of that day. He worked in a steel mill and he became plant engineer for the Chevrolet Plant in Flint. He was plant engineer for the Chevrolet here and also for the Wilson Body Co.

Jake was in charge of all the machinery in these large plants. Then he quit and went into business for himself - the construction business. He built many industrial shops of Northern Michigan, power houses, business buildings and waterworks. The Bay City waterworks was his Waterloo.

That was in 1922 and Jake went broke -- worse then broke. He found he owed $85,000. He sold every thing he owned, his home, his private machine shop, his personal belongings, to pay his creditors.

"I was licked--financially, spiritually and every way” he said in recounting his life which led up to his present place in the mighty U.S. war program.

Invented New Belt

Jake went back into the machine business, the only thing he knew. He made pulleys for nearly two decades. It was just a one-man shop. Jake had no money for expansion. He was whipped anyway. He perked up a bit when industry discarded the old-style flat pulleys for a new V-design. He invented a rubber V-slipon belt, which could be attached to the old flat pulleys and convert them into the new design. He patented the process but he didn’t exploit it. “If I’d had $10,000 to $15,000 for rubber equipment I might have pulled a comeback.” he said with a wry smile.

So, Jake just went along. When someone wanted a pulley and came to see Jake, if they would advance the money and wait a few days he would make them a pulley.

Then early in 1940, the papers began to talk about the “defense business” The pulley business wasn’t so good. He didn’t have the money to buy rubber for his slip on “V”. So Jake thought he’d try to get into the “defense business.”

Referred To Knudsen

That was the start of a chain of circumstances. The letter was referred to Knudsen, who was then a member of the Council For National Defense. “I don’t believe Bill Knudsen knew who wrote the letter” said Sparling “ I used to know Bill Knudsen when he worked in the Flint plant. Probably he never saw my letter. Anyway I got a letter back telling me to see the Michigan Pipe Co. I saw them and they gave me a contract to make some flanges for wooden pipe they were making for defense plants. It was a machining job and I had an old lathe -- 20 years old but a good un”

The old gent’s history is quite different from Jake’s . He never gained a place of affluence in the business world. He was a log roller. He would bring huge rafts of logs down the Saginaw Bay to the lumber mills. But the last 40 years of the Old Gent’s life are hidden in obscurity. Of late years he has drifted along, doing odd jobs. Wherever he found them -- anything for board and keep and tobacco money.

Hired the Old Gent

In order that he could devote his time to his new defense contract, Jake hired the Old Gent to tend his sick dog. “Skipper” got all right in a few days but the Old Gent kept hanging around watching the miracles turned out by Jake at his lathe. At 78 he had never been around machinery of any kind. “He took to it like he was birling on a log” said Jake. So Jake bought a second lathe.

“It’s all A-1-A priority said Jake proudly.” “They try to swamp us but they can’t do it” “Here give me a lift?” he said to his fellow worker and the two of them tugged a 650 pound casting to a place on a lathe with a strength which belies their ages.

The whirl of machinery drowns out conversation for 15 hours a day--seven days a week-- the two men stand at their lathes.

“And I caught the Old Gent out here at 5 o’clock cutting weeds around the place” said Jake with a chuckle.

“What was I doing out here so early?” “Why I was going to work.”

1942 - Time Magazine. Contributed by Jim Petrimoulx, April 2008.

TIME in partnership with CNN - Monday, Sep. 07, 1942

Jake and the Old Gent

One night in 1940 Jake Sparling of Bay City, Mich. sat down and wrote a letter to the President. Things hadn't been going too well for Jake. Always a good mechanic, with a natural-born fell for machines, he had made the mistake of branching out into contracting. His contract to build the Bay City waterworks proved disastrous -- he lost his home, his machine shop, and all his possessions. Now he had only a small wooden shack near the railroad tracts where he was making pulleys. Even that business had gone sour. Jake modestly ask the President for some defense work.

The letter found its way to the then Council of National Defense, and a reply came back over the signature of Bill Knudsen suggesting that Jake go to Michigan Pipe Co. in Bay City. Jake got a contract for making steel flanges for wooden pipes. On an old and almost outmoded lathe he started turning out the flanges -- slowly, laboriously. Jake was happy; he had his self-repsect.

