My Father’s Widgets and Imagining a World Without

Sometime around 1912, my father and his brothers started a company in Claremont and named it “The Claremont Waste Manufacturing Company.” People in town called it the “shoddy mill,” a place where they turned rags into flock.

When I was young, I asked my father, “Is flock useful?”

“It’s as useful as widgets,” he told me.

I should have asked, “What’s a widget?” but I accepted his answer, which has remained stuck in my brain ever since.

I think he also told me that at one time the company did 100% of the world’s flock business.

Over the years, whenever people ask me what my father did for a living and I tell them, the next question is almost always, “What’s flock?”

“It’s the fuzzy stuff on greeting cards and wallpaper,” is my standard answer.”

Until recently, that pretty much exhausted my knowledge of flock, except for the widgets. I now know that it has other uses, including the paws on Vermont Teddy Bears and the interior of horse-drawn buggies used by the Amish.

In the 1950s, my father sold his interest in the company to his brother, whose son, my cousin Carl (“Steinie” to those of you who read last month’s column about football), ultimately took over the company and renamed it the Claremont Flock Corporation. It does business under that name to this day, but not in Claremont. The company moved to Leominster, Massachusetts, a long time ago, and a company named Spectro Coating now owns it.

One day, a man named Hemendra Shah called me on the phone and told me he was Spectro Coating’s’ president. Someone had sent him one of my articles about growing up in Claremont, the son of a flock manufacturer named Steinfield, and he thought I might like to pay a visit to Leominster and see what had become of my father’s mill. I thanked him for the invitation and wished him well.

Last month, the Pianist and I were having dinner with friends in East Andover, New Hampshire, and I got to talking with a woman from New London. When I told her I was from Claremont, she said, “My husband used to work there.”

“Where did he work?” I asked.

“The Claremont Flock Corporation,” she replied.

“That was my father’s company,” I said.

“What’s your last name, again?” she asked.

When I told her, she wanted to know, “How are you related to Carl?”

She smiled when I told her how my father had answered my childhood question about the usefulness of flock. Then I asked, “What was your husband’s job with the company?”

“He worked on developing new uses for flock,” she replied.

Back when Mr. Shah called me, I took a look at the company’s website. There I learned that the Claremont Flock Corporation is a member of a trade association called the American Flock Association, one of more than twenty member companies from all over North America.

The Association’s motto is, “Can You Imagine a World Without Flock?

2018-03-13T09:35:52+00:00 By |