L.K. Newell: Business Giant

Interesting Local Characters, Miami Businesses

L.K. Newell apparently moved to Miami in or shortly before 1954.

Miami Products, Inc. opens in June, 1954

His first mention in the News-Record is as the founder of Miami Products, Inc., which started up in June, 1954.

July 1, 1960: Crane buys Miami Products

In June, 1960, Newell sold Miami Products to Crane Company. But he wouldn’t rest on his laurels, he immediately went to work starting another company, this one would manufacture metal jerry cans for fuel, as well as other metal containers for water.

U.S. Metal Container plant under construction, would open in November, 1960.

The webmaster and a U.S. Metal Container truck, circa 1967

This company would evolve over the years. By the 80’s, it was making mainly plastic gasoline containers. In 1992, it changed its name to Blitz. In fact, there are Blitz gas cans all over the world. But no new ones since 2012. People would pour gas on fires from Blitz cans, get badly burned, then sue the company. Four lawyers were primarily responsible for the lawsuits. Blitz would usually win, but at a great financial cost. Finally, in 2012, unable to secure liability insurance, they closed their doors.

By 1967, L.K. Newell was finally starting to slow down. He purchased a Streamline motor home. But he noticed a few design flaws on it, and pointed them out to the president of the company. The reaction? “If you’re so damned smart, why don’t you buy the motorhome operation from me?”

Newell Coach announced, September 2, 1967

L.K. Newell hands A.J. Foyt the3 keys to a new coach, 1973

Unfortunately, I didn’t have access to the actual announcement of Newell Coach on September 2, 1967. But the company was a success out of the gate, and in 1973 Newell, his health failing, sold out to Karl Blade and some other partners. In 1979, Blade bought the business outright, and it continues to be successful today, the legacy of a man by the name of Newell who had a knack for starting successful companies.

Miami’s Drive-In Theaters

Miami Businesses

In 1933, the first “park in” theater opened in Camden, NJ. Its owner, Richard Hollingshead, obtained a patent on the concept. In 1949, his patent was overturned, and that year, drive-in theaters started popping up all over the US. Coincidentally, that was the year that the Tri-State opened two miles north of downtown Miami on Route 66.

Tri-State Drive In announced, January 30, 1949

Construction of the Tri-State drive in, February 27, 1949

They were looking to open in March or April, but that was a bit optimistic.

Tri-State opens, June 30, 1949

Full page newspaper ad celebrating the opening of the Tri-State, June 30, 1949. Click to enlarge.

The above ad gives folks some details about how the drive-in theater works, since many if not most hadn’t seen one yet.

Tri-State Drive In Theater, 1950’s

Tri_State Drive-In, 1955. Photo by Ken Ellwood

Sometime after the great flood of 1951, possibly in 1953, another drive-in theater opened a mile south of town, on 66. It was called the Sooner.

Ad mentioning the Sooner drive-in, December 31, 1953. The first mention I could find in the News-Record

Sooner announces temporary closing to resurface its lot, June 18, 1954

The Sooner’s location made them vulnerable to flooding. The article above announced a temporary closing due to flood damage. However, no further advertisements appeared in the News-Record for the Sooner south of town. On January 2, 1955, it was mentioned in an ad as one of the five Miami theaters. But this was the last mention of the original Sooner.

The former Tri-State theater now known as the Sooner, October 4, 1965

At some point between 1961 and 1965, the Tri-State was renamed to the Sooner. According to historian Fredas Cook, it was to take advantage of the much nicer Sooner sign formerly used south of town. Fredas also points out that the original Sooner was a traffic hazard due to its screen facing the highway, that may have contributed to its being closed shortly after opening.

Now, of course, the Tri-State/Sooner is long gone, a Wal Mart sits in its place. But Miami residents can visit the Admiral Twin in Tulsa or the 112 in Fayetteville for a genuine drive-in theater experience within a reasonable drive.

Ed Millner and His Stores

Interesting Local Characters, Miami Businesses

Ed Millner began doing business in Miami with his two brothers Will and Sam. They opened Millner Brothers Hardware in 1902. In 1906, C.J. Fribley became a partner, and Millner-Fribley was born.

17-21 North Main looked dramatically different in the 1920’s. There were two distinct buildings occupying that stretch. Millner-Fribley sat at 19-21 N Main at the time of this photo.

19-21 N Main about 1920

In 1934, Ed Millner became sole owner of Millner-Fribley. Ed’s partner Jim passed away that year.

Millner-Fribley Ad, 1934. Click to Expand

1946 News-Record Ad Giving the History of Millner Hardware

1957 News-Record Article Telling the History of Ed Millner

Ed was elected mayor of Miami in the early 40’s.