Then his faithful fox terrior got sick, and Jake hired a handy man name Percy Foglelsonger to care for the dog. Oldtimers in Bay City remember Percy as one of the lumberjacks who use to come into town in the '90s birlin logs down the Saginaw Bay. For the last 40 years he had lived from hand to mouth. When Jake's dog recovered, Percy kept hanging around and finally Jake got another lathe and put him to work. Once more Jake was in the contracting business.

Finally Jake thought it was time to write another letter to the President: "In the last 18 months we have turned out approximately 18,000 flanges. We work on an average of 15 hours per day, seven days a week. I am 60 years old and my assistant is 79. He handles all flanges from 12-in down, and I take them from 14 up to 30. Some of the castings weigh 365 lb. We feel that owing to our age and the amount of work we are doing we are entitled to a pennant...."

Last week Donald Nelson had the tiny plant put at the head of the 1,300 plants enrolled in the Labor-Management War Production Driver, sent out an honor flag poster and a congratulatory letter.

"I don't pay the old gent any salary," said Jake, discussing his labor relations. "When we run out of money, I go over to the pipe company and get what we got coming. We take out what we need for grub and living expenses and buy war bonds with the rest.

"I caught the old gent out here one day at 5 o'clock in the morning cutting wees around the outside of the place. ... What was I doing out here that early? Why, I was going to work."

1942 - News from London. (Added April, 2012)

The New London Evening Day, Friday, August 28, 1942.

The Once Over

By H. L. Phillips.


(The two-man shop of Jake Sparling in Bay City, Mich., has been awarded a flag and put at the top of the list of shops meeting government demands in war work. Sparling is 60 and his only employe is Percy Foelsonger, age 79. They have worked 15 hours a day, seven days a week - News item.)

Sparling and Fogelsonger--
Jake Sparling, 60, the boss.
And Percy Fogelsonger, 79, the staff!
Just a two-man factory
But going all-out for Uncle Sam.
Fifteen hours a day, seven days a week!

A flag whips the breeze over
The shop on the Saginaw
Their names head the list.
One hundred per cent production!
No slowdowns, no mass meetings,
No harangues, no walkouts!

Loyalty and cooperation first
And hours and dough later!
A plant where the staff thinks it's
No time for friction,
No hour for chin-music.
No dy for petty personalities!
An where the boss has time for
Something besides attending parleys,
Doping out questionnaires,
Filling out bank forms,
Meeting investigators sumitting
To cross examinations,
Going over union demands,
Checking and double checking!

(Yo hoo, Jack Sparling!
Are you the lucky one!!!)

Just a pair of old boys, Jake and Percy,
Who don't froth at the mouth
Whenever they see each other
What a shop! A worker who thinks
The boss a square shooter
Is strictly on the level, too!

Percy isn't convinced that
Jake is a lowdown skunk,
A tool of Wall Street, a heel,
A capitalistic Simon Legree,
A Cuthroat or a horse-thief!
Old Fogelsonger does not go around
Casting side glances at Jake
And muttering "He's no good!
"He can't be any good and be in business!"

Jake doesn't watch Percy
Or spend his days thinking,
What'll he be demanding next
He's scheming up somthing new.

Sparling and Fogelsong--
They just produce in a friendly,
Trusting, honest, loyal
One hundred per cent American way'

Boss and working man--
Plugging along together
Respecting each other.
Appreciating the job to be done,
Knowing Uncle Sam's in a hole
Determined to do their level best!

Jake Sparling and Percy Fogelsonger
Two old fogies behind the times,
Too dumb to know of a new order.

No Symbols of the real America,
Symbols of the United States
in all the fullness of its historic,
Selve-reliant, glorious past
The America of Lexington, Concord,
Trenton, Gettysburg, San Juan Hill,
Chateau Thierry and Wake Island!

1942 Aug: Letter from War Production Board.

Washington, D.C.
Office of

My dear Mr. Sparling:

Your report on your war work is an example of what two free American workers with initiative can do. Please accept my congtratulations and also trasmit them to Mr. Fogelsonger. I fear working the schedule you follow of 15 hours a day, 7 days a week is a little too strenuous for some even younger workmen to maintian, even though you two gentlement seem to thrive on it.

