Perhaps you may have noticed I have a fondness for Top 5 lists. I don’t know exactly why I have the need to rank things in countdown order, but feel confident it has something to do with my childhood, which was wrought with happiness.
An interesting Top 5 list was brought to my attention last weekend while I was in Pigeon Forge. I was among a group of “responsible parents” who had the privilege of chaperoning the world-famous Interact convention. I put the words “responsible parents” in quotes only to indicate our group was extremely responsible and at no point did a lampshade come into play.
So here we are in Pigeon Forge watching our teenage kids like hawks when an interesting topic of conversation is introduced. If there was ever a Top 5 list of the smartest people in Warren County, who would make the cut?
We quickly scrambled to define the criteria. This person would 1) have to be living, and 2) be a current Warren County resident.
We also determined we weren’t looking for pure, 100 percent brilliance. We don’t want someone with a 190 IQ who is so far out there he/she can’t leave the house. Social skills must come into play, as well as overall success. Wealth could certainly be a factor if you had to use your brain to accumulate it.
Our top-secret group, which will never be revealed, debated this Top 5 list of smartest people in Warren County for hours and came up with a number of intriguing individuals. Should I decide to go through with this endeavor and in fact assemble a Top 5 list for publication I’d like to open the floor for suggestions.
If you know someone you think is deserving, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m anxious to hear a few names.
Old mobile home site gets interest
There continues to be a great deal of speculation about what might happen at the old mobile home dealership on The Strip across from Sonic. The 2.9-acre piece of property has been vacant for years on what’s one of the most heavily traveled areas in McMinnville.
Business Pulse has learned there is in fact a contract on the property – at least half of it. However, the contract is not with Zaxby’s, which has long been rumored to have an interest in that location.
I’ve been trying to get in touch with Zaxby’s officials for some time to gauge their interest in this area and finally received a response from someone in their real estate development office about two weeks ago. The email said McMinnville was not yet on the Zaxby’s radar, but the company is always eager to explore new markets. That seems like a nice way of saying get lost.
So who is interested in the old mobile home site on The Strip?
Real estate veteran Sally Steakley is handling the property and she confirmed it’s not Zaxby’s. However, she won’t tell me who it is because she knows I’ll put it in the newspaper.
For those of you who have never worked at a newspaper, that’s probably the biggest drawback of the job. People think anything they tell you will end up in print. “I ate a grilled cheese sandwich the other day, but don’t put that in the paper.”
In talking with Sally on Friday, she said it’s common for real estate transactions involving large, commercial companies to take months and months. I asked her what she thought about this deal becoming finalized and she said she was fairly comfortable it would go through. I’ll pass along more information when it becomes available.
The legacy of James E. Walling
Anyone traveling the roads of Tennessee would be hard-pressed to find a city that doesn’t have a self-service car wash. They are everywhere and oh so convenient. Just pull into a bay, pump a few quarters into the machine, and high-powered water is available to blast dust and dirt right off your vehicle.
But there was a day when these car washes weren’t woven into the fabric of Americana. And McMinnville resident James E. Walling was a crucial piece of the puzzle in popularizing this now-thriving industry.
As many of you may know, Mr. Walling passed away last Saturday at the age of 77. However, many folks may not realize the extent of his influence, which is why I’m dedicating this section of Business Pulse to his honor. Mr. Walling’s son-in-law Joe Anish was nice enough to meet with me Friday and provide much of this information.
It all started back in the early 1950s when Black Cat Tire and Exchange opened in the area of The Strip that’s now called Village. The shop was operated by Mr. Walling’s dad and uncle and he worked there recapping and repairing tires. Back in those days, before steel-belted tires were created, getting a flat was common so business was steady. It cost 50 cents to plug a tire.
While this business was prosperous, Mr. Walling was always trying to find his own niche, something he could make money on that was his own. He stumbled upon an intriguing idea during a trip to Seattle, Wash., when he saw his first self-service car wash. They were nowhere to be found in Tennessee.
Upon returning to McMinnville, Mr. Walling took it upon himself to put this idea into action. It all started with one hose and a well pump that created about 200 pounds of pressure.
“The hose was on the side of the tire shop and it cost a dime for five minutes,” said Joe. “In a short time, people were lining up to use it. It didn’t take long before he realized he needed to put in a second system.”
This is believed to be the first self-service car wash to operate in Tennessee. Mr. Walling soon realized it didn’t make good sense to have the water hose on the ground. Along with James Bonner, the two of them were instrumental in designing a system where bays were made and the hose would hang from the ceiling. This was just one of the many car wash innovations they would create.