In 1947, Ed Millner Hardware became Millner-Berkey. The original buildings were demolished, and the new two-story stretching from 17 to 21 North Main was constructed. Here’s a News-Record article telling the details about the August 15 opening.

A year later, tragedy struck. A massive fire consumed the building, leaving a burnt-out shell.

August 19 Article from the News-Record Detailing the Fire

August 18, 1948 Fire at Millner-Berkey

August 18, 1948 Fire at Millner-Berkey

The Burnt-Out Millner-Berkey Building in 1948

Less than a month later, on September 18, 1948, Millner-Berkey reopened at 14-16 South Main. Not a bad recovery, huh?

In January 1949, Walter Schmidt was selected to begin rebuilding the store.

On Friday, August 19, the brand new building had its grand opening.


Millner-Berkey reopens at 19 N Main.

The long history of Ed Millner’s stores came to a close on January 27, 1966, when it was announced that Millner-Berkey had been purchased by the Belk’s corporation.

The Belk’s in Miami is gone, but the chain continues to thrive, as opposed to so many others in the post-Wal Mart era.

Ed Millner’s gravestone

Ed rests in the GAR cemetery, not too far from his friend and businesses associate Jim Fribley. In fact, that part of the memorial park is marked by a sign that says “Millner-Fribley.” He bequeathed $10,000 gifts to the chamber of commerce, Miami Baptist Hospital, and the Presbyterian church that he attended.

When Manufacturing Was King

Miami Businesses

An early 60’s trade show featuring NEO manufacturers Newman Industries, Burlington Manufacturing, Corbus Springs, Dumas Manufacturing, and Safe Anchor Co.

Once upon a time in the early 70’s, an American ping pong player got on the wrong bus. He found himself surrounded by Red Chinese players. He was pretty shook up, but one Chinese player, who spoke a little English, reached out to him and made him feel welcome. This eventually led to Richard Nixon visiting China, and ultimately to American manufacturing nearly dying, as China became the maker of the world’s goods.

Once upon a time, Miami and surrounding communities had dozens of manufacturing facilities. We made everything from boats to gun holsters, from pottery to clothing, from giant tires to mattresses.

George Newman, boat manufacturer, gets an award

Newman Industries began making boats in Commerce in 1959. By 1968 they were making 13 different models of fiberglass boats. That year, they were manufacturing in North Miami and were expanding. They continued as an independent company until 1986, when they were purchased by Bayliner.

Burlington Manufacturing ad, 1954

In 1952, clothing manufacturer Burlington opened up a facility in Miami. They started out at 22 S Main, but moved to 226 N main in 1959. By 1968, they were still going strong. The Miami facility closed sometime after 1969, and the company itself went bankrupt in 2001.

Dumas Manufacturing ramps up production in 1946

Dumas Manufacturing started up about 1929, making a variety of stuff like toy hoops for kids to roll around with a guiding stick, boat seat cushion/life preservers, lawn mower guards, dog mats, and other items. W.L. Dumas also purchased the Miami Tin Shop in 1919. He employed a bunch of Miami and local residents over the years. Dumas Manufacturing was still in business as of 1968.

1957 article about the Safe-Anchor Co. of Quapaw

In 1955, Joe Smith of Quapaw began making anchors which he invented, and marketed as Safe-Anchors. I was unable to find anything on the company on the internet, or any mention of them after 1961 in the News-Record. But two years after opening up shop, they had shipped anchors to all 48 states and to Canada.

At presstime, there is still manufacturing in Miami, but a tiny fraction of what was once here. Newell Coach in Commerce is a bright spot, so is ThermoFisher Scientific. But the days of families being supported by the manufacturing of a wide variety of products are sadly over. Things are hopping in China, though. :-/

The Spartan School of Aeronautics

Miami Businesses

It was the summer of 1941. World War II was raging in Europe. While not involved in the conflict directly, the US was doing what it could to help. This included training British pilots.

Spartan School is announced, headline

Details of Miami’s branch of the Spartan School of Aeronautics. Click to enlarge.

Sign in front of Spartan School of Aeronautics, 1940’s. Photo by Ken Ellwood

Spartan School of Aeronautics, aerial view, 1941

Very rapidly, the acreage provided free of charge by George L. Coleman would be transformed into barracks and hangers. In a matter of months, Miami had this proud facility in place.

Spartan School opens for RAF pilots, October 26, 1941. Click to enlarge.

By October 26, the RAF pilots had arrived and begun training. But pilot training was a dangerous business, and in all 13 British students lost their lives, and are buried in Miami’s cemetery.

On December 7, of course, the US entered the war. The Spartan School was ramped up to include training for American pilots.

Spartan School ad, 1943. Click to enlarge.

