Unless you know the story, you might not pay much attention to the lettering on the side of what is now the Ardent Grain Mill in Saginaw.
Newly repainted, the signage reads: Home of the Light Crust Flour and Texo Feed. The letters are 20 feet tall and have been freshly repainted in black on the white silos.
The mill was originally dedicated in 1936 as the Burris Mill, built by brothers J. Perry Burrus and Jack Burrus.
But while it fed the flour needs for a good part of the nation, it is famous for something else – as the home of a radio station broadcasting the music of the Light Crust Doughboys, made up of Bob Wills, Herman Arnspiger and Milton Brown.
That group eventually morphed into the Texas Playboys, and to explain why that is significant, we turn to turn to noted Texas historian Waylon Jennings, who penned:
Well if you ain’t never been there then I guess you ain’t been told
That you just can’t live in Texas unless you got a lot of soul
It’s the home of Willie Nelson, the home of western swing
He’ll be the first to tell you,Bob Wills is still the king
The mill is visible for miles to travelers on I-35 and I-820, and the City of Saginaw is notably pleased that the lettering is now more visible to those passersby, perhaps luring them off the interstates to Saginaw Boulevard.
“With the lettering freshly painted, the citizens of Saginaw can be assured that their history is preserved, and Ardent Mills is committed to a future in Saginaw,” the city said in a news release.
“The city hopes this is the first of many beautification projects that come to the Saginaw Boulevard. So, the next time you see the mills in the distance, come visit Saginaw and see how these monuments of American
Industry continue to play an important part to the southwestern economy.”
Ardent Mills says on the company website that the more than 85 workers at the plant make “many different blends of flour that get used for various finished goods, including bread, buns, pizza, rolls, muffins, pies, crackers and other specialty snacks.”
The Saginaw mill has a daily capacity of 2.7 million pounds of flour using locally and regionally grown hard red winter, soft red winter and hard red spring wheat from many geographies, including fields in Kansas, Minnesota, North Dakota, Oklahoma and Texas.
The dedication was big deal back in the day.
“A crowd of 700 hundred people came from around the region to watch what was the second largest mill in the nation open. In addition to state of the art milling technology like a one thousand horsepower
Norberg diesel engine, the new mill also hosted its own radio station. This radio station was used to broadcast the hits of The Light Crust Doughboys, a famous Texas swing band who marketed Burrus Flour,” the city’s news release said.
At one time, W. Lee “Pappy” O’ Daniel, governor of Texas from 1939 to 1941 and later a United States Senator from 1941 to 1949, was an official at the Burris Mills plant.
The Handbook of Texas Online said Wills persuaded Burrus Mill and Elevator Company to sponsor the band on a radio show advertising the mill’s Light Crust Flour, but O’Daniel, the general sales manager, canceled the show because he did not like “their hillbilly music.”
“However, a compromise, inspired by Wills’s persistence and the demands of thousands of fans who used Light Crust Flour, brought the group back to the air in return for its members’ agreement to work in the mill as well as perform,” the Handbook article said.
O’Daniel later became the announcer for the show and organized a network of radio stations that broadcast the Doughboys throughout Texas and most of Oklahoma.
“In 1935, when Burrus Mill fired him after a series of disputes, O’Daniel formed his own band, the Hillbilly Boys, and his own flour company, Hillbilly Flour. O’Daniel used this band in his successful bid for the governorship in 1938,” the Handbook article said.
One other thing: In O’Daniel’s run for the Senate in the 1941 special election, he defeated a Texas congressman named Lyndon Johnson, in what the Handbook article described as “a flurry of controversial late returns.”
More on the Light Crust Doughboys: bit.ly/Lightcrust