“If you want to start a car wash today, you can pick up one magazine and buy everything you need,” said Joe. “But back in those days there was no such thing. If you wanted it, you had to figure out how to do it. Someone else may have patented all this stuff, but it was James working with James Bonner who came up with it.”
The first car wash bays were built at Village in 1964. There were five bays originally. Since magazines didn’t offer a wide selection of car wash supplies, Mr. Walling took it upon himself to answer that need too. He made his own powdered soap to use at his Village car wash, but soon discovered other people could benefit from this product.
As more self-service car washes began to dot the landscape, Mr. Walling created Vilco Supply to distribute his powered soap and other car wash products. He would regularly sell 50,000 pounds of powdered soap a year.
The car wash business began to experience tremendous growth and Mr. Walling would own car washes, either by himself or with partners, in Sparta, Cookeville, Livingston, Manchester, Tullahoma and Lebanon.
The next step came with constructing an automatic car wash, which Mr. Walling did with the engineering help of Bonner. Early attempts experienced trouble because cars would travel through the car wash at different speeds. Since no two drivers would go thru the car wash the same way, Mr. Walling implemented a system to regulate speed.
“He started with a log wench, a 40-foot cable, and a hook,” said Joe. “He would place the hook under the bumper and this was back in the days when cars had big, sturdy bumpers. That would allow them to control the speed. His next problem would be figuring out how to wash the top. He had it where the bristles would work well on the sides, but the top was different because vehicles are so many different heights. The end result would be a skunk look where the entire car was clean except for a strip across the top.”
As he enjoyed prosperity, Mr. Walling got into other business ventures. He started dealing with commercial and residential real estate and developed several properties around Warren County with Jerry Williamson, including Golf Villa.
Mr. Walling also did some manufacturing work with the local Powermatic plant that stemmed from knowledge he gained recapping tires. Since he was familiar with the characteristics of rubber, he was able to use vulcanization to apply a layer of rubber to the band saw wheels manufactured at Powermatic. He would do this to tens of thousands of band saw wheels made locally.
“One of the great things I can say about him is there wasn’t anybody who would outwork him,” said Joe. “I always prided myself on being able to gain respect because I was a hard worker, but I was nothing compared to him. He’d jump right in there and do it all with jackhammers and concrete saws. I remember one time we worked all day until 9 p.m. and I looked at my watch and said I was ready to go home. He said, ‘Come on. I was hoping to get a good day’s work out of you.’ That’s just the way he was. He never said he was tired no matter how long or how hard he worked.”
In today’s society it’s common for people to look for shortcuts to get ahead. That’s why it’s appropriate to remember Mr. James E. Walling. He’s proof hard work can get you somewhere in life.
New store that’s New 2 U
There’s something rewarding about finding a good deal -- whether it’s a good deal on a vehicle, an article of clothing, or anything in between. If you’re hoping to find a deal on gently used clothing, there’s a new store at 111 N. Spring Street you should check out.
New 2 U Consignment and Thrift has been open for two weeks and has already established a building overflowing with merchandise.
“I’ve been pleased with all the people who have brought in consignment items,” said store owner Diane Sanders. “There wasn’t really an outlet here for people to bring their consignment clothing. There’s Goodwill, but that’s just for donations. This gives people a chance to make some money off their things.”
There are clothes for the entire family, shoes, purses and even a rack of new sunglasses at discounted prices. Diane says she welcomes new items and is currently in transition.
“The weather has shifted and I’m working to get rid of my winter stuff,” said Diane. “I’ll be putting spring things out soon. If anyone has consignment items they’d like me to consider, stop by or give me a call.”
Diane says she got the idea for the store from her love of consignment shops. She says her daughter loves thrift stores and always enjoys shopping at them.
“My daughter and I have been talking about this, but she just had a baby so I decided to go ahead and do it myself,” said Diane. “In the two weeks I’ve been open, it’s worked out really well and that includes one day I had to miss because of the weather.”
I think New 2 U is a great addition to downtown McMinnville. If you’d like to stop by, store hours are Monday thru Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The phone number is (615) 663-4876.
Unemployment Rate goes up
For those of you tracking the unemployment rate, here goes. According to information released Thursday by the state, unemployment increased in all 95 Tennessee counties in January.
There wasn’t a single county where the rate remained unchanged or decreased.
Williamson County has the lowest rate at 4.8 percent, while Scott County has the worst at 12.3 percent.
As for our beloved Warren County, unemployment increased to 7.3 percent in January, up from a 6.2 percent the month before. At this time one year ago, Warren County unemployment was virtually unchanged at 7.4 percent.
That’s all folks
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