Women wanted to work as mechanics’ helpers, Spartan School, 1943

There was a shortage of able-bodied men during the war, so Spartan sought out their own version of Rosie the Riveter.

Spartan announces civilian school in 1944

The school began training civilian pilots in June, 1944.

Spartan barracks used to house veteran students at NEO, 1946

After the war ended, the school closed up shop. It was still a useful place, though, being used to house veterans taking advantage of their GI bill to get an education at NEO.

Spartan School reopens, July 27, 1947

In 1947, the school reopened, with services offered in servicing and repairing airplanes as well.

Ad for Spartan School, 1948

Spartan students killed in mid-air collision, May 24, 1949

On May 24, a mid-air collision took place involving a Spartan student who was soloing, killing three. This incident evidently cast a pall over the school. While no official closing was announced in the News-Record, this was the last time the school was referred to as a running business. Five years later, in 1954, Crane announced that they would be opening up shop in the empty Spartan facilities, that would permanently close the chapter of the Spartan School of Aeronautics in Miami.

Trussler Services: Sticking to It

Miami Businesses

Charley Doan was born in 1882. By 1900, he had opened up a tin shop, one of several that he would own during his lifetime. By 1927, Doan’s Radiator and Tin Shop was open at 18 SE A.

As the years went by, Doan set his eyes on retirement. On November 20, 1947, he sold out to Irvin “Red” Smith. Doan sought out a partner, nephew Charles Trussler, and opened Doan & Trussler Radiator & Tin Shop that year.

In 1954, the business changed its name to Trussler Sheet Metal. Phil Trussler started working for his father in the business as a teenager in the mid-50s. He graduated from Oklahoma State University School of Technical Training at Okmulgee in 1962 in Refrigeration, Heating & Air Conditioning. In 1974, he opened up his own business: Trussler Refrigeration, Heating and Air Conditioning.

Flash forward to 2018. Trussler Service Company is still in business, having survived the post-Goodrich economic turmoil of Miami. Phil is 78 years old at the time of this article, and is still going strong.

Miami has survivors like Phil Trussler, and that’s essential as it slowly gets back on economic solid ground and begins returning to the prosperity of the Goodrich years. Here’s to you, Trussler Service.

Articles outlining the history of Doan’s Radiator and Tin Shop, which eventually became Trussler Service

Articles about Doan & Trussler Sheet Metal & Radiator

Phil Trussler and his parents, 1949

Trussler’s yearbook ad, 1963



The Coming and Going of Crane Company

Miami Businesses

It all started in early 1954. The abandoned Spartan School of Aeronautics, used to train WWII pilots, was about to be put back to work.

1954 article announcing the launch of Miami Products, Inc.

First National Bank proudly proclaimed the new industry and provider of jobs in a large News-Record advert.

First National Bank announces Miami Products, Inc.

In March, 1955, employees voted to go union, with the United Steel Workers. The plant immediately closed until further notice. President L.K. Newell claimed that the plant had been operating at a loss since its opening, and that it couldn’t afford to pay a unionized staff.

Miami Products lays off workforce immediately after they vote to go union

But, it wasn’t long until workers were called back. The company received a spanking from the National Labor Board for firing eleven workers involved in organizing the union in the fall of 1954. The workers were hired back with back pay the next year.

Things settled down after that, and the company expanded into production of “blitz cans,” large containers used as motorboat gas containers and also as receptacles for drinking water. Then, on July 1, 1960, a startling announcement was made:

July 1, 1960: Crane buys Miami Products – Click to expand

Crane immediately increased the facilities’ size and set up new equipment.

Crane expands Miami location and plans December launch, October, 1960. Click to expand.

Crane Open House flyer, 1961

Crane plant operations, 1961

Crane plant operations, 1961

Crane plant operations, 1961

All went well for six years. The plant and the workforce prospered. Then in January 1966, a decision was made by the workers with profound effects.

Crane workers vote in a new union, January, 1966

On April 6, 1966, the Teamster-led workers went on strike. The strike drug on, and things got ugly at the picket line. As the negotiations continued to fizzle, a September meeting was held by the NLRB to determine if the plant was treating the striking workers unfairly. The decision was rendered in favor of Crane. Crane strikers were restrained by the National labor Board the next month over threats of violence.

Crane strikers are restrained, October 1966

Crane began moving equipment out of the plant, and on December 28, announced that the Miami location would be closed permanently.

Thus ends the twelve-year saga of the manufacturing facility on SE 22nd. Who knows what might have happened had the workers stayed with the more docile United Steelworkers? But they were clearly unhappy with wages, so they acted, as they had the right to do.

Today, the location is inhabited by Westco Home Furnishings Home Office and Distribution Center, a much-appreciated business and employer in a town that’s endured some tough times.