Memories of Draper Corporation in the 1960s
The Apprentice School and More
By Ron L’Heureux
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. 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. Weaving, 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.
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