I started at Drapers in the early sixties. I went there because I heard about their apprentice school. It was
    run by Mr. Hullah. Fred Hullah. He was a very good teacher. While I was working there, I was drafted into
    the Air Force. The personnel director told me that when I came back, I wouldn’t lose any vacation time or
    anything like that. It was a different story when I got back. I couldn’t get my time back, so I mentioned it to
    Fred. He went to bat for me and a few weeks later told me that everything was all set and I’d get all my
    time back.

    The apprentice school was a six year program. You’d go to the school three times a week, and on the
    other days you’d work in different departments, such as welding, the foundry, the woodshop, and of
    course, engineering. I was in the engineering department. The books we used were from International
    Correspondence Schools. The school and Drapers had a program that was specifically for Draper
    Corporation. It covered weaving and drafting; all kinds of things related to the Draper business. You’d go
    to school and take tests and get your grades. Every six months your progression would be associated
    with your raise on an hourly rate. You signed a contract at the beginning. I think I started at about $1.25 an
    hour. At the end of six years I was probably at about $2.25. I found the school to be very, very good. I met
    some of the others who had gone to the school with me working at Dennison later when I went there.
    Some of the electricians and all that.

    I found Draper Corporation to be very progressive. They did their manufacturing in such a way that if a part
    broke, the company that needed a replacement part would have to go to Drapers for it.  For example, their
    bolts weren’t made with standard threads. It was pretty intelligent of them to do that. The only things they
    didn’t make themselves were steel items such as angle iron. Everything else they manufactured; cast
    iron, aluminum castings, all the bronze. They had all the machinery to manufacture that.

    During the time that I was at the apprentice school, I started going to night school at Worcester Junior
    College to get my engineering degree. In the program they had different testing machines. I saw some of
    that when I took metallurgy and strength of materials. There were all these testing machines in the book. I
    could go back to work the next day and Draper had the same machines. You could go to the research
    department or the metallurgy department, talk to the manager and say, “I read about this yesterday in
    school.” He’d say, “Yeah, come in. I’ll show you the machine.” I didn’t realize then the education we were
    getting. The company was so advanced. It was later on in life that I realized how good it had been.
    Everything that was in the books, Draper already had it.

    We had a good engineering program. Charlie Burnham was in charge of it for a while. Elliott Remington
    was the boss at another time. The research department was a branch of the engineering department.
    That’s where my father-in-law, Roger Bliven worked. There was another branch of engineering that
    designed all the tooling to manufacture the looms. We had some pretty ingenious guys who came up with
    some clever ideas on how to do things.

    Draper was very protective of any process that was unique to them. Even if you were an employee, there
    were departments where you couldn’t go. How the “teeth” were inserted into the rolls in the Dutcher
    temple is one example. The fewer people who knew how that was done, the better chance Draper had of
    not losing that edge over other companies.

    Draper had a plant in Beebe River, New Hampshire. I think that’s where all the bobbins were made.
    Tupper Lake, New York was a hardwood plant, also. I think they made picker sticks there. Down south
    there was a plant that processed the dogwood for shuttles. I think the Spartanburg plant was largely used
    for making spare parts at that time.

    In producing the shuttles, they used to buy a lot of rabbit fur to line them with to provide friction as the
    thread was unwound from the bobbin. The ladies in that department were pretty adept at cutting the furs. I
    think it was mostly rabbit, but there might have been other types of animals used also.

    Draper Corporation had quite a good system of keeping records of what changes had been made on
    each part of the looms. When a problem came up and someone made a suggestion to fix it, you could go
    back fairly quickly and see the changes that had been put on the drawing in the past, to see if that idea
    had been tried before. It might say that the idea had been tried and it hadn’t worked for some reason.
    There would always be a reason given. Sometimes it was a defect in the materials. In those days they
    were starting to change some of the wooden parts to plastic. Sometimes similar changes with a little
    difference were tried. That would be noted. It was a good system. Later, when I went to another company
    to work, I found that Draper had been very advanced in their record keeping. I think that helped them, to a
    point, in maintaining the leadership in the industry which they had for a long time. That, and the quality of
    the product they made.

    Why did they fall behind when the shuttleless loom started to come into the industry? I wasn’t in the
    research department, so I don’t know. Maybe there was some pushback from some people thinking that
    wouldn’t work. Maybe there was some thought that they’d be losing the market for shuttles. They didn’t
    see for a while that it was the coming thing, and by the time that they did, maybe it wasn’t too late, but they
    were in the position of trying to catch up to the advancements made by other companies.

    One of the shuttleless designs Drapers came up with involved two large oscillating wheels. One on each
    side of the loom. The wheels operated steel tapes that would bring the weft threads back and forth. The
    size of the wheels probably limited the width of what you could weave.

Memories of Draper Corporation in the 1960s

The Apprentice School and More

By Ron L’Heureux

Draper Menu                     HOME   

    At some point after the Korean War,
    the apprentice school was reopened