I am instructing the War Production Drive Headquarters to enter your names at the top of the lists of all plant formally enlisted in the War Production Drive in recognition of the example the entire working force of your plant is setting for the rest of the Nation.

In response to your request for recognition, I am having sent you the largest American flag poster surmounting the inscription "Give It Your Best." You have.

Sincerely yours,

Donald M. Nelson.

Mr. J. L. Sparling
Sparling Pully Mfg. Co.,
Bay City, Michigan.

1942 Sep., radio show. (Contributed by Jim Petrimoulx - Apr., 2009)

The Bay City Times - September 13, 1942 (Page 5)

As ‘Jake and Old Gent’ Appeared on Radio

Shown above are J. L. (Jake) Sparling (left) owner of the small local machine shop that is rated No. 1 of all the plants in the country doing war work, and Percy Fogelsonger, his employee, and co-worker in the shop, as they appeared on “We the People” last Sunday. “Jake” and , who have been working for the government for nearly two years, fifteen hours a day, seven days a week to produce war materials, were invited to appear on the radio program at New York City to tell their story.

1942 Oct. Fame spreads. (Contributed by Jim Petrimoulx - Apr., 2009)

The Bay City Times - Monday, October 19, 1942 (Page 10)

Bay City's Two-Man Plant Fame Spreads

Still spreading is the fame of Bay City's two-man factory operated by Jake Sparling and Percy Fogelsonger.

New Tribute to Sparling, 60, and his assistant, Fogelsonger, 79, was paid in an article published recently in the Philadelphia Inquirer and written by Milton Snavely Hershey, 85-year-old chairman of the board of the Hershey Chocolate Corp., on his receipt of the Army-Navy "E" award for service to country.

In the article, Hershey pays tribute to the work of many "fifty-plus" men who comprise a "second army" serving behind the fighting forces, and names the two Bay Cityans at the head of his list.

Of the Bay Cityans, he said: "And what an account this second army is giving of itself! Out in Bay City, Mich., in that now famous two-man factory, Jack Sparling, 60, and his assistant Percy Fogelsonger, 79, equipped only with two old-time lathes are turning out a thousand steel flanges a month. To do it, they work just fifteen hours a day seven days a week. Donald Nelson put the Nation's seal of recognition on them by sending them an honor flag and make the little plant head of the 1300 enrolled in the Labor-Management War Production Drive."

Additional Notes.

    Jacob (Jake) Lawrence Sparling:
    Born on Nov. 3, 1882, at Austin, Sanilac, Mich., son of James Sparling and Elizabeth J. Warren His father was born in Ireland and mother in Canada. His siblings were: Mary, Alice E., James T., Elwood H., Elmer A. and Eigsetta E. Jacob was married to Viola B. Gilbert on August 31, 1909, at Bay City, and they had three children: Katherine, Eigretta and Marshall, the latter two are believed to be twins.

    Pressley (Percy) Foglesonger:
    Born in 1864, the eldest son of E. and Malinda Fogelsonger. His siblings were: Edward, Willard, Lucy, John, Bert and Ida.

Relate Notes & Pages

Sparling & Fogelsonger.

People Referenced
Fogelsonger, Percy
- E. (father)
- Malinda (mother)
- Edward (bro)
- Willard (bro)
- Lucy (sis)
- John (bro)
- Bert (bro)
- Ida (sis)
Hershey, Milton S.
Knudsen, William
Nelson, Donald M.
Roosevelt, Franklin D. Pres.
Sparling, Jake
- James (father)
- Eliza. Warren (mother)
- Viola B. Gilbert (wife)
- Mary (sis)
- Alice E. (sis)
- James T. (bro)
- Elwood H (bro)
- Elmer A. (bro)
- Eigsetta E. (sis)
- Katherine (dau)
- Eigretta (dau)
- Marshall (son)
Subjects Referenced
Army-Navy "E" award
Autin, MI
Bay City, MI
Bay City water works
Chevrolet plant, Flint
Chevrolet plant, Bay City
Council National Defense
Flint, MI
Hershey Chocolate Corp.
Michigan Pipe Co.
New York, NY
Philadelphia Inquirer
Sanilac County, MI
Saginaw Bay, MI
War Production Board
Washington, D.C.
Wilson Body plant
World War II
WRITINGS: History As It Was Written Then.